What Would You Say to an Extraterrestrial
Douglas Vakoch is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, as well as the only social scientist employed by a SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) organization. Dr. Vakoch researches ways that different civilizations might create messages that could be transmitted across interstellar space, allowing communication between humans and extraterrestrials even without face-to-face contact. He is particularly interested in how we might compose messages that would begin to express what it's like to be human. Dr. Vakoch leads the SETI Institute's project to compose interstellar messages of the kind that may some day be sent in reply to a signal from extraterrestrials. As a member of the International Institute of Space Law, he examines international policy issues related to sending such responses. He serves as Chair of both the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) Study Group on Interstellar Message Construction and the IAA Study Group on Active SETI: Scientific, Technical, Societal, and Legal Dimensions. Dr. Vakoch has published widely in scholarly books and journals in psychology, anthropology, astronautics, and the relationship between the arts and sciences. He is the editor of several books, including Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society, Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective, and Ecofeminism and Rhetoric: Critical Perspectives on Sex, Technology, and Discourse. His work has been featured in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, Nature, Science, and Der Spiegel. As a spokesman on the cultural aspects of SETI, he has been interviewed on radio and television shows on the BBC, NPR, ABC, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, and many others. In addition to being a clinical psychologist (Ph.D., State University of New York at Stony Brook), Dr. Vakoch has formal training in comparative religion (B.A., Carleton College) and the history and philosophy of science (M.A., University of Notre Dame). His broad background gives him unique insights into the significance of SETI as a human enterprise in deeper self- understanding. In addition to his position at the SETI Institute, Dr. Vakoch is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations).