Now in a previous question I tried to figure out what would a realistic response to humanity learning that we are unequivocally alone in the universe, (check it out here, How would humanity react to finding the universe is uninhabited? ) but personally I do not think it will ever actually happen because in the words of Michael Crichton, “life finds away.” There are just too many stars in our galaxy alone for us to be all that there was, especially given the weird places life can tend to crop up. There are a dozen icy moons in our solar system that have been proposed as possible harbors for life in our solar system alone, any many questions on this site are addressed to what life on those worlds might be like. But what I am curious about is what would humanity do with that life if and when we found it.

Imagine an expedition of human astronauts exploring under the ice of a moon much like Europa, maybe even Europa itself, and the astronauts discover not only a thriving ecosystem, but also an intelligent tool using species. The species itself earned the nickname of dolphin-squid, because they bear a slight resemblance to a dolphin but with tentacles that they use to manipulate tools such as the abacus, sea weed rope and obsidian cutting tools.

Everyone one hears the good news on earth and there is much rejoicing for our first contact. But here in lies the issue I want to explore.

Not only have we discovered a second intelligent species, but because of our probes and the dolphin-squids curiosity we have unwittingly revealed ourselves to that species before we could even contemplate any kind of no interference. The dolphin-squids now know there is something beyond their ice covered sea and after the tireless work of every xenoliguist on the planet, everyone on earth knows that the dolphin-squids want to be a part of it.

Not to mention dolphin-squids popularity back on earth has lead to millions of people wanting to help them break free of their icy homeworld and join what many are now calling the “galactic community.” Show them our technology, teach them how to use it, maybe even help them colonize other icy moons like their home. But the big question, is how?

It will take quite a bit of work to bring an aquatic species that was banging volcanic rocks together up to speed enough to become equal partners with us in a multi species civilization.

So here is the million credit question: How would humanity uplift and integrate an intelligent species that evolved on an ice shell world?

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    $\begingroup$ 'Uplift' means to raise animals to human-like intelligence, but your dolphin-squids already seem to be there. You also ask about integration, which would be a very different--and broad--question. Can you clarify? $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ Seawater or freshwater? Actually my aquarium supplier is asking, I can get a complimentary aquatic pet for the alien... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman themselves. I understand that we have done a lot of horrible things to less advanced civilizations in the past, but I hope by the time we meet them on other worlds we will have learned the simple lesson, don’t be exploitive imperialist psychopaths. Besides, leaving them trapped on their home world while we claim everything else might be more exploitive than giving them a fair share. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 7:25
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    $\begingroup$ To uplift any disadvantaged group, one would start with free healthcare and technical education to get them independent and self-reliant. THEN, when they can negotiate as equals, start talking about other resources, like human settlers,etc. No one ever does that $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman of course not. That sounds like space communism. Dolphin squids probably don't even have any bootstraps they can pull themselves up by! No, any good modern uplift program must first start with a business model and an NDA... $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 7:47

4 Answers 4


There are a number of problems that must be overcome to raise the Dolphin-Squids (DSs) to the status of a technologically advanced sapient species:

  1. Humans must learn to communicate with the DSs. Just because they can communicate with one another doesn't mean that we will be able to communicate with them. In fact, it might be quite difficult even recognising how they are communicating let alone learning what their communications mean.

  2. The DSs level of technical advancement appears to be quite low, and they are an aquatic species, meaning that their natural environment is radically different to our own. Since we don't know how to build our own tools underwater, we would have to learn ourselves before we could teach them. It may very well be the case that the DSs would be in a better position to improve their technology than humans.

  3. We don't yet understand the psychology of the DSs, other than the superficial traits that they are a tool-using species with a degree of curiosity. We don't know how they would react to being given access to technology beyond that which they are capable of making for themselves... we don't even know if they can tolerate being given a gift, or if they have a psychological need to make an equitable trade. If humans misjudge the DS's psychology, the possibility of their societies collapsing or causing an unrectifiable rift between them and us is all too real.

  4. We don't yet understand the DS's physiology or biochemistry, or the ecosystem of their world. Failure to understand any of these things could lead to harm to them or their environment simply because something that we don't think of as dangerous is somehow dangerous to them.

  5. There will be humans who do not believe that the DSs should be interfered with any more than they have been already. Attempting to alter the course of their societal and technological development is highly likely to result in the loss of their cultural uniqueness even if the collapse of their societies can be avoided.

