Snowden vs Fermi: Aliens Might be Encrypting their Messages

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 β€” 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 β€” 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.

Talk about a paradox, huh?.

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  1. encryption
    The elephant in the room here is Snowden exemplifying the Caravaca Effect where aliens are fitting the observer, or theorist’s, experiences. It’s like Bill Cosby saying the alien agenda is to (allegedly) give humans roofies and abduct them for probing. It’s what they know, it’s what they live and breathe everyday.

    More interesting than crying encryption is format. How will puny earthlings know the intercepted transmissions are audio, video, or some hack playing with proprioception?

    If we do figure that out, how will we play it? Will we have the equipment to apprehend the full message, or might there be shortcomings cluing us into part of the message.

    Will the message be electronic, like humanity expects in the 21st century? There’s the issue of the inverse square law in terms of radio broadcasts. Most of our transmissions would be unreadable by the time they hit Saturn’s neighborhood. I believe, important phrasing there, the cost to benefit ratio for transmitting a message with high fidelity over vast expanses would be prohibitive. If aliens figured how to do it cheaply, they probably figured out how to do other things cheaply (e.g. space travel/FTL) raising the question “Where are they?”

    What if aliens are using something akin to a relativistic pneumatic tube cannister, completely invisible to radio astronomers. What if their communication technology is orders of magnitude beyond our own, twanging gravitational waves for near-instantaneous communications? Our radio telescopes coming up empty handed and SETI opponents declaring, “Nothing to see here. Enough already!” is like a civilization used to smoke signals not apprehending radio broadcasts.

    Also, LOL NDT.

    1. Very good
      Very good assessment there. And yeah, that’s why I started the post woth the hammer metaphor πŸ˜‰

      And there’s another form of ‘encryption’ these guys aren’t taking into account: Nonsense.

      Nonsensical or ridiculous content in the upper crust of esoteric information, was the way by which deep knowledge was only transmitted to initiates or ‘people in the know’.

      I’m also reminded of Philip K Dick’s ideas on how God sends messages in the trash –i.e. where MOST people wouldn’t even *dare* to look πŸ˜‰

      1. and anothing thing…
        If the aliens are just as lonely as humanity, why would they encrypt their messages?

        A test of intelligence? I figure they’d be happy to encounter life that can compute 2+2, just as much as finding life that solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. Encrypting such a signal is akin to saying “We reached out, but just don’t care.”

        1. Private conversation
          [quote=Chris Savia]If the aliens are just as lonely as humanity, why would they encrypt their messages?

          A test of intelligence? I figure they’d be happy to encounter life that can compute 2+2, just as much as finding life that solved Fermat’s Last Theorem. Encrypting such a signal is akin to saying “We reached out, but just don’t care.”[/quote]

          From what I gather, Snowden was talking about detection of signals created by alien civs in their usual daily business, not actual communication attempts (“So what we’re hearing β€” 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 β€” is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation”).

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