Professor Allen Tough
Futurist, Scientist, Author
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About Professor Allen Tough

This page contains a narrative biography of Allen Tough (and how the Invitation to ETI developed). Another page in this "About" section provides a detailed curriculum vitae that includes his professional and academic activities, as well as a list of publications, many with links.

Prof. Allen ToughAllen Tough (rhymes with stuff) was born and raised in Canada. He has lived in Toronto for most of his life. His parents were Margaret "Marnie" Tough and David L. Tough.

During his years as a student at the University of Toronto, Allen Tough's interests included psychology, sociology, philosophy, global issues, alternative futures, journalism, youth education, and adult education as well as soccer, skating, dancing, campus publications, and wilderness hiking. He served as Editor-in-Chief of the 450-page all-campus yearbook for two years, recruiting and supervising a staff of 40 volunteers.

During his twenties, he taught high-school English and Guidance for two years, earned his M.A. at the University of Toronto, married and began his family, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, and became an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. In Chicago, in line with his focus on the psychology of adult learning and change, he did a Ph.D. internship in conference planning and wrote his Ph.D. thesis on the behavior of adults during self-directed learning projects.

Until the end of the 1970s, Dr. Tough's line of research focused on the adult's successful efforts to learn and change, particularly the 70% of adults who are self-guided without relying much on professionals or institutions. His two best-known books from this line of research are The Adult's Learning Projects and Intentional Changes.

In the foreword to Intentional Changes, Roby Kidd said, "On several occasions, when I have referred to Allen Tough as an explorer and adventurer in ideas, this comment has caused surprise and doubt: he seems so quiet. Until people think about it, they do not guess how far he has traveled, how many ideas and fields of inquiry he has searched. He seems so aloof, so untouched by all the ferment and conflict of ideas. But he has been there and has experienced most of the tumult in thinking and feeling, while his own life proceeds steadily because he has made the decisions that govern it and carried them out. He brings back news. While no poet, Allen does have the knack that some explorers have of talking about what has happened simply enough so that the rest of us can understand."

In 1981, Professor Tough changed his academic appointment to half time for six years. His purpose was to move into three new areas that had interested him for many years. One of these areas was the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), an interest sparked in 1963 when he read a pioneering book on that topic by astronomer Harlow Shapley and attended his public lecture. His second new area was the well-being of future generations and the long-term future of human civilization. The third area was humanity's search for meaning and purpose on the individual, societal, and cosmic level.

In 1986, Allen Tough published a foundation paper for each of his three new areas, including "What role will extraterrestrials play in humanity's future?" in JBIS and "Gaining meaning and purpose from seven aspects of reality" in Ultimate Reality and Meaning. He continues to care deeply about all three areas--intelligent life in the universe, humanity's long-term future, and meaning and purpose.

All three areas are featured in his 1991 book, Crucial Questions About the Future. It includes chapters on why humanity's long term future is the most important value of all, how we might achieve a satisfactory future, what role extraterrestrial intelligence might play in our future, how people gain meaning and purpose from reality, and how each person can contribute to society through learning and action. His online book called A Message From Future Generations also includes all three areas.

Almost everyone who thinks and writes about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence agrees that the technology of any civilization we detect will be thousands or even millions of years beyond ours. In his 1986 and 1987 SETI papers, Tough had discussed the likelihood that such a civilization can (one way or another) reach or study our solar system. In November 1994 he began to focus more intensively on such a possibility. One year later, at the Boston Museum of Science, he devoted his Wright Lecture on Cosmic Evolution to this topic, specifically to the feasibility of a small smart interstellar probe reaching our planet. During 1996, at SETI and Contact conferences in California, Capri, and Beijing, he presented papers that furthered this topic. A year later he incorporated these papers into a foundation paper on small smart interstellar probes for JBIS.

Throughout 1995 and early 1996, Allen Tough pondered how to detect extraterrestrial intelligence if it had, in fact, reached Earth. Finally, in June 1996, he came up with a fresh and promising approach. He realized that the World Wide Web enabled a new search strategy. It was now possible to switch from detecting to inviting. Instead of figuring out how to detect extraterrestrial intelligence, humans could simply use the Web to invite contact.

The logic of this idea is simple. As Tough read and thought about the long-term future of human civilization and technology, he realized that a highly advanced civilization or intelligence would likely be able to study our civilization in detail. Humans will likely achieve a similar capability within 200 years, and NASA is already trying to design an interstellar probe; such feats should be easy for an intelligence and technology thousands of years older than we are. Tough realized that a highly advanced intelligence could learn our languages and learn about our civilization in great detail. In particular, it could monitor our television broadcasts, our fax and email communications (as some of our human security agencies do already), and of course our World Wide Web and its search engines and directories. As a result of this insight, he decided to establish an "Invitation to ETI" web page that invites communication. His paper called How to achieve contact: Five promising strategies spells out this entire train of logic and provides the scientific rationale for the project.

