Strategic Plan, 2015 - 2018

Adopted by METI International's Board of Directors on August 19, 2015. Amended version adopted by METI International's Board of Directors on February 3, 2016.

GOAL 1: Develop and implement innovative METI and SETI strategies and supporting activities.

Objective 1.1: Initiate an ongoing project in Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI).

Rationale: METI International will launch a sustained project in Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI), sometimes called active SETI, drawing on an international group of experts in interstellar message construction. The project will test the hypothesis that a powerful, intentional, information-rich signal from Earth may elicit a response from extraterrestrial intelligence, even if they already know of our existence from accidental leakage radiation. Recognizing the profound implications of making contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, prior to transmission METI International will engage in broad consultation with experts from the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, and other fields to encourage a responsible approach to sending messages. This work will also inform possible transmissions in response to the detection of another civilization through passive SETI.

By using existing planetary radar facilities such as Arecibo observatory for initial experiments of limited duration, we avoid capital investment and ongoing operations costs. The largest potential cost—the design of messages that will plausibly be intelligible to extraterrestrial intelligence—is met in large part by drawing on an international community of researchers who already have expertise in this area . Later, more ambitious METI transmissions will be planned through a design study of scope analogous to Project Cyclops, which laid the foundation for passive radio SETI.

Any organization that hopes to detect an extraterrestrial civilization also has a responsibility to consider what humankind can offer that other civilization in return. METI International will also support efforts to transmit signals to other civilizations with the intention of communicating our existence to other civilizations, even if we do not receive a reply. By conducting a METI project, we will model a sense of fairness and responsibility in making contact with other life.

Implementation 1.1.1: Initiate a commensal METI project at facilities such as Arecibo Observatory. The scenario and process will be designed to mitigate possible risks of METI.

Implementation 1.1.2: Conduct design study for a large-scale METI project, analogous in scope to Project Cyclops.  Initiate first phase of the design study’s plan. 

Implementation 1.1.3 : Hold one or more workshops addressing ethical, legal, policy, and societal dimensions of METI, while also exploring related issues in passive SETI. One likely venue is University of Texas at Austin.

Implementation 1.1.4 : Educate the general public about key issues in METI through community-based activities such as theatrical productions that detail the events that would surround both the detection of a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence and also the decision to transmit a message from Earth.

Implementation 1.1.5 : Launch crowdfunding campaign to support METI experiment, gaining involvement and support from the broader public through social media.

Objective 1.2: Establish globally distributed optical SETI network.

Rationale: As SETI has evolved over the past half century, the early reliance on radio searches has been expanded to include searches at optical frequencies. Past optical SETI projects have emphasized strategies that can be conducted on individual large telescopes. In contrast, METI International’s optical SETI program will coordinate a global network of small optical SETI observatories, providing innovative capabilities for real-time follow-up of plausible signals, which will simultaneously advance priorities in education and public outreach.

Implementation 1.2.1: Develop process to recruit and provide training for serious amateur astronomers to establish optical SETI observatories that become part of a global network.

Implementation 1.2.2: Launch summer internship program for graduate and undergraduate science and engineering students to contribute to the development of the Boquete Optical SETI Observatory in Panama (

Implementation 1.2.3: Communicate to the general public about METI International’s optical SETI work through such activities as podcasts, YouTube videos, Google Hangouts, and interviews.

Implementation 1.2.4: Develop protocol for real-time follow-up of candidate signal detection through coordination of distributed observatories.

Objective 1.3: Establish METI International as the world’s leader in interstellar message design.

Rationale: To communicate with extraterrestrial intelligence, we need a common “language.” Among the most frequently proposed universal languages for METI are mathematics and science. Without mathematics and science, it is argued, extraterrestrial intelligence could not create the technology needed for interstellar communication. But does this argument hold? Are numbers and scientific concepts really like Platonic ideals, existing independently of human minds, or are they culturally constructed—perhaps differently by other forms of intelligence? Going one step further, can we tap into such mathematical and scientific concepts to begin to discuss our sense of aesthetics, as through the mathematical and physical structure of music? METI International faces these questions head-on, seeking innovative solutions to these and other challenges of interstellar communication. This work will draw upon experts from the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, and other fields in support of METI projects, while also providing the foundation for reply messages in the event of the detection of an extraterrestrial civilization through passive SETI.

Implementation 1.3.1: Host one or more workshops, with a fee for attendance, called “Introducing Humanity,” where people respond in various ways—story, music, poetry, art—to the question, “What would an extraterrestrial want to know about us?”

Implementation 1.3.2: Host a workshop linked to publication of Between Worlds: The Art and Science of Interstellar Message Composition (MIT Press) open to invited media and drawing on established international expertise in the area.

Implementation 1.3.3: Establish annual colloquium to gather international experts in interstellar message construction for focused message design project.

Implementation 1.3.4: Build on METI International’s emphasis on the Drake Equation to develop large-scale interstellar message based on the story of cosmic evolution.

GOAL 2: Conduct an integrated analysis of the final three terms of the Drake Equation, including discussion of sustainability and the future of life.

