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Physicists Call For Alien Messaging Protocol

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the don't-they-still-use-macs? dept.

Communications 279

schliz writes "Researchers have called for the development of a messaging framework that could increase the probability that our interplanetary messages are detected and deciphered – assuming Orson Scott Card's vision of telepathic buggers doesn't come true. The trio of postgraduate astrophysicists suggest a Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence protocol (METI — PDF) for signal encoding, message length, information content, transmission method and periodicity. The protocol could be tested via a website that allows users to create, retrieve and decrypt sample messages that conform to the protocol — which also demonstrates communication across human cultural boundaries, they say."

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Orson Scott Card? Give me a break. (-1, Troll)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029644)

Orson Scott Card is a homophobic White Supremacist. Does anyone besides Timothy take this asshat seriously?

Re:Orson Scott Card? Give me a break. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029730)

Troll? Really? Obviously none of you have any real knowledge of Orson Scott Card.

Re:Orson Scott Card? Give me a break. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029888)

Troll? Really? Obviously none of you have any real knowledge of Orson Scott Card.

I can find citations on the internet to support Card being homophobic. Can't (quickly) find one that says he's a white supremacist. Citation?

That said, I would agree that it's a troll because Ender's Game and some of Card's other work are iconic modern scifi, regardless of the author's personal views.

[posting anon because I've already used a mod point, although not on the OP.]

Re:Orson Scott Card? Give me a break. (4, Funny)

guyminuslife (1349809) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029930)

But he did write one or two good books.

I mean, Hitler's book was *terrible*.

Re:Orson Scott Card? Give me a break. (2)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030078)

Hmm, you need to provide some evidence there. I know he is against gay marriage but that doesn't even necessarily make him a homophobe, never mind a white supremacist.

Nobody's perfect (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030332)

Orson Scott Card is a homophobic White Supremacist

Yes, but I'm sure he must have some shortcomings too.

Anonymouse Coward (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029658)

How the hell is any of that going to make it easier for aliens to understand? Anonymouse

Re:Anonymouse Coward (1)

MichaelKristopeit333 (1966806) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029956)

it's not about being easier to understand, it's about being easier to understand that something is to be understood.

It's not (4, Insightful)

symbolset (646467) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030018)

For one thing the problem with aliens is, they're ALIEN. As in not only don't have the cultural cues that help us communicate, but may not even operate on the same time scales. We don't share a cultural context. We have no common symbols except math. And if you ever knew a mathematician, you would realize why this is a problem. They trend toward atheism, atavism, solipsism, and otherwise being queer. They bear watching.

And then there's the assumption that aliens are friendly with xenoforms like us. I'm not ok with that because we're not even comfortable with Southern Baptists, let along people who talk in that sing-song gibberish that goes back East. Intelligent Algae? I dunno if I'll like 'em, or if they'll like me. I'm pretty sure I can get along with the intelligent crystals though, since pissing them off takes several thousand years.

look (1)

chibiace (898665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029710)

the aliens only have one thing one their minds and that is to impregnate you as an incubator and burst out through your chest. got it?

Try this on Earth first, noobie. (5, Interesting)

bronney (638318) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029718)

Let's not get ahead of ourselves now. Before we do this alien thing, why not try to see if we can solve this problem here on Earth first? (I watched way too much MythBusters).

For example, I am Chinese. And pretend I don't know a single English word and the alphabet, write something and make me understand. Anything at all. It can be a hello of some sort even. Not easy isn't it. How about trying it on some isolated tribes? Remember, no interaction, no eye contact, nothing. Pure pencil on paper.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (4, Funny)

dintech (998802) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029808)

telepathic buggers

Let's not get ahead of ourselves now

Don't get behind me either!

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029862)

*ninjas behind you ^_^*

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (2)

ILoveCrack83 (1244964) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029812)

Exactly. A frame of reference needs to be established first. This is hard even on earth. How the hell are they supposed to establish this between planets?!?!

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

MichaelKristopeit400 (1972448) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029966)

prime numbers. from there, bitmapping is trivial.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (2)

totally bogus dude (1040246) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029902)

Wasn't that precisely the idea that "The protocol could be tested via a website that allows users to create, retrieve and decrypt sample messages that conform to the protocol - which also demonstrates communication across human cultural boundaries" was addressing?

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029972)

The recipients in that case have an advantage - they know that theres a protocol being followed, and they may even know the inner details of that protocol. In the challenge posted above, you wouldn't even know theres a protocol, let alone anything about it. All the testing website does is certify that a given message conforms to the protocol.

In the above challenge, the equivilent is handing the entire encoded message to someone with no prior knowledge of the protocol, and having them successfully decode and understand it. They may be able to infer that there is a protocol being used by the fact that there is a structure to the information, but that may not be immediately obvious nor easily detected - think of the excitement that quasars created in astronomy until someone discovered they were just stars giving out radio pulses that just happened to be regular and artificial looking.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (4, Funny)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029932)

Cats had this figured out years ago. Despite not speaking a word of any human language they have no trouble communicating their demands to their staff^W owners.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029988)

The cat got the final word. Last time she got crossed with me she scratched my eyes out. She has not spoken to me since.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029982)

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Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030086)

