If humanity were contacted by a Type 3 civilization, and in the exchange, we were given access to a compendium of the entirety of that civilization's scientific and cultural knowledge, what would be the most efficient way to use it to advance our own civilization?

How do you imagine humanity using such a gift? How should we? How would various institutions react, such as academia, the government, etc? How would this go over in the current political climate?

For the sake of discussion, we can assume that the text has been decoded and is entirely readable by humans, and, moreover, it's completely open-sourced and everyone has equal access, though not everyone may have the computational storage capacity to keep a local copy.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Should: Not Panic. Would: Panic. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:32

5 Answers 5


I'm going to divide my answer into two parts. What we should do and what we would do.

What we should do?

Under the undeniable proof that we are not alone in the universe, humanity should come together to use the knowledge for the benefit of all and to accelerate our society onto a path that many believe we are already on. Assuming that this gifted technology followed a path similar to our own, then the extreme advancements in artificial intelligence, structural technologies, and machinery would bring us into an age of over abundance.

Despite the ethical concerns that may arise, including the possibility of what some have termed a "useless" generation of humanity, no man, woman, or child would need to go without food, shelter, and safety. Smart machines would do our jobs and work would turn into hobbies, people would be provided a monthly check just for living; something that has made it to the voting block in Switzerland not that long ago.

The governments would come together like never before, and global organizations would be formed to lead humanity as a whole into this new age of prosperity and wealth.

What we probably would do?

In a significantly more pessimist point of view, the arrival of aliens, no matter if they are peaceful and bearing gifts, will cause widespread panic and terror all across the world. People would loot and cause widespread destruction. Markets will crash, countries would tear themselves apart as their people don't turn up for work, governments would shut down, and a fear will take such a strong hold on humanity that it may take decades to recover.

People that thrive on terror will use the gifted knowledge to make weapons of destruction, those who strongly believe in many religions will find themselves tested in ways that will be unique to each individual, and the countries that survive the initial chaos will draw lines in the sand as each nation starts a massive arming that will make the cold war look like a backwoods gun show.

All things considered, North Korea may well survive the most intact due to its intense control of media and its people, as well as its unbelievable amount of isolation for a world as globally connected as today's world is.

So, in closing, hopefully things will turn out wonderful. But they may not.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm interested in this for an story. Can you provide a link to what you said about Switzerland? I can't find an article about that and would be an interesting case to quote. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 1:26
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Here you go bbc.com/news/world-europe-36454060 $\endgroup$
    – rclev
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 3:36

Chapter 1 lays out the details of the universe's operations, removing any need for God and reducing us down to state automatons whose actions as individuals can be predicted with sufficient time to compute, growing more easy to compute as the number of us is aggregated.

Chapter 2 lays out ways of dealing with the existential nihilism that results. The book is a chain letter that essentially says, "Send this text to the three nearest sentient species that you can detect in the galaxy, then use one of the methods herein to end your species' collective existence, thereby obliterating the pain of existence." Most of humanity opts out early, but a few hang on to transmit the book to the next worlds, as an act of mercy, before snuffing out humanity's light forever.

  • $\begingroup$ The hard-science flag wasn't displayed when I posted this answer. And that tag is ridiculous on a question like this. We cannot answer hard-science for a question that involves complete knowledge of physics. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed about the tag; I've removed it. I think that nihilism is only a problem insofar that we care about it. Maybe our descendants will remove that component of our psychology that is bothered by the inherent meaninglessness in anything that we might aspire to do. $\endgroup$
    – Deomachus
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 7:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @SRM If you disagree with the tag being there, then don't answer at all until it's removed. You can't simply ignore it. Now that it's gone, your answer's fine. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 18:20
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HDE I added my answer before the warning banner was added. I didn't even think to check for the tag ahead of time on a question like this. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 22:19

There is a big difference between readable and understandable

There are plenty of text-books out there on quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, space travel, heart-bypass surgery, cloning etc and whilst they're written in human languages there is a big difference between the words being readable and the content being understood. I don't imagine there would be huge leaps right at the start but a lot of research would have to go into understanding.

Collaboration would probably be a requirement

There are few scientific endeavors which are possible through the funding and genius of just one country. In order to fully understand what is being said I imagine countries either do it alone and take generations or do it together and take...well, less time (hard to say since we haven't got anything to compare it with).

You could have individual interpretations, perhaps some people try to find bits of meaning in it on their own but I don't see any single person being able to get it instantly and build themselves super-weapons or anything.

This world-science council that would come together would likely have to have certain goals everyone agrees on, if they find out just how to make enough food to feed everyone then this has to be implemented, perhaps more countries agree on that...but there will still be arguments about other things. One country could have all their leverage in production...the sooner we discover how to 3D print anything we want (or whatever tech there might be) the sooner they lose that. I imagine the whole research process will quickly become quite political.

In the end, though, we would start churning out new tech and understanding new physics, after a bit of bickering the whole race would likely unite under one council (for ease of diplomacy with other races).

