TED Conversations

Sabin Muntean

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

TEDCRED 50+

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What should be our first message towards ET?

Inspired by Seth Shostak's talk about picking up messages from ET, I'd like to hear your ideas about what humanity's first radio message directed towards them should be.

Given the fact that an extraterrestrial civilization may be far more advanced than we are and perhaps already be aware of our existence just as we are aware of the ants walking around in the dirt what should we say when we first directly adress them?

The Voyager Golden Record and the Pioneer Plaques were designed to give some general information in case other forms of intelligence happen to come across them but if we were more certain that our message would be heard would be say something different?

I'm looking forward to your answers!

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  • Jun 10 2012: Having only recently discovered that life exists on other plants - for that matter that other planets exist - We hope that you will understand our hesitant nature to invite you over for coffee. Would you please send a picture and some form of references. We will of course enjoy talking to you assuming that your communications systems do not, as ours do, require a two year commitment and a data plan. BTW - Our planet earth is a little under the weather and we would appreciate any ideas you have to correct this problem so we can still be here when you arrive. Yours Truely, 9 Billion Humans
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      Jun 16 2012: True, why is it if they are there why don't they offer assistance with our planet and all its problems.
      Its just plain rude not to.
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    Jun 4 2012: The message should be geometrical figures.... they will understand only symbols and not any language
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    Aja B. 20+

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    Jun 14 2012: "Help!"

    :)
  • Jun 8 2012: This is what we can do for you, what can you do for us?

    "outsourcing" ;)
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    Jun 4 2012: I think we need to show them that some of us have moved past the small self and believe compassion is the most important thing, so I think our first step should be to ask them a question: How do we help the rest of humanity advance to that stage?
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      Jun 5 2012: I like your idea, assuming we could find a way to relay the message. I believe this is a problem that would not only be beneficial for us as a community to figure out ourselves, but is going to be a lot of fun trying to spread a collective understanding that there is more than just 'us' or 'I'.
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    Jun 16 2012: Stay away. hostile.
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    Jun 9 2012: Music and art are more universal than language. Our planet alone has hundreds of languages and few of us know more than one. If an alien message arrived, and we happened to be the receptor, then we need to seek to understand how the message was composed. Most likely they would have used a method of mathematics, such as prime numbers as Carl Sagan had proposed. Whatever it is, it would have to be something that is not natural. Once we have determined that, we will be able to use the same means to respond.

    Second, we need to understand where the message is coming from (as in what direction and how far). Not that it matters where they come from, but rather where we should send the message in return. Bear in mind that radio waves travel at the speed of light. Depending on where the message originated, we may be receiving a message that was sent centuries ago, and any return message may not be received until hundreds of years in the future.

    However, if an alien life form sent us a message knowing that we are here, they may already have deciphered some of our languages. In that case, we need to listen to what they are saying and recognize that they may be far superior to us, particularly if they have travelled the distance and are close at hand.

    Our response should be to try to establish a means of communication. What we send should contain no hostility, but a desire to understand.
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    Jun 9 2012: They won't speak any form of Earth language, so communicating with them in that way is out of the question. Anyways they might communicate in a completely different form than we do. I think the best we can do is show them that we can do mathematics, and show them binary code to prove to them we are an intelligent species. It would also probably help if we showed them a map of our solar system, and possibly the galaxy, and also that planets orbit the sun in an elliptical orbit. If we show them that they will know we think beyond our own planet, and that we are curious about the universe. The hard part of course will be trying to understand them after we communicate all that stuff to them.
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      Jun 11 2012: They've had nearly 100 years of radio and TV to analyse. If they aren't smart enough to have deciphered the most common languages, they probably aren't smart enough to come up with interstellar travel. I would guess they will introduce themselves in english, french and possibly several other languages. English and french because world wide events seam to be broadcast in these two languages. Olympics etc
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        Jun 12 2012: Good point, but they would only be able to decipher our languages if they communicated in a similar fashion to us. Even if they evolved on an Earth like planet, it is still possible that they don't use language as a way to communicate. If they have evolved on a planet completely unlike Earth it is possible that they have never encountered language before, so if they encounter our radio and TV signals they may have no idea how to decipher it because they have no idea what it is. Or they could be so many millions of years advanced, language is a primitive form of communication to them so they wouldn't even bother making contact with us.
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          Jun 13 2012: I'm relying on them being not too different to us. They will have evolved in similar conditions to have similar senses. For example all sighted life on Earth see the same frequencies of EMR. They have independantly evolverd this ability because planetary atmospheres are only transparent at particular frequencies. There's no point being able to see UV or X-rays as they don't penetrate the atmosphere. Their chemistry should be similar as well. We are based on hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen because they are common throughout the universe. We are far from special.
  • Jun 5 2012: I come in peace I cannot speak for anyone else.
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    Jun 4 2012: The message:"Hello, this is earth caling, we did send you this message 5 milion years ago, are you still there?, we don't know if were still around, but nevertheless have -according to hindu contemplating- a nice brama."
    (a hindu brama corresponds to 8.64 bilion years and is thought to be one universe day. source: Carl Sagan on god and gods- to be found on youtube)
  • Jun 4 2012: Peter, I prefer to think that they will like "I Love Lucy" and arrive with lots of mambo tunes and frilly shirts.
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      Jun 4 2012: Assuming they equate importance with repetative broadcasting your wish may come true ;-)
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    Jun 4 2012: They've been watching our TV broadcasts for 70 years and listening to our radio for longer. It's a bit late to think about our first message. I just hope all those sci-fi shows about alien invasion don't give them ideas:-). I also hope they're smart enough to realise a reality show doesn't actually contain any reality.
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      Jun 10 2012: I thought about this too, if they somehow happen to understand human languages the first thing the would hear would be Hitler's inauguration speech at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936.

      But my question was rather aimed at a message we would design especially for ET.
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    Jun 3 2012: When I was a kid, I read in a children's educational book that we are transmitting mathematical equations into outer space to indicate that we're an intelligent species. Up till now, that's all I know of our search for ETs =) This is the first time I've heard of the Voyager Golden Record and the Pioneer Plaques--and the Voyager space probes.

    To answer your question, "...if we were more certain that our message would be heard would be say something different?"

    In the case of the Voyager programme, if we were absolutely certain that ETs would stumble upon our space probes sometime in the far future, I suggest the content of messages aboard future probes not only be changed, but updated. Info like the location and pictures of Earth, pictures of humans and other life, as well as sounds of our languages and music, which were stored in phonographs on previous probes, could be stored in HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs (Or whatever our most advanced technology is now). Plus, we can encode those info in 3D. Perhaps we can even send a solar-powered DVD player & OLED screen, just to make it easier for them. It would be interesting to include videos like the One Day on Earth Project or Ridley Scott's Life in a Day. But the bottom line is: The message remains the same. "This is where we are; this is what we look like." I still can't make up my mind if we should say, "C'mon over here, fellas!"