01001001 00100000 01100001 01100111 01110010 01100101 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100011 01100101 01101001 01110110 01100101 01110010 00100000 01101000 01100001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01110010 01100101 01100001 01101100 01101001 01110011 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110011 01101111 01101101 01100101 01110100 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01100100 01100101 01100011 01101111 01100100 01100101 00101100 00100000 01100010 01110101 01110100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101111 01100010 01101100 01100101 01101101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101001 01110011 00100000 01101110 01101111 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01101101 01101111 01101110 00100000 01101100 01100001 01101110 01100111 01110101 01100001 01100111 01100101 00100000 01100101 01111000 01100011 01100101 01110000 01110100 00100000 01110000 01100101 01110010 01101000 01100001 01110000 01110011 00100000 01110000 01110010 01101001 01101101 01100101 01110011 00100000 01101111 01110010 00100000 01101101 01100001 01111001 01100010 01100101 00100000 01100110 01101001 01100010 01101111 01101110 01100001 01100011 01100011 01101001 00101110

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030348)

01010100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100001 01100010 01110011 01110100 01110010 01100001 01100011 01110100 00100000 01110100 01100001 01101100 01101011 01110011 00100000 01100001 01100010 01101111 01110101 01110100 00100000 01100011 01101111 01101101 01101101 00100000 01101101 01100101 01110100 01101000 01101111 01100100 01110011 00100000 01110011 01101111 01101101 01100101 01110111 01101000 01100001 01110100 00100000 00101000 01110000 01100111 00111000 00101001 00101110 00100000 01001000 01101101 01101101 00100000 01001001 00100000 01110111 01101111 01101110 01100100 01100101 01110010 00101100 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01100100 01100101 01101100 01100001 01111001 01110011 00100000 01100010 01100101 01110100 01110111 01100101 01100101 01101110 00100000 01010100 01011000 00100111 01110011 00100000 01100011 01100001 01101110 00100000 01101100 01101001 01101110 01100101 00100000 01110101 01110000 00100000 01110111 01101001 01110100 01101000 00100000 01100001 00100000 01100011 01101111 01110101 01101110 01110100 01100101 01110010 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101101 01100101 01110011 01110011 01100001 01100111 01100101 00101100 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01101001 01101110 01100100 01101001 01100011 01100001 01110100 01100101 00100000 01100001 00100000 01110100 01100101 01101101 01110000 01101111 01110010 01100001 01101100 00100000 01110110 01100001 01110010 01101001 01100001 01100010 01101100 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101111 01101111 00101110

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (3, Interesting)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030012)

It's not about them understanding English or whatever language we package up. It's about any alien looking at the data and realising that there is actually information here, rather than just random streams of data (not necessarily about understanding the content). Once they realise there is information then they can get to work on trying to decipher it. The protocol is a kind of flag waving saying something like "interesting stuff over here guys".

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030274)

I recall reading about a SETI experiment where one team devised a message and a second team tried to interpret the message. They failed, even though it wasn't a good test because both teams had a common history. I don't expect us to succeed with aliens. We can't talk to elephants, dolphins, orangutans, etc.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030040)

Remember, no interaction, no eye contact, nothing. Pure pencil on paper.

We already have this, it's a big part of archeology.

But pencil on paper is too easy for this problem.
The two groups should only be able to communicate using numbers.
We'll likely have nothing more sophisticated than Morse code.

Each packet would have to assume packet loss, and therefore contain the entire heading for: "here's our numbering system, here's our alphabet, here's the language, here's the protocol definition, here's the encoding (etc etc etc)".
Especially considering most of these "conversations" will be uni-directional, assuming we have any at all.

Though, you'd think we likely have better things to be working on than establishing a high-level protocol for communicating with someone we haven't found yet...
At least until we get some kind of indication that there's someone worth talking to (or capable of communicating).
I guess I find it hard to believe that the first thing an alien civilization would want to do after establishing contact would be to update their Facebook status.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030184)

just a rough idea:

first order logic is a universal language, and any society with a reasonable level of technology could understand it. we would need to think of a generic way to define an alphabet, and then just use it to construct a few basic notions (like real numbers). afterwards, reasonably complicated messages could be sent with this extended language (such as position in galaxy, how to build a better communication protocol, etc).

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (2)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030316)

Unfortunately, an alphabet is purely our method of representing the audible sounds that come out of our mouth. Even using numbers is arbitary. The only common thing would be to represent numbers as a series of dots (e.g. 1 dot for 1, 2 dots for 2 etc...) and then display the first, say, 100 prime numbers. That would certainly get any technologically advanced race interested. We would need to then go on to try and use these numbers to convey a message like here's how to get in touch.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

CoccoBill (1569533) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030090)

This is easy, obviously the language should be english spoken really slowly and loudly, everyone understands that, right?

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

uofitorn (804157) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030122)

"I watched way too much MythBusters" That's your first problem. They run so roughshod over the scientific method, it isn't even funny. They're the Nickolodean of the "Science" channel now....

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (1)

Keen Anthony (762006) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030238)

Shut up, you. Mr. Wizard blew away everything Discovery channel has put out. Otherwise, yes, you're correct about MythBusters.

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (2)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030170)

1, 2, 3, 4 ... then 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 1+3=4 ... pretty soon you'd get the pattern and figure out those are numbers. can i draw pictures? if so, it's easy. if not then i would use math to describe something you know about, like days, years, atomic numbers etc and assign them names. by then we would have some start of a vocabulary and build from there. it would be difficult at first but once you have a few simple words it would get easier

Re:Try this on Earth first, noobie. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030368)

Between individual humans, we're limited by the average person's understanding, and humanity's expected forms of interaction. Between intelligent life from other worlds, the expectations and communication levels will most likely be a little higher.