On November 21, 1996, Allen Tough uploaded the invitation and several linked web pages to his AOL member's page. On December 9, he submitted the URLs for these "Invitation to ETI" pages to the major search engines so that ETI could easily find the invitation. Since then the web pages have been revised many times. In February 2000 the website received the SETI SuperStar Award from the SETI League. In July 2000 and again in July 2001 it was chosen as a Hot Site by USA Today.

In the early stages of this effort to contact ETI (in whatever form it has reached our solar system), about 20 individuals were listed as an informal advisory panel. On October 27, 1998, a much larger group issued the Invitation to ETI, with Allen Tough serving as coordinator. This group now includes roughly 100 people, most of them scientists and artists who are active in the SETI field, the interstellar propulsion field, studies of the future, or the annual CONTACT conference.

Allen Tough hopes that this group will not be the only group to issue an invitation to ETI. He looks forward to the day when an invitation is issued by Unesco, by the United Nations, by the International Academy of Astronautics or its SETI Permanent Study Group, by the International Astronomical Union or its Commission 51, by the Planetary Society, and by other international groups and nongovernmental organizations. The wider the choice of invitations, the more likely ETI is to respond.

In June 1997, after 33 years as a faculty member at the University of Toronto, Allen Tough decided to retire early in order to devote his full time and energy to his research interests. He is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto.

Allen Tough has been actively involved in all three of his core areas of interest: (1) the long-term future of human civilization, (2) highly advanced intelligence in the universe, and (3) humanity's search for meaning and purpose on the individual and societal level. In addition to his research, writing, and teaching over the years, Tough has been active in international conferences and organizations in his particular areas of interest. He has organized and chaired five international conferences, including the 2-day seminar on the impact of contact held in Hawaii just before Bioastronomy '99. He has made 192 presentations at conferences in 19 countries. His publications include 8 books, 33 chapters, and 94 published papers. Many of these publications and other activities are listed in his formal resume. His research has been cited more than 200 times, and it has sparked 90 further studies in 10 countries.

In 2002, he presented papers at the European SETI conference in San Marino (Italy), the SETI League symposium in New Jersey, the bioastronomy conference on "Life Among the Stars" in Australia, and the World Space Congress in Texas. Also in 2002 he co-founded an online journal called Contact in Context and serves as Editor. And he established a Future Generations Forum on the World Future Society's website. For the bioastronomy conference, he organized and chaired a well attended panel discussion on four cutting-edge questions.

In 2003, he co-founded the Best Ideas Awards. At the annual SETI League meeting, he presented his final report as Chair of the Strategic Planning Committee. And he received the Orville N. Greene Service Award for Extraordinary Service. Later that year, at a conference in California, he covered the entire future of cosmic evolution and human evolution in 45 minutes!

Allen's most recent honors include the 2006 Malcolm Knowles Self-Directed Learning Award, which he received at the 20th annual symposium on self-directed learning in Florida, where he gave a keynote lecture. In 2006 he was also inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Dallas, Texas.

Also in 2006, Allen Tough initiated a series of lectures to be held at the annual meetings of the International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group. These Billingham Cutting-Edge Lectures are named for Dr. John Billingham, and feature researchers with fresh, outside-the-box approaches to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The inaugural lecture was delivered by Steven Dick at the 2006 conference in Valencia, Spain, and the 2007 lecture was delivered by Kathryn Denning in Hyderabad, India. Allen will fund this lecture series until at least 2012.

In keeping with his interest in innovative ideas, Allen Tough continues his involvement with the Best Ideas Awards.

In 2007, Conversations on Lifelong Learning released a DVD which features an extensive interview with Prof. Tough, touching on many of his interests over the years. The DVD is for sale at

In January 2008, at the age of 72, Allen Tough said about his health: "I have always enjoyed walking and hiking, and enjoyed good health until recently. Then one day in the summer of 2000, while my wife Cathy and I were hiking in Kluane National Park in the Yukon, I had problems with balance and falling. At the time, I attributed it to fatigue. Now I know it was the first warning sign of a disease called Multiple System Atrophy, a rare degenerative disease related to Parkinson's. It occurs because of progressive cell loss in numerous sites in the central nervous system. Why this cell loss occurs is unknown. Because MSA causes postural instability and low blood pressure, I always use a walker. I continue to live a happy, busy, productive life. I feel cheerful and not at all sick. Cathy and I often enjoy walking in natural settings. Life is good!"

Dr. Tough's current research project seeks insights into any extraterrestrial intelligence (and its science, philosophy, ethics, arts, and technology) that has been evolving for thousands or millions of years longer than we humans have. He benefits from monthly discussions with Kathryn Denning and weekly help from research assistant Anne Hartman. His previous research assistant, Scarlett Wang, played a key role in the Invitation to ETI for several years, but left Canada in 2006.

He wishes to devote as much time as possible to this research project. So he has turned the day-to-day responsibilities and leadership of the Invitation to ETI over to Paul Shuch. Allen Tough will continue to be enthusiastically involved as the benefactor and chief scientist of Invitation to ETI. Susan Tough and Paul Tough have agreed to maintain both websites when Paul Shuch eventually retires.

A formal resume (also called a curriculum vitae or CV) provides details of Professor Tough's activities, including a list of his publications. A photo gallery shows him and some colleagues at various conferences.

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