Back in 1950, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi famously questioned the existence of intelligent life throughout the universe by asking "Where is everybody?" Speculating that Fermi's Paradox might have a simple explanation – that aliens never felt welcome within our xenophobic society – experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats has endeavored to counteract the rudeness of our species by designing the world's first cosmic welcome mat. He is currently working with Flinders University space archaeologist Alice Gorman to assess the effectiveness of his designs – and to develop new iterations – based on experiments undertaken by Gorman at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress.
In this panel discussion, Keats and Gorman describe the cosmic welcome mat project and discuss some of the ramifications. They address implications ranging from the scientific to the technological to the linguistic to the political, and will also set the cosmic welcome mat within the historical context of SETI and METI.
The challenge of communicating with unknown extraterrestrials is an extreme version of the problems of addressing our own cultural and psychological differences. The effort to extend a cosmic welcome may therefore help to elucidate why discourse breaks down on Earth, revealing causes of xenophobia and strategies for inclusiveness. Equally the attempt to understand and be understood by intelligent beings throughout the universe might suggest strategies for interaction with present and future forms of artificial intelligence that may develop cognitive processes completely alien to human ways of thinking.
The cosmic welcome mat remains a work in progress. A new version is revealed at this event – welcoming all visitors to STATE Studio – and a question-and-answer session invites attendees to explore their own ideas about universal communication. Both Keats and Gorman openly acknowledge that there may not be a single optimal design. As useful as a cosmic welcome mat may be, even greater value may be found in the conversation.
This panel event was held on Oct 11, 2017, at the STATE Pop-Up Studio in Los Angeles.