Stargate (the TV series) came up with a pretty good idea for this: start with the common, recognisable building blocks of physics: the periodic table's most basic elements. They can be represented by diagrams, and although hydrogen might not make much sense on its own, it starts to make sense quickly once you add helium. Once you've defined hydrogen and oxygen, you can define water. Define oxygen and carbon dioxide, and you can define respiration. Define that, and compare with its absence, and you might have "lifeform". You can show basic math in terms of how elements combine, and apply that math to other things later. Apply it to conceptual things like lifeforms, and you have other concepts: lifeform + lifeform = friendship, or something like that. Yes, it's fuzzy, but it's probably a good start.

If you're NOT limited by just text -- if you can interact -- then it becomes a whole lot easier, of course: Rosetta Stone (the software) alone is a pretty good way of learning a language without knowing any of the words up front, based on a few simple interactions like "Correct" or "Incorrect".

Surprising (4)

symes (835608) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029722)

As TFA reports:

"An advanced civilization within a radius of 100 light years could detect our television shows and already know we are here, so there is little hope in concealing our location in space," they wrote.

So if first impressions matter, developing some standard protocol is kind of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted. Impressions will have been informed on our early TV output. There could well be whole institutions on other worlds tasked with decoding the antics of Tom and Jerry. No wonder they've stayed away.

Re:Surprising (1)

yahwotqa (817672) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029760)

Great, so if we encounter alien life (or it encounters us), we can finally have following conversation for real:

President:I know there is much to learn from each other if we can make a truce. We can find a way to Co-exist. can there be a peace between us?
Alien: Peace? NO PEACE!
President: What is it you want us to do?
Alien: Die... Die.

Re:Surprising (2)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029996)

I would be somewhat surprised if we were ever to meet aliens more aggressive than we are. It seems to me that Humans are on the very edge of successful aggression; any more aggressive and we'd probably all be dead.

Re:Surprising (2)

WillKemp (1338605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030044)

They may not be more aggressive, but if they can get here they're definitely smarter. So if they're as aggressive as us, we're dead!

Re:Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030136)

That depends on what the aggression is directed at. A civilization that's practically devoid of internal aggression but that has no issues with aggression directed toward other species could probably survive quite well. And if/when they figure out interstellar travel there could be serious issues for anyone they encounter.

Re:Surprising (1)

isama (1537121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030344)

Krikkit! [wikipedia.org]

Re:Surprising (1)

WillKemp (1338605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030038)

How do you know they've stayed away? We probably haven't had radio for long enough for them to get here yet. They could be on their way right now - and very hungry after 50 years on the road!

Re:Surprising (1)

h00manist (800926) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030094)

Detecting that there is a trasmission that is TV is one thing, but there's no telling that they would actually be able to decode the television signals and see or hear the content. Don't know that it will be that easy to reverse-engineer a tv transmission without having or even knowing what a TV is.

Re:Surprising (1)

inasity_rules (1110095) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030324)

A interesting point. Another one is, if they can detect our signals, why can't we detect theirs? In developing technology, they would most likely use wireless, and unless there are planets much older or younger then us within range, I reckon it is reasonable to assume they would be fairly close in tech development to us.

In other words I consider it unlikely that they are there, given we haven't heard/detected them yet. A signal will spread an attenuate quite a lot over 100 light years, so I'm not even sure we would be detectable. I think 100 light years is extremely optimistic...

Thus concludes my set of opinions that have no citations other then my own meandering anecdotal experience...

Re:Surprising (1)

DFurno2003 (739807) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030372)

I just hope they missed the Simpsons episodes with Itchy & Scratchy.

Re:Surprising (1)

Sibko (1036168) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030380)

Sadly, [or not, depending on your outlook] aliens within a hundred lightyears probably won't be able to detect us by our radio signals.

Journalists, knowing very little of science, make the mistake of assuming that the only part of the equation that matters here is the speed the signal travels at, and how long it's been traveling for. Ergo you get "ZOMG we sent out radio signals a hundred years ago, that means anything within a hundred lightyears can see us!"

What they don't seem to consider is the strength of the signal. Thanks to the inverse square law, any signal we blast into the cosmos is going to get fainter and fainter the further it travels. Eventually you get to a distance where the signal is imperceptible above the noise of the universe itself. Now, said aliens could still have some pretty impressive detecting gear - radiotelescopes the size of planets? Who know! But chances are they don't, and we've gone completely unnoticed.

There is just one difficulty (4, Funny)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029758)

To develop this as a proper standard, the "aliens" also need to be on the standards committee. So first of all we need a pre-protocol to identify aliens suitably qualified to participate in the standards process.

Also, should this start off as an IEEE exercise, or should it go straight to ISO? If the latter, we'll have to rename it the "Interplanetary Standards Organisation". And then we might find that one already exists and it will be us asking if we can send delegates.

Truly this is a can of worms.

Re:There is just one difficulty (0)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029836)

Well, as a start, they can present their proposal without the annoying-as-hell double-spaced lines. That's painful to read any more than a few sentences of.

Re:There is just one difficulty (3, Funny)

shish (588640) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030096)

I wouldn't bother with ISO; microsoft would just buy all the voters so that they can have an obfuscated binary blob as the standard "hello world" packet

Re:There is just one difficulty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030180)

Just tell them that we'll adopt their standard if they can show that it is in active use. Ten years later the first MS-operated regular shuttle through the MS Ballmer Gate 2021 Ultimate Edition will be in operation...

