Monday, February 22, 2010

Extraterrestrial Research via the Internet

Extraterrestrial contact

I love the folks at Arizona State University. They manage to take a foundation of hard science and still have the guts to ask the truly interesting questions. When it comes to discussing extraterrestrial life there is a point where the science sidewalk ends and you need to speculate. I enjoy speculation by the folks who are firmly grounded in reality.

One of those is Dr. Paul Davies. He has a new book coming out about SETI research called “The Eerie Silence.” The cool thing about the book is that he finds new ways to answer the big questions: if there are extraterrestrials out there, why is the universe so quiet? Why haven’t we picked up a transmission?

Maybe they don’t want us to know about them yet? Maybe they are still doing research?

This is one idea from Dr. Davies, as reported in the American Chronicle:

“One of Davies' most interesting suggestions was the possibility of an alien space probe somewhere in the vicinity of the Earth. Perhaps, Davies suggested, such a space probe might already be "logged into our Internet" in an effort to study our culture and understand our species.”

It’s something I have thought for some time: if you were interested in learning more about human culture and technology, why wouldn’t you get online? If extraterrestrials have the ability to make a probe connect with our Internet, it would make complete sense to do their research with the most powerful research tool on our planet.

Think about the difference from 40 years ago. We used to joke about aliens learning about our culture from “Gilligan’s Island” episodes. Well, television and radio broadcasts were some of the few sources of information that would have been available back then. Perhaps they could have tapped into satellite systems to mine other data. Still, compare that to today: instant access to billions and billions of bytes worth of information about our science, culture and technology.
How tough would it be? If the extraterrestrials were nearby they could probably just send a probe to hook into the Internet via one of many orbiting satellites. The most time consuming process would be achieving that in a way we would not detect, and beaming the data back. If they sent the probe from a far off star system the transmission issue would probably be magnified.

Of course mining the Internet for data can be a frightening prospect. You would hope they have the ability to sort out all of the junk information. Common sense would say that extraterrestrial researchers would seek out our peer review system of science to help determine what materials they would use. Academic sources can be found in nearly every field imaginable. It would require them to break passwords and navigate a few protected areas. While any civilization with the technology to reach us could do this easily, I wonder if their ethical boundaries would allow them to do such? I know, I know…alien ethical standards, if they could even perceive such a human thing, would be very different from ours. But that doesn’t mean we might not share a few of the same ethical considerations.

What does this mean for extraterrestrial First Contact? It gives us a way to understand how they might be looking at us. What kind of society would you find if you jumped online for the very first time? What specifically would you be looking for? What does the amazing preponderance of pornography online say about us as a people?

Extraterrestrial contact may never happen at all. We may be very alone in the universe. If intelligent life does exist and extraterrestrial visitors travel to our solar system, I would be shocked to find they have not utilized the Internet. So what else can I say? Hello and welcome.

If you want more information about the cool things going on at ASU check out the Beyond Center web site.

Alien First Contact

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