What if in the next few decades, thanks to Kepler showing SETI where to point the antennae, we will discover that we are, in fact, the only radio-using intelligence within six hundred light-years?
Since that's what most people are already expecting, nothing will change if that is indeed the case.
What does it mean for humanity if we are the first species in our galaxy to reach the level of radio?
It either means that we are, in fact, alone in the galaxy, or that we are not
alone, and are simply the most advanced form of life in the galaxy (in which case, humanity, fuck yeah!). It may also imply that our level of intelligence, coupled with the physical form to take full advantage of it, is incredibly
rare, something which our own planet's history would seem to support (after all, in the 4 billion years of Earth's existence, we and our extinct bretheren seem to be the only species that fit those two criteria). Not so rare that a repeat would be impossible, or even unlikely given the size of the universe, but not so common that it should be easy to find.
Are we obligated, then, to go on and become Precursors to the less-developed cultures out there? Should we thus put more emphasis on preserving life on Earth, if it is so rare and precious? Should we encourage the dawning of mind everywhere and uplift other suitable species?
Yes, yes, and maybe. Were we to disperse throughout the galaxy (impossible given today's science and technology, but perhaps some unknown principle will allow FTL travel in the future) at some point in time, and were we to colonize suitable planets, and were we to find intelligent species that we could initiate meaningful communication with, some cultural and technological transfer would be inevitable. Natural curiosity dictates that we would want to learn as much as we could about these creatures, and the creatures would probably, in turn, want to learn as much as possible about us, especially since we would have all this super-advanced technology that would seem almost magical to a primitive species (in fact, it might even seem almost magical to us
right now). Preservation of Earthly life is a given, uplifting species is not; if we uplift them, we'd need to be able to ensure that they will not, one day, become a threat to the human race.
Personally I feel that if we are alone, its an awesome responsibility for us to see Earth's biosphere expand to other planets, and we should start with Terraforming Mars right away.
I fully agree; this would, in fact, be the greatest undertaking in human history. Whether it's practical, at the moment, is a different question.
edited 9th Dec '11 5:51:17 PM by tropetown