Economists worry we'll make first contact in 10 years and won't be ready

Contributed by
Feb 4, 2013, 1:24 PM EST

When we think about what could go wrong when we make first contact with an alien race, the first thing that usually comes to mind is total planetary destruction. But according to some experts, our biggest problem may be that we just can't handle it.

Last month the World Economic Forum held its annual meeting in Switzerland and identified five "unheralded dangers" that could "sneak up on us" in the coming years. Most of those dangers were items you might expect: climate change, humans living longer while the population continues to rise, etc. But there's one danger you might not have expected the WEF to tackle: What if aliens visit and we just can't take the massive change in status quo that comes with that?

"Given the pace of space exploration, it is increasingly conceivable that we may discover the existence of alien life or other planets that could support human life. ... In 10 years' time, we may have evidence not only that Earth is not unique, but also that life exists elsewhere in the universe," said the WEF's 2013 Global Risks Report.

It's a reasonable thing to be concerned about, especially in the long term, but why is the WEF just getting to it now? It all has to do with the success of NASA's Kepler observatory. Just 20 years ago, evidence of planets outside our solar system was scarce, but thanks to Kepler we've located thousands of potential alien worlds, many of them very similar to Earth. It's all very cool for astronomy buffs, but economists are worried that if we find so much as an inkling of proof that those planets hold even microscopic life, we could be in for a serious philosophical shakeup simply because we've discovered that Earth is not unique among the planets.

"It will suggest that life is as natural and as ubiquitous a part of the universe as the stars and galaxies," the WEF report said. "The discovery of even simple life would fuel speculation about the existence of other intelligent beings and challenge many assumptions that underpin human philosophy and religion."

In other words, some people will question everything they thought they knew about the universe, and it could send society into chaos. So what's the WEF's solution? Get smart people on the problem, now.

"The scientists suggest that new funding and new brain power will be needed to overcome the challenges that humanity will face as a result of its encounter with an extraterrestrial civilization."

So experts are already planning for the global confusion that could result from contact with an alien civilization. What do you think? Is this worth worrying about?

(Via Huffington Post)