'Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them.'
The creation of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge, one of the world's leading academic institutions, is certainly good news for those concerned about the dangers of Artificial Intelligence and the Singularity, and other grave threats to human civilization.
On the other hand...
>Ignorance: A High Stakes Wager
Would you bet the future of the human race on the notion that we're more likely to survive and prosper in the coming years and decades by ignoring any possibility--however slight--of learning of the experiences of other civilizations which long ago experienced the 'Singularity'?
This is exactly the wager humankind has been making for decades, and which the Centre presumably will endorse.
One explanation for the Fermi Paradox and the UFO phenomenon is that ETs from advanced civilizations have been knocking on our door for decades. They not only understand our civilization better than we do, but they also know of the experiences of countless other rapidly evolving technological civilizations, and they know that Contact is always an enormously difficult experience, and a disaster if unwanted.
And so they haven't forced this issue, but rather have deferred, in a limited way, to the wishes of the governments, which, however imperfectly, represent the wishes of the people. The ETs have long been ready to initiate Contact when one or more nations, or perhaps the U.N. accepts responsibility for beginning the process.
This hypothesis might seem wildly improbable, but it's certainly not impossible. And an experiment to test it costs nothing, and can be done now.
All that's necessary is for CSER to ask the UK Space Agency (UKSA), or perhaps the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (UKFCO), if the UK Government would welcome a simple message from any ETs who are willing to talk to us about the experiences of other civilizations like ours.
Of course, almost any group, in almost any nation, could pose a similar question to their government, and solicit an open response.
A simple way to begin the conversation, by demonstrating that the ETs are monitoring our communications, and understand our language, would be a very brief but conspicuous appearance at a specified location, on a specified date and time. If any ETs responded, then the government and people of the UK (et al.) could begin to discuss when and how they wish to begin the Contact process in earnest.
For example, would the UK Government welcome such an appearance, at noon on February 1st, 2013, over Cambridge? [March 1st? April 1st? Ever?]
A simple response to this question from a UK Government spokesperson--"Yes, of course we would welcome such an appearance."--broadcast on BBC, would make it clear that the UK is ready to begin the Contact process.
Of course, CSER, a UK Government spokesperson, or anyone else could ridicule the question, and dismiss it. But wouldn't it be simpler to say 'Yes' or 'No', and explain why?
Do we want to know--or not?
>Contact: Another High Stakes Wager
Most folks would agree that any extensive Contact, whatever the benefits, would be enormously difficult and disruptive for our civilization--perhaps even in some sense, 'the end of life as we know it'.
But the only people who might actually know much about such matters are the very folks humankind so fears speaking to, and learning from--the ETs.
So perhaps we could ask the 'hypothetical' ETs: If you have something to say to us, that years or decades from now, you believe we are likely to deeply regret not having learned now, then will you speak to us now?
What the governments of major nations, the scientists of our world, and those who say they are concerned about the dangers of the Singularity (etc.), perhaps do not understand--and in any case are apparently not willing to openly acknowledge and discuss--is that the only choice we have in this matter is which wager we will make: to try to learn of the mistakes of the past, or to ignore any possibility of trying to learn from them.
For now, at least, the governments of the US, the UK, et al., and the scientists of our world--including those at CSER--have, by their silence, denials, and ridicule of UFOs, in effect assured their citizens that there's no reason to be concerned enough about our future to take the drastic step of trying to learn of the mistakes of past civilizations like ours.
Perhaps we should take comfort from the consensus of great minds, and the leaders of great nations.
On the other hand, perhaps the folks at CSER, and perhaps even a few government officials in the UK, et al., will spare a thought for those, perhaps long ago and far away--or those perhaps much nearer in space and in time--who have made--or who will have made--the same choice.
[For those interested in a longer discussion of this issue, please see: A Real SETI and Why It Matters]