Is he wanting false positives (for funding)? (1)

nzac (1822298) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029770)

I would think that you could turn a lot of background noise into something that looks like a message.

Assuming that they need not have an alphabet based language and could use communication with zero redundancy i would expect you could get something that could look like data modulated with with amplitude, frequency and phase over a short period. Of course they are likely to have some kind of error detection/correction but that could be found at another frequency.

Re:Is he wanting false positives (for funding)? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030352)

I would think that you could turn a lot of background noise into something that looks like a message.

If you look hard enough, anything at all looks like a message [islamawareness.net]

Missed something... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029780)

Any advanced alien species with any intelligence at all would want NOTHING to do with us.

Unless it was as a source of raw materials, or food. Maybe keep a few of us for their zoo.

Hell.. one look at our recent history would convince any species that humans are totally insane, untrustworthy, and should be exterminated for the good of the universe.... We're pretty fucked up as lifeforms go.

Re:Missed something... (1)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029872)

good idea, please go exterminate yourself now for the good of the universe... we'll follow you some time afterwards.

Re:Missed something... (0)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029964)

Our civilization exists and give thanks to the rich.
They (the rich) are not happy with their returns
You peons better make me more money,
Stupid sheep

Suggestion for a protocol (0)

uassholes (1179143) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029782)

A couple blasts from a giant frickin' laser canon.

I sense a patent possiblillty here (1)

Adayse (1983650) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029784)

More reliable method for the delivery of prayer to god:
1. take prayer
1.1. censor unworthy content
2. sign with personal key of the faithful
3. add content length and encoding header
4. beam into space at regular intervals in all ways you can think of

Re:I sense a patent possiblillty here (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030342)

5. Sell personal keys to the faithful.
6. Profit!

Mostly irrelevant (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029818)

The point is getting communication established, that they know we're there and we know they're there. For this say a simple prime sequence should be enough (2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29 beeps). Clearly not natural, invariant of the base system used (primes are primes in binary, octal, hex, whatever) - any civilization with math should recognize it.

Between two prime sequences I'd go with simple binary pictograms first sending width length then pixels. As you get a bunch of them it'll be easy to see the pattern that you get 11111110111110[35 bits] = (7)(5)(35 bits of data), (10)(8)(80 bits of data) before we start the prime series again.

What you put in the pictogram is of lesser value, you could have thousands of them on a cycle years long with things like math, alphabet, physics, chemistry, solar system, drawings of humans, take your pick. If first a civilization picks it up they can grab all of them until they get a full loop.

Re:Mostly irrelevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030034)

You assume an integer base.
Given that we have not yet found a physics model that works (And that there always is a part that we explain as measurement errors.) and that all out math is based on a few but unprovable axioms (Circle reasoning.) we can not rely on math as being as universal as we think it is. Yes, it is a lot better than any spoken language you can find on this planet and no, I do not have a better suggestion, but I do not think that prime numbers are flawless enough to stop looking for more alternatives.

Re:Mostly irrelevant (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030226)

math is universal. the fact that we can see the same emission and absorbtion spectra in faraway galaxies as on Earth means that quantum phyics is a pretty good theory throughout the universe; in turn this means the math used for quantum physics has been found by all civilisations with a technology similar to our own (even if their formulation is different, the information content is implicitely the same).
The axioms are there to define the language, not to define reality; there are plenty of people who work with variations of the basic set of axioms, and that's still mathematics.
If you are referring to "is the axiom of choice real in our universe?", it doesn't really make sense to ask that question yet. All of the physics we have so far assumes the axiom of choice, and it describes the observed phenomena quite well. I can't imagine what level of technology we would have to reach in order to ask this question and be able to design an experiment to answer it.

Re:Mostly irrelevant (3, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030046)

Pictograms are all but worthless. There are a billion interpretations and mostly that's assuming a 2D system of "vision" / "interpretation". And basically boils down to trying to teach someone who doesn't know anything about your species how to write and interpret images (like trying to teach a wild dolphin to read Shakespeare or recognise pictures of fruit with ZERO feedback about their correctness - intelligent or not, writing is still new to *us* because we've only been doing it for a tiny percentage of the time that humans have existed).

And your encoding is ambiguous - how do they know it's not length, then width? Or that it's not length then width then depth followed by a 3D representation (possibly the length might tell you that but once you get into that level of interpretation, you can "make sense" of any nonsense whatsoever)? Or that you didn't put the length/width at the end, or in the middle, or in whatever offset *they* consider logical? Yes, there may be a "pattern" of X times Y that gives us the size of the "packet" but there are probably a million other way of interpreting raw bits that would work out in the same way (i.e. if the first bit is a one, then the message is junk, so ignore it, parity, etc.)

You're just making far too many assumptions about mathematics and interpretation. This is the problem, almost everything we try will probably be useless because we've never encountered an intelligence other than our own, so we have *no* idea how to communicate at all. Who says they are even LOOKING at EM radiation? Maybe in a thousand years we won't even bother looking at it either (because of things like light-year limits to it's readability, degradation, interference, etc.) - maybe the sign of an "intelligent" civilisation will be using (insert whatever fancy physics you like here) systems instead and not bother with "pre-quantum" civilisations, etc.

