From Saturday to Tuesday, more than 100 of the world's leaders in business, politics, education, sports, entertainment, the environment and technology are gathering for a conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Nothing too weird about that. But among the many discussions of how to break new ground through global innovation, they'll be talking about UFOs.
That's right. Unidentified flying objects and the ongoing interest in finding life in outer space are on the roster at this unique event.
"Even if UFOs and aliens weren't real, just thinking about it is a big thing, enlarging the scope of our thinking to include a larger part of the galactic neighborhood instead of the planet," Friedman told AOL News on the eve of his departure for Saudi Arabia.
Sponsored by the official Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, the vision of the GCF program is to bring together business leaders, politicians and intellectuals who share a common interest in how competitiveness can be used to find real solutions to global challenges.
And GCF organizers think UFOs might offer some inspiration.
"Using knowledge gained from research in the fields of ufology and the search for extraterrestrial life, what might we possibly learn about hindrances to innovation in other areas of inquiry?" That's one of the topics described on the official GCF website, where the UFO panel theme is listed as Contact: Learning From Outer Space.
"After 52 years of study and investigation, I have concluded that the evidence is overwhelming that Earth is being visited by intelligently controlled extraterrestrial spacecraft. In other words, some UFOs are alien vehicles," said Friedman.
He added that he's "convinced, after my work for major corporations as a nuclear physicist, that technological progress comes from doing things differently in an unpredictable way. The future is not an extrapolation of the past.
In addition to Friedman, the panel will include astrophysicist/computer scientist Jacques Vallee, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, author/journalist Nick Pope, and Egyptian scholar and member of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs Zaghloul El-Naggar.
"I'm convinced there's a phenomenon there, that there is a technology," Vallee told AOL News before heading to Saudi Arabia. "And I'm not kidding myself that we're going to discover a new form of propulsion tomorrow, just by looking at UFO patterns."
He explained that this is how he's always approached the mystery of UFOs.
"These things are real and they do something we don't understand, but if we're clever in watching and understanding the patterns, maybe we can learn something about physics that we didn't know before."
Vallee was the model for the French scientist portrayed by Francois Truffaut in the classic 1977 UFO film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." The following year, he, Friedman and I found ourselves at the United Nations, trying to get the international community to exchange UFO information.
Now, 33 years later, Vallee isn't surprised that the Saudi Arabia conference is including UFOs on its agenda.
"Well, I think the world is changing. It is a respectable subject," he said. "Certainly, internationally, what I've found is that people who are informed and are aware of the phenomenon are much more willing to support people doing serious research on it."
For his part in the weekend panel, Friedman doesn't plan to present images of flying saucers.
"I'm not showing one picture of a UFO. I decided I wasn't going to put on a UFO dog-and-pony show. I'll say that we're dealing with a cosmic Watergate and that there are beings out there who have innovated far more than we have."
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