So, it will be quite difficult to bring the DSs to technical and social parity with humans. Unfortunately, I don't believe that there can be any canonical solution to this goal, since there are too many unknowns. It is going to take careful study of the DSs, along with the flexibility to alter the approach as the DSs react to contact with humans. Even with the best intentions, a great many things could go wrong.

That's not to say that the task is impossible. We are going to have to learn to communicate with them. We will need to understand the ecosystem of their world, and their physiology and psychology in order to avoid inadvertently harming them. We will need to set the pace and scope of our contact with them and their education under our tutelage in order to meet their psychological and sociological needs. We will need to research solutions for the problems that their environment will pose, preferably with their cooperation, but if necessary without it. But first, we're going to have to deal with those people in our own society who believe that the DSs should be left to their own devices.

It could be said, 'Just expose a few DSs from an early age', and while this would be a reasonable approach to educate a stone-age human, the DSs are not human. While they may appear eager to learn, we don't know how they would react to having a bunch of juveniles taken by humans and taught stuff. The DS kids might end up missing something vital for their development. Being seperated from their elders might cause them to be considered strangers to their kin after sufficient time. Even if that wasn't a problem, their environment and ours are radically different. They live in what is probably a deep-sea environment with a chemoautotrophic energy cycle, while we live on land on a relatively high-g planet with a solar energy cycle. Neither we nor they could survive long in the other's environment without technological assistance... and we have no idea how to make a suitable environment suit for them, let alone know how they may take to space travel. In order to immerse them in our society, all these things and more would be required, and because they are a newly discovered alien species and not human, we won't have any idea how to do that when we meet them. They would want to be patient...


Not Too Much

The dolphin-squids now know there is something beyond their ice covered sea and after the tireless work of every xenoliguist on the planet, everyone on earth knows that the dolphin-squids want to be a part of it.

This is actually the biggest hurdle. Based on this we can already speak to and understand (at least to a certain extent) the general feelings and wants of the species. They also show a propensity to want to learn new things and have new experiences.

It will take quite a bit of work to bring an aquatic species that was banging volcanic rocks together up to speed enough to become equal partners with us in a multi species civilization.

This part I doubt a great deal. Sure they're stone-age rubes NOW. But history has shown us that stone-age rubes figure out new tech REAL quick. Look at any given stone-age culture (the various native american tribes, pacific islanders etc.) for example. Sure they might not grasp calculus or high-level physics or metallurgy or how a radio works as a culture. But those people are Just As Smart as any given person of today. At least, they have that ability. (This is somewhat up for debate, Guns Germs and Steel seems to indicate "primative" people are somewhat smarter than average-first-worlder, other studies show lower-tech-base people tend to be less smart, but that being a factor of inadequate food at a young age or other factors not inherent to the larger group.) Short story is you can take an infant from some undiscovered stone-age tribe, drop it into a first-world family, and it would grow up able to learn and succeed as well as any "native-born" child.

This is HUGE for your problem. If it holds true (and your dolphin-squids are using abacus so it should) then once you get a species capable of "primitive" tech, the only thing stopping any given member from inventing Rocketry or Curing illnesses or being a great theoretical astrobiologist is that they have to invent it all from scratch. But your dolphin-squid DON'T have to invent it all, they can learn it from humans. So in a generation or two (at worst, assuming that like humans they learn best at a young age) you can have dolphin-squid capable of being as talented as any given human in the STEM fields.

Ok so your dolphin-squids are as smart as humans, and have the capability to be as talented as humans in STEM fields (theoretically) in a few decades provided you can start dolphin-squid elementary quickly. The question now is, would you? Well hell, the humans (per your question) are all rarin' to go when it comes to teaching the dolphin-squid stuff! So that's not a super-serious hurdle to jump either. Maybe the Jesuits set up a mission (See "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria-Russel for how that could go/could go badly) to find out if they're saved/teach them math. Maybe Future-Elon teams up with some PETUDS (people for the ethical uplifiting of dolphin-squids) and sends out a teachable colony. Maybe the UN does it. The possibilities are endless! Once the schooling in basics starts the dolphin-squids should as a product of evolving in their environment, be able to tweak human tech/learning to their own underwater circumstances. Just like how humans native to extreme cold/heat are better able to adapt incoming technology to their environment than average-european.