And a thousand years in time, galactically, is nothing. And any civilisation that lasts long enough to contact others is much more likely to be millions of years more advanced than we are by sheer probability. MILLLIONS. As in CERN, the satellite systems, mainframes and the whole of civilisation would look like a fragment of fossil in the rock to them, technologically.

Prime numbers? The numbers that occur in nature when you take out all factors (in your case, just those up to 5) and occur often in purely physical systems? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_number#Prime_numbers_in_nature) There are species of animal that come out every prime year in order to avoid predators that work on various regular intervals and being prime reduces their chances. It's not hard to imagine that such things could get lost in the noise (i.e. you can probably "see" prime numbers everywhere if you bother to look) or simply are a by-product of ordinary physics (e.g. primes pop up in the Zeta-function etc.)

I agree the primes are simple but they won't necessarily attract attention. It's also assuming that maths is as universal as we hope (I'm a mathematician, but it's not hard to imagine somewhere where mathematics doesn't exist in a form we would understand). Carl Sagan suggests them as a way to demonstrate that an alien understand mathematics in a novel, but it's a bit far-fetched to say the least (messages from God are also hidden in pi in the book).

The problem is that it's incredibly easy to send anything we want but we have absolutely ZERO idea about how it would ever be interpreted. Even if we found a remote hidden tribe in the Amazon that had never had human contact and were mathematically literate and we gave them the messages and after 50 years they were able to decode them, it wouldn't mean *anything* because their brains would work the same way as ours, with the same perceptions and senses. Also, it would still take thousands of years for any reply (or else we'd *probably* have been visited already).

Finding ET is viable - it's easy to craft a "we're over here" signal just by sheer brute force and pushing directed energy into the universe. Communicating is an entirely different matter. SETI might find something. Chances of anyone ever talking to them in the next few million years if we "found" something tomorrow? Slim. Chances are, in fact, that the civilisation we "find" wouldn't be around any more and we're just picking up their echoes.

Re:Mostly irrelevant (1)

buravirgil (137856) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030114)

This is Eleanor Arroway, transmitting on 14.2 megahertz.

Use XML! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029832)

XML is the best denial-of-service attack. Trir resources will get so swamped parsing that that they'll be unable to attack us!

I think we could start with SOAP and work our way up from there.

FAKE ALIEN ALERT (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029838)

While such a protocol certainly
makes practical sense, in the
event of real encounters, many
suspect a FAKE ALIEN GOVERNMENT
MASK hiding humans is afoot.

Please read here:

http://GOO.GL/uVtK

Another waste of time and money (1)

bsercombe72 (1822782) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029846)

Let's not put the cart before the horse eh? I think you need to worry more about finding and decoding their signals before composing any of your own. As others have said, our signals are already out there, so any ET within 100ly potentially already knows how tasty we are.

Re:Another waste of time and money (2)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030204)

our signals are already out there, so any ET within 100ly potentially already knows how tasty we are.

Only for extremely, utterly low values of potential.

To put things in perspective, think of how difficult it is to detect extrasolar planets. The planet's reflected light is nearly completely swamped by the star's light. Now think of this: the reflected light is as if all the surface of the earth were covered with sun panels converting light into electricity very efficiently and all the power generated in this way were used to transmit a signal.

If some alien civilization is capable of receiving our radio and TV signals at their planet, they certainly have means to know we are here even if we didn't send out any signal.

testing with the web, what a great idea (1)

OzTech (524154) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029866)

> The protocol could be tested via a website

'coz we all know that the "Aliens" have high-speed web access.

Before you start laughing ...At least this explains a few things.

ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (4, Interesting)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029892)

The galaxy should be ablaze with life. It would only take one spacefaring race to colonise the entire galaxy. It's only 100,000 light years across - that's do-able in a few million years even at sublight. Heck, Earth is primo real estate - it should have been colonised, maybe several times over, by BEMs.

So, where are they?

Either no spacefaring race has evolved, anywhere, ever, or they evolved and died out - across the whole galaxy.

When you start to think about what could cause a spacefaring race to "die out" on a galactic scale, well, maybe we shouldn't be shouting out "Here we are!" into the void.

Smarter BEMs, if they exist, have probably figured this out, and are listening, quietly. Maybe even listening to our transmissions, to see what happens to us.

Paranoid? Yes. But the alternative is to believe that we are truly unique, which is racial solipsism of the highest order. Pick your mental poison.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (3, Interesting)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029946)

There was some serious debate about this in the 80s. People saw the potential to wipe out an entire planet with relativistic bombs and came to the conclusion that hiding is the best policy.

A relativistic bomb is where you accelerate something to a fraction of the speed of light and slam it into a planet. Something the size of the Space Shuttle at 20% light speed would be more powerful than every nuke on the planet combined. A 1km diameter asteroid at 90% the speed of light would atomise everything on the surface of the earth and reduce it to a vast sandy wasteland with patches of glass where it had fused in the heat. The top 10m of the seas would boil off too. Such a bomb will be within our means to make in the next 100 years because basically all it needs is some kind of self-fuelling engine (ideally Bussard ramjet) and guidance system.