Objective 2.1: Use the Drake Equation to communicate to the international scholarly community and general audiences the breadth of topics encompassed by astrobiology.

Rationale: In 1961 astronomer Frank Drake identified seven terms that, when multiplied together, provide an estimate of the number of extraterrestrial civilizations currently transmitting in our galaxy. By systematically reviewing the seven terms of the equation that Drake formulated, we come to appreciate the range of astronomical, geological, chemical, biological, and cultural factors that underlie the contemporary search for life beyond Earth. A close examination of our changing estimates of these factors—both before and after 1961—highlights the historical context of contemporary astrobiological research and emphasizes the remarkable progress scientists have made in recent years.

Implementation 2.1.1: Conduct audio and video interviews with experts on various terms of the Drake Equation for educational use through podcasts, YouTube videos, and exhibits in observatories and science museums.

Objective 2.2: Establish METI International as a leader in multidisciplinary research comparing communication and intelligence across species.

Rationale: By definition, METI and SETI entail attempts to communicate with other species. Although we do not have access to extraterrestrial organisms, we can study communication as it occurs within and between a range of terrestrial species. Moreover, METI International will foster an understanding of communication from multiple complementary approaches, including cognitive science, cognitive linguistics, information theory, ethology, and biosemiotics. METI International will support research examining the evolution of intelligence by identifying the biological, environmental, and cultural prerequisites for intelligence to emerge, in an effort to explore whether there are parallels of cognitive evolution across species on Earth. By learning more about the environmental pressures and circumstances supporting the evolution of terrestrial cognition, we may gain insights into the sorts of extraterrestrial intelligence that could exist. By better understanding the range of ways that terrestrial species communicate, we will be better prepared to create interstellar messages that may be comprehensible by extraterrestrial intelligence.

Implementation 2.2.1: Initiate research and workshops on the evolution of cognition, intelligence, and language, to understand better Drake Equation factor fi, the fraction of life-bearing worlds on which intelligence evolves.

Implementation 2.2.2: Organize a workshop to identify insights from studies of non-human intelligence and interspecies communication that may help guide METI and SETI search strategies.

Implementation 2.2.3 : Conduct audio and video interviews with experts on ethical issues in studying animal intelligence and communication, featuring research of scientists who study species in naturalistic settings to avoid promoting captivity of these species. In support of METI International’s educational mission, selections of these interviews will be disseminated to the general public through podcasts and YouTube videos.

Objective 2.3: Foster multigenerational perspectives on astrobiology that emphasize sustainability.

Rationale: As we consider the final term of the Drake Equation, L, the longevity of civilizations, we also attempt to anticipate the future of our own civilization. For SETI to succeed, extraterrestrial civilizations need to have the technology to communicate at interstellar distances longer than we have had it; if not, then it is unlikely we and they will co-exist. As we consider future forms of life on Earth and the environments in which it will live, we find connections between L and other terms of the Drake Equation. Advances in computer technologies make some optimistic that artificial intelligence will someday exceed the intelligence of Homo sapiens. Developments in genetic engineering may lead to synthetic life, and if humans continue to exist, they may do so with augmented capabilities. If extraterrestrial intelligence follows a similar trajectory, our first contact with life beyond Earth may be with postbiological intelligence, which could affect our approach to interstellar communication.

Given the vast distances between stars, a roundtrip exchange between civilizations could take centuries or millennia. Some have argued that our own future is too uncertain to commit resources to send messages, when we may not be around to receive a reply. But the very act of transmitting, with the hope of a response, may have subtle effects on our long-term expectations as a species. To maintain the memory that we have transmitted signals to other worlds until we receive a response, we would need to rethink institutions on multigenerational timescales.

The longevity of civilizations is intricately connected to questions of survival, especially in the face of increasing technological capabilities that may outstrip social development. One of the great challenges of surviving into the coming centuries is to cultivate sustainable environmental practices. But first, we must acknowledge the real threats that exist and the actions we can take in response. This requires changes in our actions and perhaps even our belief systems, as we shift from patterns of dominating nature to acting as stewards of the environment. Often it is not enough to have the scientific facts in front of us; recognition of both the need and the possibility of change can be fostered through literature, psychology, and philosophy. In the process of becoming a sustainable species, we may come to have a quite different understanding of what it means to be fully human.

Implementation 2.3.1: Establish archive of METI messages in cooperation with organizations such as the Long Now Foundation and Stanford University Digital Archives, addressing challenges of maintaining archives over long timescales.

Implementation 2.3.2:  Host workshop on possible future directions of life on Earth, including artificial intelligence and synthetic life, seeking insights into possible forms of extraterrestrial life and implications for search strategies.

Implementation 2.3.3: Offer a certificate program in storytelling in the cosmos—open to community members who pay the certificate fee—which includes a focus on the stories we tell about the challenges of long-term human survival.

Implementation 2.3.4: Conduct audio and video interviews with experts on ways that ecofeminism can provide insights into fostering environmental sustainability on multigenerational timescales. In support of METI International’s educational mission, selections of these interviews will be disseminated to the general public through podcasts and YouTube videos.