Of course all this neatly skipped over what this would do to the dolphin-squid as a people. Undoubtedly it would cause MASSES of problems. Dolphin-Squid god Cthulu replaced by one or more human religions (we got to space, obviously our gods are better), Dolphin-squid languages and cultures trampled underfoot by those dolphin-squid who do deals with humans fastest, or simply lost and forgotten as they are subsumed by human ideologies or those of more powerful dolphin-squid. Whole societies would likely be wiped out. At the very least culturally but with a very real chance that they'd be wiped out physically as well. Then there'd be those humans who'd see the dolphin-squid as a threat. Or dolphin-squid that would see human tech/humans themselves as the devil. Or maybe dolphin-squid are actually CRAZILY warlike/racist and put up a good front until they know enough to nuke earth from orbit.

But for the basic question of "how hard is it to teach a sentient species 21st/22nd century stuff when they are eager to learn it." the answer is "not hard, provided you start them out early enough!"


I find the idea of all humanity supporting such an initiative to be superfluous. Why would humans go around elevating bunch of alien squibs when they have many other species on earth which have been found to use tools and which also have some degree of intelligence. Why would all people appreciate bringing aliens into the galactic fold over the fear of the unknown?

Anyway, this engagement is similar to how nation states help each other in modern world, and therefore you can model the terms of transfer based on either realist school of international politics, or liberal school. Think along a mix of complex economic interdependence, direction of trade, grants, nativist attitudes/sons of the soil, etc

How would humanity uplift and integrate an intelligent species that evolved on an ice shell world?

Humans will need to devise a complex Level Up program for this purpose. The Program can be realist or liberal in nature. A realist plan will be risk averse and try to give the minimum uplift possible to the dolphin squibs, while severely limiting the rate of information and technology transfers. The goal of such a plan will be to secure maximum benefits for humanity. A liberal program on the other hand will be dictated by the ideals of equality, galactic order and the right of alien to choose for themselves, and will thus involve more significant chunks of transfers of technology.

The program itself can largely be thought along below lines:

  1. Establish common communication standards - This requires understanding various sounds, gestures, tones, physical changes etc of the aliens, and tool a for converting human speech into alien communication and vice versa - The xenolinguists for all practical purpose may have succeeded for a small range of information
  2. Start giving out basic nuggets of information - around basic sciences, geography of the planet and keep increasing the scope and expanse of knowledge iteratively
  3. Monitor the aliens for progress - have they turned to a dark path and now plan a war on humans or do they continue being friends of humanity, if all is well, give more information out otherwise prepare for the worst case
  4. Full Integration into a newly found galactic order dominated by humans

Make them into humans!

And by humans, I mean Americans. Americans know the things people want and we are going to say these dolphin-squids are people. What are those things, you ask? Even though you know very well because you want them too?

1: High calorie foods. We will use tech to bring or make the foods that these squids like, and plenty of them. They will trade their stuff for delicious foods. Also beer.

2: Culture! We will have friendly clowns and other mascots represent these delicious foods and the beer. I am thinking a good one for starters will be Casper the Friendly Ghost because he will be cheap to license and probably the squids will dig him. Also his devil friend Hot Stuff and that little witch in the red onesie. For the beer we can bring back Spuds McKenzie.

3: Sweet tunes! American pop music will probably be a big hit with dolphin squids. Plus that is easy to export and play thru speakers there.

4: Cheap stuff. The squids probably have stuff. Some kind of stuff? Make them more of that stuff (actually have China make it) and bling it out. Give that fancy stuff to our favorite squidfolk. I think those flashing light sticks like we have at concerts would be a good start. Those things will blow their squidly minds.

5: Sex appeal! This one might take some doing. Maybe just start with Baywatch and see how it goes. Or maybe Casper here too? Not sure.

6: A new one for the millenium - ordinary fans! It used to be that fans of exotic foreigners just had to groove on their stuff or pictures or music. Exotic foreigners themselves were usually thin on the ground. True devotees could visit exotic foreign lands but there would be bugs. Now with internet we can virtually visit exotic foreign lands and hobnob with the locals. Interested persons could virtually visit the ice worlds and swim with the squids, and vice versa. Also I think there might be some Japanese cartoon fans who like squids but they might go under #5.


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