Sunday, October 12, 2008

Prime Directive redux

As a follow-up to the last post, Technology Intervention is Moral for advanced civilizations, it could be quite useful to develop a rigorous Principles of Societal Interaction to be ready for any potential future communications. Current Earth-based treaties and norms, as well as Star Trek's Prime Directive, as Hiro Sheridan points out, could be drawn upon for ideas.

Star Trek's Prime Directive espouses a strict non-interference policy towards other societies and identifies a key technological pivot point, the development of the warp drive allowing interstellar space travel.

The Prime Directive is an interesting blueprint; however alternatives could be evaluated for at least three reasons: practicality, reality and moral imperative.

  • First, as a practical matter, the Earth-based examples have been a case of societies being aware of each other, and often interfering. A clean, invisible, non-interference model is probably not practical, even for societies scattered through space. Being cognizant of the limited frame of human-reasoning, it still seems that if there are multiple intelligent societies in the universe, it is at least possible that they will start finding each other through SETI-type programs and other means, either intentionally or accidentally. At minimum, it is not ascertainable that any and all advanced societies would have and be able to successfully execute a non-interference and non-awareness policy.
  • Second, in responding to the complicated nuances of reality, there is a difference between non-interference in the internal affairs of another society in the Prime Directive and Westphalian sovereignty sense (supportable) and complete non-interaction (less supportable). There could be many types of interaction and diplomatic mission technology sharing as has been the historical precedent for Earth-based societies whose objectives would not be in contravention with Westphalian sovereignty. Over time, it may even be that Earth-based intelligent society evolves a universal bill of rights for all intelligent life, irrespective of nation-state or other jurisdiction such that concepts like Westphalian sovereignty become outmoded.
  • Third, as argued in Technology Intervention is Moral, it is not clear that non-interference is the most moral course and an advanced society may consider it a moral imperative to offer certain types of suffering-alleviation/quality-of-life-improving technology to less advanced societies such as vaccinations has been the case on Earth.

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