What would you send an alien civilization? Just a ‘Hello!’ or the whole internet?
The idea that we are alone in the universe is as one certain bulk and scientists might say illogical and I’m not saying that just because I’m fascinated with the idea of alien. Statistics are actually on my side. When you have a universe the size of ours, the odds are that there are millions of alien civilizations out there, so why haven’t we heard from them yet?
Well that’s a question that the people at the search for extraterrestrial intelligence or SETI, have been trying to answer since the 1960s. Tey’ve been scouring space for evidence of ETS and they found zip, zero, nada nothing, so what’s going on? Well it could be that any alien civilizations are so far away that their messages haven’t had time to get to us or it could be that aliens are purposefully hiding from us or maybe they’re stuck in the equivalent of the human Stone Age or even the Precambrian era or maybe we have received messages from aliens and we just don’t know it yet.
It’s not all that far-fetched to imagine aliens communicating in a very different way like through chemical excretions or being able to see magnetic fields. After all we have organisms here on earth that are capable of doing that so that raises the question how do we understand a message that might be coming in from an alien civilization? Well to think through the answer SETI held a conference that asked a similar question – how would we send a message out to aliens that aliens could understand? Now if we look at the previous messages we’ve sent out they’re very limited in scope. You’ve got the engraved tablets aboard the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, there’s the encoded radio broadcast that the Arecibo Observatory blasted off into space and then of course there are the golden records aboard the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, but all of these assume that the aliens have human-like vision and hearing plus they also require some form of decryption based on limited clues and zero context. We’re not exactly setting them up for success here but the problem of choosing what and how to say something when you have no information about the recipient is nearly insurmountable!
We even encode mathematics generally considered the universal language in arbitrary symbols – after all, how is an alien supposed to know that a stick sticking another stick with double sticks is an egg? Some of the attendees said we should be sending more simplified messages into space and they used a doorbell as an example. When you hear your doorbell ring you have very little information other than someone has rung your doorbell. Presumably they did it on purpose and they are capable of ringing a doorbell and they probably have the imagination to anticipate what would happen once they rang your doorbell so actually you’ve got more information than you first imagined but other attendees said no no no no no no no forget the simplified messages let’s go the opposite way, let’s send everything!
I’m talking about the entire internet -blasting it off into space. That way the aliens have a lot to draw from – they can build an understanding based on the massive amount of context they’re perhaps creating a rosetta stone for the entire Earth. It would be the good the bad and the cute cats!
Alright, here’s your question for this week if you were sending a message out to aliens what would you want to say and what would you not want to say?
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