Welcome back to the Codex Futurius project, this blog’s never-ending quest to explore the ineffable scientific ideas raised by science fiction. In an earlier entry in the Codex, Jill Tarter of SETI talked about whether we and intelligent-alien species X would recognize each other’s transmissions as such. Now Kevin Grazier–JPL physicist, Hollywood sci-fi adviser, and official friend of Science Not Fiction–looks at the next big question: how we could communicate with any aliens we encounter.
My heroes are in a first-contact situation, meeting an alien face-to-face for the first time. How could my heroes and the alien learn to communicate with each other?
Both knowingly and unwittingly, humans have been broadcasting their presence to the Universe since the 1920s—when coherent transmissions in the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum became widespread. Our radio and television broadcasts do not stop at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere; rather they propagate into space at the speed of light. While these signals attenuate with distance, they are detectable nevertheless: NASA still regularly communicates with the twin Voyager spacecraft despite the fact that they are over 100 times further from the Sun than Earth and that each of which transmit data to Earth with less power than a common household light bulb. This means that an alien civilization as far away as 58 light-years could potentially be trying to make sense of “Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do!” (There are 105 G-type stars—ones like our own lovable Sol—within this I Love Lucy-sphere.)
Welcome to another juicy installment of the Codex Futurius project, this blog’s never-ending quest to explore the timeless scientific ideas raised by science fiction. This question about what kind of aliens we may eventually run into goes to Rocco Mancinelli of SETI. Thanks to Dr. Mancinelli for the enlightening contribution and to Jennifer Ouellette, the director the NAS’ Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEEx) program, for connecting us with him.
What is the most likely form an alien would take?
Life’s architecture is difficult to predict because it depends on many factors involving the interaction of the environment and life through evolution and natural selection. We can, however, make some generalizations based on the vast number of morphological forms that life takes on earth.
Put two stars of Battlestar Galactica on stage with an artificial intelligence expert and two leading robotics professors…and you suck the sci-fi out of the room and replace it with reality (sort of). The World Science Festival event “Battlestar Galactica: Cyborgs on the Horizon” drew a large crowd at the 92nd Street Y on Friday night, for a discussion of how human brains might soon fuse with computer chips to create real cyborgs.
Moderator Faith Salie introduced the panelists: Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University; Michael Hogan, also known as Colonel Saul Tigh; Hod Lipson, director of the Computational Synthesis group at Cornell University; Mary McDonnell, a.k.a. President Laura Roslin; and Kevin Warwick, professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading in England.
Salie asked each panelist to define what a cyborg is. Everyone had different answers: Warwick said it’s something that is part human, Lipson said it’s a moving target or a physical device that takes on biological life, and Bostrom said it’s the essence of human intelligence.
We are teaming up with Jennifer Ouellette and the crew at the Science and Entertainment Exchange to produce a panel on “MAD SCIENCE,” i.e. Science as a double-edged sword, ethically and morally neutral in and of itself, but dependent upon who wields it, and how.
Beloved Internet Personality Phil Plait is lined up to moderate (after he gets his tattoo) and we’re expecting guests from Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Fringe, Stargate: Universe and more. Watch this space for additional details.
Recently released scenes of the upcoming remake of V combine two of our favorite things: creepy aliens and Party of Five! [via thrfeed]
In our vigilant monitoring of the popular media for all things science-related, we’ve identified an emerging trend: scientists as fashion accessories. In just the last few weeks both GQ and Louis Vuitton have inserted scientists and/or astronauts into glossy fashion shoots.
The GQ layout, “The Rock Stars of Science,” introduces a public service campaign that matches musicians with leading researchers in different medical fields to highlight the need for additional research funding. The featured scientists include Francis Collins, Harold Varmus and Anthony Fauci, all of whom have been mentioned in DISCOVER recently, so we can’t quarrel with the science cast or the cause.
My beef is with the rock stars. Joe Perry? Sheryl Crow? Seal? It’ s beyond me why GQ couldn’t find anyone who had produced a meaningful hit in the last ten years. How about Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio (bonus: album is called “Dear Science“)?
Here’s another entry in the Codex Futurius project, this blog’s never-ending quest to explore the timeless scientific ideas raised by science fiction. This question about communicating with aliens goes to Jill Tarter of SETI. Thanks again to Jennifer Ouellette, the director the NAS’ Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEEx) program, for connecting us with Tarter.
Would/will we recognize an alien transmission right away? Is there a chance we could miss such a transmission, or they ours?
We will recognize the sorts of electromagnetic signals for which we have built good matched filters: nanosecond optical laser pulses, narrowband radio continuous wave or pulsed signals. If signals are of some other type (e.g., a modulation scheme with higher dimensionality, or something other than electromagnetic waves) then we will not detect them, except by serendipity as we build new instruments to study our universe in different ways, or by using increasing computational power to look for more complex types of electromagnetic signals.
If signals are transmitted via a technology that we haven’t yet invented, we will miss them until we manage to invent the appropriate technology (remember that we are a very young technology (~100 years) in a very old galaxy (~10 billion years). I suspect we have a lot more to learn.