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Over the past two decades there has developed an increasingly serious debate about the existence of extraterrestrial intelligent life. More recently, there have been significant deliberations about ways in which extraterrestrial intelligence might in fact be detected. In the past two years, a series of Science Workshops has examined both questions in more detail. The Workshop activities were part of a feasibility study on the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conducted by the NASA Ames Research Center.
The objectives of the Science Workshops, as agreed at the second meeting in April 1975, were: to examine systematically the validity of the fundamental criteria and axioms associated with a program to detect extraterrestrial intelligent life; to identify areas of research in the astronomical sciences, and in other fields, that would improve the confidence levels of current probability estimates relevant to SETI; to enumerate the reasons for undertaking a search, the values and risks of success, and the consequences of failure; to explore alternative methods of conducting a search; to select, in a systematic way, preferred approaches; to indicate the conceptual design of a minimum useful system as required to implement the preferred approaches; to delineate the new opportunities for astronomical research provided by the system and their implications for system design; to outline the scale and timing of the search and the resources required to carry it out; to examine the impact of conducting a search, and the impact of success or failure in terms of national, international, social and environmental considerations; and to recommend a course of action, including specific near-term activities.
This report presents the findings of the series of Workshops. The major conclusions of our deliberations are presented in Section I. First, an Introduction lays out the background and rationale for a SETI program, and then in The Impact of SETI, we examine the implications of the program. In particular, the Impact section examines the significance of the detection of signals and of information that may be contained in signals from extraterrestrial civilizations.
For those who wish to see some of the arguments in more detail, we have extracted from the discussions of the last two years, six of the most interesting and significant elements of the debate in the form of Colloquies (Section II). Finally, we have documented, in greater depth, a selection of detailed technical arguments about various aspects of the SETI endeavor. This is Section III – Complementary Documents.
The reader should note that the Introduction, the Impact of SETI, and the Conclusions, which comprise Section I of this volume, have been prepared by and represent the views of the Workshop as a whole. Sections II and III, on the other hand, have been prepared by the individual authors listed, and while consonant with the major SETI findings, reflect specifically the views and style of presentation of the authors.
In addition to the series of six Workshops, and at the instigation of the participants, two additional series of meetings were held. The first, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Joshua Lederberg of Stanford University, addressed the question of Cultural Evolution in the context of SETI. The second, under Dr. Jesse Greenstein of the California Institute of Technology, addressed the question of the Detection of Other Planetary Systems. The conclusions of these meetings are presented in Colloquies 2 and 3.
The last of the Complementary Documents (III-15) lists the members of the Science Workshops, our consultants and advisors, and the agendas for the nine Workshop meetings. Detailed minutes of all of the Workshops are available from Dr. John Billingham, SETI Program Office, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, 94035.
I would like to express my appreciation to everyone who has worked with me in this undertaking. I must single out first the Workshop members themselves (see Complementary Document 15), and in particular Joshua Lederberg and Jesse Greenstein for their major contributions in taking the chair at their respective special Workshops (see Colloquies 2 and 3). The assistance of the NASA Centers, and specifically of the SETI Groups at the Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory must be recognized, together with numerous contributions from consultants and speakers who have addressed and advised us. Last, but by no means least, special thanks are due to Vera Buescher, Secretary to the Ames SETI Team, for her loyal and indefatigable attention to the thousand details which went into the preparation of this report.
In conclusion, I would hope that our report will provide a logical basis for the evolution of a thoroughgoing but measured endeavor that could become a significant milestone in the history of our civilization.
We recommend the initiation of a SETI program now.
6. The Science of SETI
David C. Black and Mark A. Stull