As a whole, we have a rather spotty history when it comes to trying to communicate with aliens.
METI is the ‘speaking’ part of alien communication as compared to SETI’s ‘hearing’ part of it all, and everything people have purposefully said to space has been pretty unorganized. It’s also been anthropocentrically biased.
There has been a bit of buzz about standardizing alien-bound messages. According to a 2011 article in the journal Space Policy entitled, “A protocol for messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence,”
Arecibomessage of 1974, the handful of METI broadcasts have increased in content and complexity, but the lack of an established protocol has produced unorganized or cryptic messages that could be difficult to interpret.
The most recognizable examples of our efforts to send messages to any extraterrestrials include that Arecibo message, the Cosmic Call, the Teenage Message, and ‘A Message from Earth,” all of which were sent in different directions to places we thought might have life. The
Arecibo message consisted
1. The numbers one to 10;
2. The atomic numbers of the five elements hydrogen (H), carbon (C), nitrogen (N), oxygen (O), and phosphorus (P), which make up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA);
3. The formulae for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA;
4. The number of nucleotides in DNA, and a graphic of the double helix structure of DNA;
5. A graphic figure of a human, the physical height of an average man, and the human population of Earth;
6. A graphic of the Solar System;
7. A graphic of the
radio telescope and the physical diameter of the transmitting antenna dish.
There are a number of problems with this. First, the graphics: we don’t know if any aliens out there will perceive reflected light the same way we do, or if they will even have eyes. Even if aliens can see with some degree of equivalence to our own abilities, images of the solar system -- let alone the image of a species they don’t know -- doesn’t do them or us much good.
The numeric information might also be a problem. It was transmitted in binary, so at least people out there don’t have to decipher our arbitrary numbers, but binary might still be different from their own conceptualization of numbers or might be basic enough to be seen as so much static.
(If you really want to critique this message, you can take a Steven Hawking perspective discussed in another post and consider that giving intelligent and potentially hostile extraterrestrial information about us is a bad idea. We ‘told’ – told meaning someone might receive it in 25,000 years – aliens where we are, what our technology consists of, what we look like and how many of us there are, and what our genetic material consists of. If this information could end up in the hands of an enemy equipped to come visit us, we did something potentially very, very stupid.
But the Earth has been leaking radio waves for quite a few decades now. I’d rather us send out messages with some degree of ‘welcome and hello’ in them than what we regularly consider entertainment. And I’m not even thinking about TV right now.)
The other messages consist of audio collections – in all sorts of languages – and images. And, according to that same article, we really should set up parameters to be a bit better about what we send; not only do we not really organize the destination of our signals, we don’t repeat them, allow for different reception mediums, or do that well in ensuring the messages aren’t filled with indecipherable cultural eccentricities.
The article advocates for METI having a standardized protocol, which would:
provide constraints and guidelines for the construction of a message in order to maximize the probability that the message is understood. A METI protocol will consider several factors, including:
• signal encoding;
• message length;
• information content;
• transmission method;
• transmission periodicity.
Signal encoding would mean not relying on just binary and also selecting more hypothetically ‘common’ wavelengths for broadcasting; the message should also be as simple as possible, which might be a bit of a bummer because it also has to be short. Not only would brevity be cheaper, according to this article, but it would make repeating the signal far more doable, which makes the signal look less like an accident and more like a message.
Brevity would also force us to cut down on cultural stuff. Have you ever heard about Ekman’s studies on basic emotions? Basically, he brought photographs of people from other cultures showing basic emotions to the culturally isolated Fore tribesman in
Papua New Guinea.
They were able to recognize the expressions denoting emotions like sadness,
anger, fear, and happiness, and this list was later expanded. From this, Ekman
concluded that many basic emotions might be universally expressed in identical
This does not apply if aliens don’t have faces.
Considering we also have the ‘cross-race effect,’ where people of different races have problems analyzing more complex ideas and expressions, anything culturally or socially demonstrated is probably a waste of time. It’d be best to stick with things we can communicate scientifically or mathematically – this also might help establish our intelligence.
To this end of eradicating cultural… fluff… in potential METI messages, the article includes a mention of METI’s website www.DearET.org, where people can suggest messages and test out others. This site is more to garner interest in extraterrestrial communication than to do anything, but, really, so is sending a pretty degradable radio message 25,000 light years away from Earth.
So, what should we do to better communicate with any aliens out there? Shorter messages, clearer, more objective and universally (really universally) translatable concepts, and repetition of those messages in diverse, common mediums.
Or, in a Stephen Hawking sort of way, nothing at all.
But it’s really too late for that.
Want to share the news about METI activity and sending beacons across the galaxy? Please recommend this post on StumbleUpon -- all it takes is a click!
Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.