A side, but important, point

Whilst we follow in their footsteps no one is going to bother funding research along paths we're exploring at the moment. Scientific discovery isn't a straight line from A to B, even on earth we have discoveries and invention made in many different ways. The less independent we are the less this will happen. In the grand-scale of things you may find these aliens are actually damaging the potential galactic understanding by giving us ideas rather than letting us find them in our own way.

EDIT: For the "hard-science" tag I struggle to think where these would come from. Nevertheless we have support for increasing collaboration in this paper and here. Also some arguments on the pros and cons in this book.


I imagine the first step is to translate it into all known written and spoken languages. It can then be made available to all libraries and schools.

The simplest concepts contained therein can begin to be taught at the very youngest ages along with the learning of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and their own cultural arts intelligences.

Adult learning of more complex information can be self taught and also formally taught in higher learning centers. Social events can be organized to increase comprehension of increasingly complex concepts.

As the youngest age into adults having been exposed to the base information during formative years, the comprehension curve will increase exponentially as it does with its current knowledge. This article: The Assimilation vs Accommodation Of Knowledge http://www.teachthought.com/learning/assimilation-vs-accommodation-of-knowledge/ By Terry Heick, explains nicely Jean Piaget's theories on childhood learning. He describes knowledge assimilation converting to knowledge accommodation, the first step being akin to filling a cup with knowledge, and the second being akin to changing the shape of the cup the knowledge is entered into. Over many generations of this learning, the human planetary civilization(s) at types 1 and 2 will gradually attain a type 3 level itself.

Effects of current political climate will depend on which political climate is being observed. Any governments capable of allowing open-source and equal access for all will react by implementing the above described distribution and learning opportunities.

Reactions in a competitive and/or commerce-based society would include fierce competition to understand the highest technical level interstellar travel and energy transformation devices. From this there could easily sprout different rewarded games and challenges geared towards the highest level scholars of the information, with the rewards matched to the goal systems of the individuals and groups that achieve new understanding These rewards would include scholarships, internships, research grants, accolades (think Nobel Prize https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/year/index.html?year=2016&images=yes), charitable contributions, naming rights, and money, to name a few.

Edit: "At the time of writing, there have been no confirmed signals of intelligent extraterrestrial origin, but then again, scientific SETI is a recent endeavor." Quote provided from page 95 of NASA 2014 publication: Archeology Anthropology and Interstellar Communication. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/files/Archaeology_Anthropology_and_Interstellar_Communication_TAGGED.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwj3isP68onSAhVl54MKHf2HDPYQFggbMAA&usg=AFQjCNHAaVnKKgPh6uQwJK1fz0yI7gZnA&sig2=Yj6LLozIzjB3LzciRw5D8Q
Based on this, I answered only using the requested "imagine" how humanity would use the gift.

  • $\begingroup$ I would guess the book is already translated, otherwise, translating it is probably not possible for us, as the translators would still be absorbing the very concepts described therein. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Note that I did NOT down vote this answer for my diff of opinion about translation. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. I was thinking specifically of teaching their languages, which would be included as part of their cultural information, to everyone as it would likely translated into only the most common languages by the aliens. Due to the very large diversity of languages present today, for true open access it would be our task to provide the rest of the translations from our common languages to all the rest. I did not look for references to provide type 3 communication examples for hard science. If they exist, they are otherwise labeled or hidden by those who received them. $\endgroup$
    – N2ition
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 5:57

The book is shared with all human cultures. It is quickly discovered that the book includes a formula to calculate the most moral action in any given situation. There is global upheaval as world religions and cultures realize that fundamental, core beliefs are proven to be less than ideal (when compared to another culture) or, in many cases, irrational and immoral. Global Holy War erupts. The book is mined for terrible weapons by some, tactics and strategies by others. Large Nation states collapse, population rapidly decreases, and survivors form tribal/clan states separated from each other by geography.
Now in this reduced state, several human tribes band together and form "The Order of the Book". This Theocratic and authoritarian state grows exponentially, absorbing or killing rivals on its boarder until global dominion is achieved.

  • $\begingroup$ Why not an equilibrium like during cold war? Sounds more realistic under the premise that everyone knows everyone else has the compendium as well. Weapons only increase power if no one else has them. $\endgroup$
    – user29956
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 14:27
  • $\begingroup$ My imagining of this has the book quite essoteric and inconprehensible in most parts. Not because its written to be inconprehensible but because to understand a concept you must first understand the prerequisite concepts. This allows different societies / groups to advance further in certain areas than other societies. They all have the book, but they don't all understand every concept to the same degree and so don't all advance to more advanced concepts at the same rate. $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 5:51
  • $\begingroup$ The part I really liked about the idea was the concept that morality itself would eventually be addressed and formulated by science. I'm sure its not a novel idea (what is?), but I think it would be a huge cultural shock to discover an equation for right and wrong, good and evil. The rest of my post probably veers into hyperbole. Sorry if that put anyone off, but I was just trying to show off the consequences of severe culture shock! $\endgroup$
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 18, 2017 at 5:57

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