If one civilisation sees another there is a risk that the other could decide they are a threat and send a reletevistic bomb, so the only seemingly logical choice when you entire planet is at risk is a pre-emptive strike.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (4, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030290)

But due to a terrible misjudgement of scale their relativistic bombs are studied as cosmic rays.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (5, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029978)

In theory, but then look at practical reality... our fastest space probes would take something like 70000 years to reach the nearest star. We don't have a clue how to build machinery that lasts that long, any interstellar craft is still on the highly speculative "if we get a fusion / anti-matter drive" level. It doesn't matter how long time we have on us, today's Earth tech couldn't do it even if we accepted that travel time.

There's zero economic incentive of doing it, the chances that an interstellar colony would produce anything valuable for earth is extremely unlikely. At best it's information if we managed to establish cutting edge science somewhere, but the round trip on any communication is a decade or more.

Seriously, ask yourself how far humanity would have to advance before we'd actually start doing it - not just in the theoretical "if we throw all our resources at it we might" but in practical terms would. I mean we haven't even been to the moon in ages. We know Mars is probably within reach if we spend billions. But we don't, and neither would we spend trillions to colonize some rock 1000 years down the road.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030296)

..but they should at least be talking. Soon it may be cheaper to beam ourselves from planet to planet so aliens could do this as well. If anything space craft are redundant when information can be transmitted much faster.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (3, Interesting)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030010)

The galaxy should be ablaze with life. It would only take one spacefaring race to colonise the entire galaxy. It's only 100,000 light years across - that's do-able in a few million years even at sublight.

A) The Milky Way ain't the only galaxy in the universe. There most likely is life somewhere but it may or may not be in this galaxy.
B) It takes A LOT of time, effort and resources to colonize even one country, not to mention a complete planet. A lot, lot more than it takes to just travel the distance between the two end-points.
C) Colonizing even half a galaxy would take quite a bit more than "a few million years."

Heck, Earth is primo real estate

Only if you happen to breath oxygen and otherwise the atmosphere is suitable for your species. If not then no, it's not "primo real estate."

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030314)

A) The Milky Way ain't the only galaxy in the universe. There most likely is life somewhere but it may or may not be in this galaxy.

But why not elsewhere in this Galaxy? We know now that there are plenty of planets at a habitable range from their stars. Our solar system seems pretty favourable however based on what we can see there should be equally favourable solar systems within 1000 light years or so. The process of kick starting microbial life doesn't seem to have been just a stroke of luck. It happened on earth pretty much as soon as conditions were suitable.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030398)

But why not elsewhere in this Galaxy? We know now that there are plenty of planets at a habitable range from their stars. Our solar system seems pretty favourable however based on what we can see there should be equally favourable solar systems within 1000 light years or so. The process of kick starting microbial life doesn't seem to have been just a stroke of luck. It happened on earth pretty much as soon as conditions were suitable.

Indeed, that's a good question. But we simply lack the data to answer that with any certainty. Though, we DO know that there atleast has been microbial life on other planets, including Mars, and thus it's likely there is or has been on other favourable systems. The real question is why they didn't survive and what chances does such microbial life have to survive in any one galaxy.

The earth isn't useful to interplanetary races (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030130)

Actually the Earth contains a rather small fraction of usable volatile chemicals to be found in our solar system, and it contains them at the bottom of a rather steep gravity well.

The only life-forms interested in a planet are those that evolved on, and are unable to successfully live apart from, a planet. As soon as you have the technology to move through the solar system (let alone between star systems, throughout a galaxy, to other galaxies, other globular clusters or beyond within a relative short space of time) then you cease to need resources that aren't easier found floating in space within a much less intense gravitational field.

In terms of our own planet, we're the fly-ridden mud-squatting ignorant pygmies that live in the middle of a jungle, dress in poorly-tanned animal hides and know nothing about cell phones, the automobile, electricity, the atom, basic hygiene or writing. As such, only the barest fraction of space-bearing civilisations would actually want to come visit, and those that do would far rather stay out of sight and observe - if you haven't seen what happened when a photographer ignored the fact he was taking pictures of a wild pride of friggin' lions I suggest you google for it...if you have a strong stomach (or frequent /b).

Besides, if we take a look at the amount of UFO reports, even with a terrible signal to noise ratio, it may be non-zero.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

WillKemp (1338605) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030166)

Either no spacefaring race has evolved, anywhere, ever, or they evolved and died out - across the whole galaxy.

Or we live in the arse end of the galaxy and nobody can be bothered wasting their time coming here!

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

andydread (758754) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030248)

The bottom line is nature is nature and resources are limited. I really don't think any creature that would risk traveling here would want to be "friendly" to us inferior creatures on this planet. Just take a look at it on a smaller scale. A planetary scale rather than a galactic scale. Are humans "friendly" to the "inferior" creatures here on earth? Do we try to figure out how to communicate with them before we clear a forest and setup our own habitat? We don't generally try to feel sorry for the things living in the trees we bulldoze and build. That is nature. If we humans had the capacity for interplanetary travel like we do for intercontinental travel then would our ways change? Or would we just bulldoze the forests there too and setup camp? Why would other creatures be different? Why would they care about us earthlings when resources are so scarce? I think people should heed the warnings of Hawkins in this respect. The fantasy that a more advanced entity coming to this planet feeling "sorry for us" and showering us with advanced tech, but they need our resouces? well its just that a fantasy. They would just simply clear and build.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

Keen Anthony (762006) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030258)

You're forgetting another possibility: that a spacefaring race is aware of us and has decided they aren't interested in knowing us. There's precedent here on earth for hermit civilizations. We might say: "Well, a spacefaring race wouldn't be hermits." Okay, but they could be a bunch of idiots they'd rather not know. There's a precedent for this in my very own neighborhood.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

TwistedPants (847858) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030280)

The alternative is to believe there is a mistaken assumption in your model. Perhaps somewhere between chemicals rubbing up against each other and the potential evolution of a human like intelligence.

