The say that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That might explain why world-famous computer hacker –and unofficial Public Enemy #1– Edward Snowden thinks the reason why our Universe seems to be devoid of chatty aliens, is because they might be more security-conscious than us, Earthlings, and choose to encrypt all of their communications to render them indistinguishable from cosmic background noise.
Snowden threw his 2 bitcoins out there during a ‘robot-enabled’ conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his popular Star Talk radio show –the robot was a moving screen which allowed Neil to interact with the wanted engineer, from the comfort of his office at the Hayden Planetarium.
“When we think about everything we’re hearing from our satellites, or everything they’re hearing from our civilization, if there are indeed aliens out there, all of their communications are encrypted by default. So what we’re hearing — which is actually an alien television show or a phone call or a message between their planet and their own GPS constellation, whatever it happens to be — is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation.”
Snowden sees this as the natural progression every technologically-advanced civilizations would go through, while Neil rightly pointed out that perhaps aliens would not have to deal with the same type of ‘security issues’ as we do, meaning the fear of being spied by their government; maybe they are TRULY advanced and don’t even need governments in their society –K-Pax anyone?
But perhaps the young computer engineer’s solution to the Fermi paradox works better in terms of a possible external threat, behind the so-called ‘Great Filter’ proposed by Robin Hanson to explain the confounding silence of the Cosmos. Something like a Galactus-like entity which feeds off young, naive civilizations, or advanced aliens who destroy nascent sentient races, the minute they are fool enough to start shouting out their position in the galaxy, like newly-hatched chicks attracting the attention of a snake –if you’re a Mass Effect fan, the scenario is quite easy to grasp…
Of course, having the chance to have an exclusive interview with *the* American whistle-blower of the XXIst century, it was impossible for the discussion not to veer into the issues of privacy under our current state of digital surveillance. But the 1st part of the conversation was by far the most enjoyable, because it was a lighthearted chat between two geeks who share a common passion about Science and knowledge –hearing Snowden admit he once read a metallurgy book “just for fun”, and that his biggest regret about dropping out from High.school is that he missed the chance to learn more about chemistry in his teens, is perhaps the closest we’ve ever gotten to knowing who he really is as a person.
But then again, more important than acquiring knowledge is HOW you choose to make use of it. Neil deGrasse Tyson used his knowledge to help the public open their eyes about the wonders up above. Snowden used his to the help the public open their eyes about the rottenness down below.
One of them ended up being a beloved public figure. The other one will perhaps never set foot again on his home.