In the movies, first contact between humans and aliens usually ends in war—between the humans and aliens. But in the real world, first contact is way more likely to end in war between humans and humans.
That was the conclusion of a groundbreaking study published two years ago, which helped launch an intensifying debate between two scientific camps. The first camp is pessimistic, and worries that first contact could have dire political consequences on Earth. The other, more optimistic group insists humanity could meet aliens for the first time and not go crazy over it.
It’s not a purely theoretical debate. There’s a practical—and potentially very serious—purpose behind the academic back-and-forth: to begin preparing politicians for the possibility of first contact, and try to get them to handle it like grown-ups.
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