Re:ShutUpShutUpShutUpShutUp (1)

gforce811 (903907) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030330)

I saw that TV show too!

Ponderous (1)

falken0905 (624713) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029898)

Is the time approaching when we will need to communicate with our coming alien overlords? Gosh, I hope they are vegans!

Re:Ponderous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029980)

The good news is that they are vegans.

The bad news is, we don't count as even animal life to them - they only refuse to exploit animals from their own biosphere.

We could be unseen and should *not* be messaging (4, Interesting)

wdef (1050680) | more than 3 years ago | (#35029926)

I agree with Stephen Hawking. Blasting messages willy-nilly at possible alien civilizations is foolhardy in the extreme. I have taken the liberty of anticipating and responding to the usual criticisms of this risk management approach below.

We have absolutely no reason to assume that contact with an advanced alien intelligence will be beneficial or that such aliens will be benign. Human history has taught us that, in contact between civilizations where one is technologically advanced compared to the other, the less advanced civilization always comes off worse. Our cuddly CE3K fantasies are just anthropomorphic projections. We have no reason to assume that the contacted aliens will possess human traits like compassion or altruism - in any case, many humans suspend or don't exhibit these. Think wartime atrocities. And we have treated other species on our own planet appallingly. Why should aliens be any nicer than us? The old chestnut "oh but they wouldn't have survived technological adolescence without destroying themselves if they weren't cuddly and nice" is just bollocks and is another anthropomorphic projection.

"Oh but they can't visit us via interstellar travel because it's impractical and too slow". Only according to our limited physics, which can't even reconcile QM with Relativity yet. It's likely there is a better physics and we don't have it yet but they do. Who knows what technology that might allow. Even our own scifi has more imagination that this.

"And our planet/system has nothing they need. It's not economic for them". Another supposition based on - what, exactly? How do we know what they value or what power sources they have? Humans as slaves or pets or pet food or as petri dishes for biological war experiments? How do we know? Humans place high values on some quite low value things. Diamonds are in abundance but we stockpile these to keep the value high.

If we must project onto aliens from our own psyches and earthly experiences, then to be safe we should project from the very worst of these. Our Independence Day, Twilight Zone and Borg/Dalek nightmares need to be considered seriously if we are to adopt a risk management approach. And a risk management approach is wise. It says don't contact them until we know who/what they are.

"They can see us anyway". According to http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/1427054 [answerbag.com] background noise in space might limit the extent our radio transmissions have travelled to a 2 light year radius. Admittedly a better reference than 'Answerbag' might be good.

It is highly possible that most of our transmission are scattered or disrupted or all but destroyed at or around 2 light years out from us.Signal strength drops - at twice a distance away you are talking about 1/4 of the power - at ten times the distance the strength of the signal would only be one hundredth as great.

Even if this is not the case there is a very good chance we have not been spotted.

Re:We could be unseen and should *not* be messagin (4, Insightful)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030036)

Isn't your paranoid view of aliens just as anthropomorphic, though? You use as evidence Human behavior, but there is no reason to assume that will apply in any way. I'm also puzzled at how you are willing to grant these aliens the technology of FTL travel but not better telescopes. If you believe that aliens are as aggressive as we are, then arguably the safest thing to do is to preemptively present ourselves as a non-threat, just to avoid triggering a fear response. I do not find your position to be internally consistent.

Re:We could be unseen and should *not* be messagin (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030112)

Predation isn't necessarily an exclusively human trait. In fact, you might just say that's how things work. The nature of life, in general, is to accumulate resources in one way or another, and all it takes is *one* non-altruistic alien species to really f* things up here on Earth. And I think that even with an ideal radio telescope, the problem is that the background radiation eventually drowns out any possible resolution of signal. i.e. the variations in the signal are equivalent to random background fluctuation. Well, just my thoughts on it.

Re:We could be unseen and should *not* be messagin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030108)

I agree.

Also, if we want to see how another species may interract with us... try being tied down, naked, gagged, and locked in a room for a day with another non-domesticated species from Earth, changing every day.

Their technology may be a parallel to being tied-down-and-naked.

Within a week, you'd be eated.

Reminds me of the time I talked to this old friend (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35029942)

He and I went to high school together but he emigrated to Australia a few years after graduation. He works for a company called AMP now.

We messaged eachother online and exchanged stories about where we worked. I said I worked as a programmer for the corporation I was with at the time. He said he worked at AMP.

I asked "What is AMP?"

He replied: "AMP, man, AMP!"

So I said: "Alien messaging protocol?"

We haven't communicated again since.

Won't be necessary (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030014)

Let us say, for argument sake, aliens come to visit. Why would a civilization, any civilization, expend such an enormous amount of energy and resources to travel from one star to another? It wouldn't be to talk. They're either looking for resources or expansion room. If first contact is a small ship and small crew... Don't worry. That was just a scout / surveyor crew. A colony ship, or fleet of ships, (aka an invasion force) will be along soon enough.

That's just darling. (1)

Oricalchos (1339065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030022)

Silly me, I thought I had a lot of time in my hands.

Important Diplomacy (2)

JoeThoughtful (1945502) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030026)

Us: We humbly welcome you to our solar system in peace!

