Mankind has been always interested in making contact with another (extraterrestrial) civilization. We have launched the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes with plaques explaining where the Earth is located. Moreover, there are countless films, books, etc. which are about contact with aliens.

However, I'm not sure about why the contact with another civilization may be a positive experience for my fictional civilization. Particularly, I think that contacting with a superior civilization might cause my civilization to be enslaved (or maybe not, but I believe the risk exists).

Summarizing, my questions are:

  • What are the advantages that the contact with an alien civilization may provide?
  • Is it worth to risk my civilization to access to these advantages?
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    $\begingroup$ When the first civilization has run out of sugar, and wants to borrow a cup. That of course could be a pretense to get to know the other civilization better ;) $\endgroup$ – Aron Apr 3 '15 at 7:47
  • $\begingroup$ You want to have a look at The Fermi Paradox. $\endgroup$ – o0'. May 22 '15 at 12:44

There are a multitude of possible reasons, to a large extent they depend on the nature of the civilization. It's technological level, its interests and philosophy.

Reasons could range from exploration, to curiosity, opportunities for trade and learning, conquest, or even boredom and the desire to find something new.

One thing to remember though is that contact is inevitable. If there is an aggressive alien species expanding then it will eventually reach you. Given that the earlier you become aware of them the earlier you become aware of the threat and the more time you have to respond. Equally if the aliens are peaceful, or friendly, or even neutral but willing to trade then you gain more and sooner the earlier you make contact with them and have the chance to form alliances and advance your own species before any hostile aliens are contacted.

The only risk is that you contact a hostile force who then locates and attacks you much sooner than it otherwise would. Considering they would eventually attack anyway though you are changing the timing of the event but not the event itself, so the possible advantages massively outweigh the possible disadvantages.

The most important thing would be the way contact is made and how it is handled rather than the fact of contact itself.

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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't say that contact is inevitable. Given the time and difficulty involved in sending a spaceship to another star, with known plausible technologies, one might hope and expect that any aggressive alien species is more likely to wipe itself out or outgrow its aggressive nature before they manage to reach you. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Oct 15 '14 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Space is big. Really really big. Unless you develop some kind of faster-than-light travel, in which case, in order to get anywhere you still need to move at several orders of magnitude faster than light. 10,000 times faster still isn't fast enough. And just like you can't know every store in every town on the freeway, you can't make contact with every planet your FTL drive leaves in its wake. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Dec 17 '15 at 17:46
  • $\begingroup$ Big yes, but eventually contact is inevitable if two civilizations are expanding. You may not personally visit every store in every town on the freeway...but multiple people do visit each one even if no one person visits them all. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Dec 17 '15 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Draco18s At 10,000 c, that's 27.4 light years per day & the average separation between stars in our part of the galaxy, is 6 light years; a flight time of 5.26 hours. While it's 10 years to cross the galaxy edge to edge, visiting the neighours isn't a problem. The objective here is to contact one alien civilisation, even if FTL is impossible someone find a way. Sublight travel? Radio messages? Laser signals? Plenty of options really. $\endgroup$ – a4android Aug 19 '16 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android For reference, 5.26 hours is only about 15 minutes shorter than the time it takes me to go from where I live (about 45 minutes outside Philadelphia) to center city Pittsburgh by car. I do that once a year. That's not quite in the realm of "visiting our neighbors" easy more like "visiting your inlaws" easy. Point was that 10,000c is powers of ten faster than the universal speed limit and it still doesn't make travel fast enough. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Aug 19 '16 at 20:47

In all actuality it could be very dangerous. While we ourselves would love no know that we are not alone, and would like to believe that others would be more benevolent, it is just as likely that they would find us delicious, or cheap labor or not even consider us worth the time of day.

Our hope of course is that it would be a cooperatively mutual learning experience. However, anyone that can travel or at least communicate over the vast distances of space (in a timely manor) would most likely be studying us as we study the great Apes.

In all actuality, even though in theory our radio waves will travel across the cosmos, some of our earliest broadcasts reaching 110 light years away, it appears that outside of a couple light years away that our signals are indistinguishable from background radiation.

The reverse would be true as well, so sending us a message would be a major feat in itself. Hopefully, they would send the instructions on how to reply. Now if they are actually traveling around the galaxy that is a whole other jump.

Why do they want to communicate with us? What do we have that they need/want? If they are not benevolent or curious, then they want something from us or our planet.

If it's benevolence we are golden, (mostly) they will try to help us reach our potential, but they also might try to train us a pets to follow some path that they have mapped out for 'our own good'.

The curious, would be looking for knowledge, and this could work out for us too, becoming more knowledgeable about the universe and advanced sciences. Though, Mengele was curious and wanted to learn about us and performed experiments, learning many useful things about humans. It didn't end so well for most of his subjects however.

If we have anything aliens want, if they can make it here, they can just take it and we couldn't put up much of a fight. But they might want to have a trade outpost and find it easier to have us prepare what they want and just arrange shipping. Like how we use places like the Philippians or Chinese factories. Cheap labors, the locals are 'happy' to have a 'good' job and the aliens make huge profits.

The last, conquerors. If they want the planet for themselves, they just might wipe us out, or keep enough around to act as slaves for ruling elite. Best might be for us to be 'conquered' (mostly just saying we now belong to them) and integrated into their society and economy, like the Romans used to do. We become a secondary citizen in an interplanetary system that has rules we can learn (and manipulate, it's what we do) with both expectations from us as a vassal planet but with an overlord expected to protect us from attacks from other hostile societies.

So in my estimation, it's about 50/50 whether things are worth it to make contact, do it benefit or hinder the development and growth of a civilization. The best of all worlds is to be either the first one to be out there, or to get the technology to observe any other intelligence that might be out there and to study it and possible reactions it may have about contact.

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Historically, whenever humans went to explore unknown territories (on Earth), they inevitably suppressed or destroyed whatever life forms or civilization they encountered. If we assume that aliens are like humans it follows that we must immediately kill any aliens that might at some point set foot on Earth. And let's hope that the aliens that humans might visit in the future will do so as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the go-to trope when we see aliens landing on Earth. The government's usual assumption is that they will behave the way humans do, and just steamroll over the lesser civilization. The hope is that by the time a race reaches the point of space travel, they'll have become responsible and aware enough not to do so. We're...part of the way there. We've reached the point where most people want to leave new species and cultures alone, but there's always some who will put money over that. $\endgroup$ – VBartilucci Jan 28 at 14:29
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! The question is "Why would a civilization want to contact with a hypothetical extraterrestrial civilization?" - are you suggesting that the answer is "so they can conquer them?" Your answer is good, but I think it needs to be re-written to focus more clearly on the question. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jan 28 at 14:53

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