There would be nothing more disruptive than the sudden discovery of aliens. Perhaps that's why a small contingent of Silicon Valley is so interested in UFOs—and wants to know who's piloting them.
With US Navy pilots coming forward to talk about their encounters with anomalous aerial vehicles, UFO hunters are starting to feel vindicated. The cross-section of technologists who are also UFO enthusiasts believe that they not only exist, but that we can make significant scientific breakthroughs by studying them.
Rizwan Virk, runs PlayLabs@MIT. He's also a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, angel investor, author of The Simulation Hypothesis, and finds UFOs compelling as a technologist and scientist.
“I am interested in the phenomenon because I believe mainstream science may have only discovered 5 percent of the truth about reality, and the other 95 percent is still ‘out there,’” he said in an interview.
Virk said that studying UFOs, whether they are real or not, have challenged his ideas of what he believes is possible: "This phenomenon seems to be about advanced technology that doesn't always fit into our current model of ‘what is technology’ and what isn't,” he said.
“Many technologists use their intuition to find new technology ideas and decide which paths to pursue," he added. "There's overlap between the idea of trusting your intuition and what happens in UFO research.”
Virk admitted that the UFO crowd is fairly small in Silicon Valley, and that the investors and technologists who are interested remain fairly quiet. UFOs, regardless of all the recent press, are still a pretty taboo subject. That being said, it is public knowledge that a wealthy real estate mogul and technopreneur from Utah bought the infamous Skinwalker Ranch from aerospace billionaire Robert Bigelow. For many in the tech world who are also into UFOs, their ufology is an engrossing and obsessive side hustle. Few speak about it publicly, but that's slowly changing.
In her book, American Cosmic: UFOs, Religion, Technology, University of North Carolina Wilmington philosophy professor Diana Pasulka argues that much of the modern UFO discourse contains an aspect of religiosity. Unlike traditional religions which require faith alone, UFOs blend together divinity and technology, and rest upon the scientific possibility that extraterrestrial life may very well be real.
"In front of our eyes are technologies underlying these UFOs that are far beyond our understanding and capabilities of recreating … if we pay close attention and reverse these technologies to bring to the masses, we will see a world with interstellar travel at our fingertips"
The UFO mythos has always been more than little green men in flying saucers and has always carried with it a perpetual challenge to established systems of politics, economics and power. And in Silicon Valley, she found people who had taken leaps of faith both for their startups as well as in believing in UFOs. Perhaps the most famous technologist-ufologist is Jacques Vallee, a computer scientist and venture capitalist who worked on ARPANET, which became the basis for the internet.
"There are other groups who refrain from mythologizing the UFO, who instead engage with it, to understand its truth. You can find these people in Silicon Valley," she wrote in the book. "These are scientists, much like Jacques, who are at the top of their fields and who have produced some of the technologies that have either saved the lives of people you might know (or even yourself) or have developed the technologies that you use every day because you own a cell phone. Like Jacques, they believe in the phenomenon commonly known as 'UFOs' or unexplained aerial phenomena, and they are engaged in the process of translating future technologies into present realities."
It is no surprise that cutting edge technologists share a pseudo-kismet with UFOs. Technology is, by its very nature, disruptive. It alters who we are, it re-shapes meaning, and most importantly, it allows the impossible to become possible.
James Lampkin, the Vice President of Programming at ESL, one of the world’s largest esports companies, told Motherboard that he finds the idea of UFOs compelling because the “implications of that type of technology seem astounding and revolutionary regardless of who is flying.” He expressed his frustration that the media is only scratching the surface of this phenomenon.
Deep Prasad, the CEO of ReactiveQ, a multimillion dollar quantum computing tech start-up based out of Toronto, shares Lampkin’s sentiments.
“As technologists we seek to master science and engineering in such a way that all of humanity benefits from it," he told Motherboard. “In front of our eyes are technologies underlying these UFOs that are far beyond our understanding and capabilities of recreating … if we pay close attention and reverse these technologies to bring to the masses, we will see a world with interstellar travel at our fingertips."
Similar to Virk, Prasad fundamentally believes that if UFOs can be studied, it would shift humanity’s understanding of what technology is. He asserts that scientific research into this phenomenon “will lead to a technological revolution like no other in all of human history.”
Lampkin has tried to convince some of his friends to turn on the news and watch the recent surge in UFO coverage. He laments that only “10 or 20% of his friends are straight up open minded,” and a handful have “dove into the mud” with him, but the rest seem frustratingly disinterested or stone cold skeptical.
Virk pointed out that most VC’s in the valley are not going to start throwing their money into researching UFOs, at least not publicly, simply because there is no guarantee of a payoff. Investing in studying UFOs is, well, quite risky.
"Some reports of the technology have said that it gets into areas that we are just starting to explore in Silicon Valley - mind/computer interfaces,” Virk said.
Somewhere in this liminal state between humanity and machines, between us and the tools we create, rests, for lack of a better term, an alien. UFOs, real or not, abduct not only our culture but the imaginations and intuitions of some of our brightest minds. Perhaps this little band of Ufonauts in Silicon Valley serve as a reminder that we ought not to take things for granted, that what we deem as ‘normal’ is often arbitrary. UFOs, and the people who are interested in them, make society uncomfortable because they symbolize one of our greatest fears: change.