Them: Cute, our food is trying to say something to us!

Us: Please don't hurt us!

Them: Aha, food with a message, kind of like the fortune cookies mentioned in their "All you can eat, galactic, we are here for your dining pleasure, Earth is number 1 your bestest restaurant," beacon they have been sending out for the last 100 years.

Us: I think you are looking for the dolphins ...

Them: We wish to start with the one you call Lucy. We have a good feeling we are going to love her as opening appetizer! And where is this so called Island of Gilligan?

Use OOXML (1)

gralzt (1985204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030032)

Why not suggest to use OOXML? It's such a clear and simple format, I am sure the aliens will figure it out. :-)

Re:Use OOXML (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030320)

And then they could tell us!

Radio = Stone Carvings (1)

Wingsy (761354) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030048)

I keep telling these SETI people that they're using the wrong media but they never listen. Communicating by radio is similar to cave drawings by my Neanderthal granpa. E.T. has long ago moved on to gravity wave communications, which are interference free, pass through anything, and with unlimited range. But since we have yet to build a receiver I guess EM is the only game in town.

Spam (1)

Fuzzy Viking (1140767) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030060)

If the protocol is defined now, and made public, I cannot help imagining the final approach of our alien visitors, their messaging system flooding over with spam for V1agra, knockoff "time pieces" and urgent letters from Nigeria asking to use their off-world bank accounts...

Just use English (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030062)

Everyone understands English if you yell it loud enough. Visit a tourist area in the Third World and you will see what I mean. Should work for aliens, too.

On my last trip to Egypt, the guy who picked us up at airport spoke excellent English and German . . . he told me that he was also fluent in French and Russian, too. He had a university degree in Egyptology and Tourism. He was way too intelligent, and way too educated for his job. If I was in his place, I would also be out on the streets of Cairo protesting.

Re:Just use English (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35030082)

I would suggest that we use a neutral language that is easy to learn, like Klingon.

LINCOS...anyone? (5, Interesting)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030158)

Instead of musing about a message protocol, they should rather spend their time learning and improving LINCOS. Freudenthal's system is still the de facto standard for communication with aliens but has only occasionally been worked on by enthusiasts and NASA employees. LINCOS is in dire need of an overhaul, including a more modern transcription notation, and the second volume has never been finished. The original book is hard to get and it takes a substantial amount of time just to get into the framework, and that's probably why they don't use LINCOS.

Yawn. First contact is the Bible. (1)

Trivial Solutions (1724416) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030306)

Why do you believe in E.T. and not God, fools?

God says...
walls influenced state fig dissolution recurring multitudes
abominable clothing shudder robber besets remedies worship
deserters balls obeyed exaltedness deed STRICT alternatively
unwearied joyousness manhood hurt thwart conspirators
Greeks friend scourges layeth sick Defect deeds His demanded
it goads firm stripped credulity equably clearly fear
becomes director about primary penitent diddest blessing
gay ebbs treasure colouring despaired tribute hunger pitiest
adorning Afric retained Idaho Placed poverty Roman respective
groan divinity countryman incomparably moan beseech flourished
Yes upon precisely overjoyed reproves learn silly gallantry
unyielding lowliness floods chiefly ways remains skins
belongeth windings merry namely translated justification
perceivedst innocency enlighten overboldness Instructor
ungodlily imparts prayer miss wholesomely religious houses
incorruption husbands testimony readers formless stature
locusts satisfied interpret say hast giving full If pole
fanned

What? (1)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030376)

What makes you think that if there are aliens that they'd even use the same Physical Layer?

Why is there the impression that if aliens exist they can communicate by changing the same environmental variables as we do ? Why are we even assuming that they discover the same technology, or that they use radiowaves to transmit over long distances? Maybe an alien race uses radiowaves for weapons, maybe they can actually see at those frequencies. I dunno, the fact we haven't seen any aliens yet doesn't help either.

So most of this is entirely useless - we are assuming that there is an alien race which is activly pointing some sort of sensor array at the sky - which isn't far away enough such that the transmission gets blocked or whatever, that actually understands the notion of communicating through radiowaves by changing amplitude or frequency or whatever, that they try to decode it as a binary message, and that they try to understand the convoluted mess our languages are.

Hell, I'm sure if you were to make up your own 'alien language' and transmit it back to Nasa, they'd just think its cosmic radiation or something.

a waste of time and money (1)

jmb1990 (1979110) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030394)

If aliens do exist, whos to say there close enough to send messages to earth, even if they were why would they want to? Personally i dont believe in aliens so i think its a big waste of time and money attempting to communicate with something that doesn't exist..

Missing the point. (2)

Securityemo (1407943) | more than 3 years ago | (#35030422)

Isn't the fundamental question here to what extent the "fundamentals of conciousness and intelligence" is a function of the physical parameters of the universe? Eg., how alien to us could something we would recognize as an intelligent conciousness be?

That is *funny*. You think you *see* Orz but Orz are not *light reflections*.
Maybe you think Orz are *many bubbles* too. It is such a joke.
Orz are not *many bubbles* like *campers*. Orz are just Orz.
I am Orz. I am one with many *fingers*.
My *fingers* reach through into *heavy space* and you *see* *Orz bubbles*
but it is really *fingers*.
Maybe you do not even *smell*? That is sad.
*Smelling* *pretty colors* is the best *game*.

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