How to Talk to Aliens – Harvard Gazette


Loeb, Frank B. Baird Jr. science professor, has long argued that the search for extraterrestrial life should be taken more seriously in scientific circles. He said there are a series of factors to consider if we encounter an alien race. (Loeb’s book suggests that a fast-moving pancake-shaped space rock that astronomers dubbed Oumuamua in 2017 may actually be interstellar technology.)

First, humans must try to conquer their sense that they are at the “top of creation” and instead understand that they are instead “somewhere in the middle of the distribution of intelligences in the Milky Way galaxy”, said Loeb, founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative. Earth dwellers should also be aware of the “technology gap” that will likely exist between the human race and a messenger from beyond the solar system. (Such a messenger, he said, would likely arrive in the form of an artificial intelligence object capable of traveling for millions or even billions of years.)

Given a large knowledge gap, we should also be prepared for the possibility that extraterrestrials may not want to communicate with all of us, Loeb said, just as we have no desire to communicate “with ants on the sidewalk. “.

Yet, if we are able to engage directly as the scientists of “Arrival” do, the challenge becomes how. Such a process would be very different from the search for extraterrestrial life of years past, Loeb said, when people imagined that any contact would likely come in the form of radio signals from aliens, which may have put thousands of years to come. “However, if you have a visitor in your garden, you better know what you are doing,” he said, adding that we “may need our own AI systems to help us interpret their AI systems”.

A potential challenge to communicating with extraterrestrials is the possibility that these beings do not possess a conceptual system similar to ours, Snedeker said. To illustrate, she used the example of how children learn language. “When kids hear a phrase like ‘The cat is on the rug,’ they have concepts that are kind of like cats, kinda like rugs, and kinda like spatial relationships,” she said. . In “Arrival,” actress Amy Adams, who plays a linguist, attempts to recreate the “child language learning situation” with aliens by coming up with basic words to describe people and actions, while assuming that the “conceptualization” of extraterrestrials is “reasonably similar” to ours, Snedeker said.

But if those concepts “weren’t available to this other species, it’s unclear what those words would stand for,” she said. Still, Snedeker said she’s optimistic that we might share some general-level constructs with intelligent extraterrestrials that might also be the product of biological evolution. “I hope we will have enough in common with their conceptual structures,” she said, adding that “incomplete understanding is still understanding to some degree. If we had concepts slightly different from theirs or even substantially different, we [still] could go a long way towards understanding.

Loeb, who is working on a documentary with the producer of “Arrival,” says staying away from the search for intelligent life beyond our solar system is short-sighted. “We know stars formed before the sun by billions of years. We know they have Earth-like planets around them, so the environment we have is not uncommon,” said “But finding evidence of extraterrestrial life requires the kind of funding and support given to large-scale projects such as the search for cosmic gravitational waves or dark matter.” of the public for the subject, of the implications it will have for the future of humanity, I think it is actually unwise for the scientific community not to engage in research.”


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