Friday, June 14, 2013

Calling all flash mobs! Defend the planet from noisy fools!

On Science 2.0, Hank Campbell interviews the folks from Lone Signal who plan to beam "messages to ET" starting on Monday, targeting signals at the Gliese 526 star system. Read their profit-and-ego-centered rationalizations, then scroll to the bottom and see the announcement of their opening party in New York City on June 17.

Lone Signal launch event-1Oh, wouldn't it be fun to get a flash mob to picket the event? New Yorkers, think about it, will you? Half-serious and half in jest? But aimed at getting real discussion going.

And you SF Bay Area street theater folk… there's an opportunity for you too! (See below.)

For background from the "dissident" community, see what io9 says about it: New Project to Message Aliens is both Useless and Potentially Reckless, where George Dvorsky writes, "No one has given them permission to do this, nor have they consulted the larger community." Nevertheless, "This is the perfect opportunity for people who don't like their money," to purchase credits to send personal messages to space.

ShoutingCosmos… then go into greater depth via my own paper on METI, Should We Be Shouting at the Cosmos? -- unveiling how many specious assumptions these guys make.  Like the hoary old (but technically disproved) cliche that "the cat is already out of the bag and the horses have already left the barn" -- because of past TV signals like "I love Lucy."  It is an old wives tale, refuted by real science.

Let's be plain, this is not science and these are not scientists.  They are pulling a stunt.  They are willing to fundamentally alter one of our planet's observable properties by orders of magnitude - a kind of deliberate pollution - while shrugging off and pooh-poohing any effort to get them to TALK about it first with scientific peers, before screaming "yoohoo" on our behalf. Those who refuse such discussion — shrugging aside any need or moral obligation to consult the rest of us — are the ones practicing censorship.

And point of fact, calm and openly collegial discussion is all we have asked! Dr. John Billingham of NASA's SETI program, Senior U.S. diplomat Michael Michaud and astronomers like Dr. James Benford and me.  Contrast our decades patiently working in this area with these people who are willing to throw dice with human destiny based on impulse, ego, and a profit motive, without ever bothering to converse with the wide array of real scientists who might offer useful insights about risk and benefits. Eager to gamble our posterity based on untested assumptions, these are not responsible persons.  My deepest hope is that they will not someday be remembered the way La Malinche (look her up) is recalled by the native peoples of Mexico. But that precedent should be on our minds.

ShallWeShoutThose who wish to explore more deeply can find resources at: SETI: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.

And yes, I have been exploring concepts of the alien in both science and fiction for a very very long time!  (I portray many of these concepts in Existence and in my short stories.)

Look, I won't convince most of you.  But if some of you live happen to know some theatrical or vigorous types near Manhattan, who might want to let the press attending that "gala" opening know there are two sides? And you others who dwell in the San Francisco Bay area,  it shouldn't be hard to find the newly recommissioned Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, CA and let them know how you feel on June 18, 2013.  Call in press and get your faces on TV!

Even better, open public awareness to a new form of human generated "pollution" that - though unlikely - might (a slight but real risk) endanger our kids. 

Make clear that such endeavors merit discussion.  All we have ever asked is to talk about it, first.

== Late (Ironic) Note ==

Today (6/14/13) I received a request from a Mr. Thomas Onorato, affiliated with the Lone Signal group, asking that I take down the image that I posted of the invitation to their "celebration" event on Monday.  "It is a private event by invitation only and we cannot grant any rights to re-publish invite and/or share private contact info on a public forum."

Um.  I replied with a query as to whether Mr. Onorato - or indeed anyone participating in this endeavor - has even a scintilla of perspective or irony?  As one of you pointed out, in comments, this all goes back to the number one rule of party throwing. 

Don't put out flyers if you can't handle who is going to show up, or what they are going to do. 

Sure, it breached common courtesy for me to meddle without permission and change their party without asking them, inviting strangers to their event, who will likely behave in unexpected ways.  

How does it feel, guys? Do you like it? Ah, the light starts to dawn...

== And if you thought that was far out… ==

NewOthernesscoverA couple of really creepy ones for the Predictions Registry!  Or for the predictions wiki some of you keep, tracking my veracity. (Oh but am I proud to have predicted these?)

First, one reader wrote in "Saw this and thought of your story 'Natu-Life'!  See a Terrarium for growing Edible insects in your home.

Another fan pointed out, "This link reminded me of your disturbing story "Piecework" - (one of my "ickier" tales!) - Woman wants to give birth to a shark!  Ai Hasegawa envisions women giving birth to endangered species...or even to their own food. Eeek! I'm not sure I want credit for that prediction…

You can find both tales in Otherness.

==Other stuff of a sci-fi-ish bent== 



== And finally ==

BTRiconMy podcast radio appearance on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd can be accessed now!  We start with transparency and secrecy and all that but go on the sci fi and SETI and other big picture talk-a-thon topics.

103 comments:

locumranch said...

In this post, David desires to impose his individual will upon a Flash Mob even though the term 'mob' (short for 'mobile vulgus') literally refers to to a fickle disorderly rabble.

Doesn't anyone else find this funny?

To paraphrase George Dvorsky, "No one has given (him) permission to do this, nor (has he) consulted the larger community".

It follows that David's decision to protest 'messages to ET' is just as arrogant, unilateral & unlikely to succeed as Lone Signal's decision to send those damn messages in the first place.

Like expecting professionalism from non-professional amateurs, statements of this ilk are 'funny' in the sense of being 'humorous', 'peculiar', 'suspicious' or 'deceitful', if not to others then to ourselves, and are therefore fair game for satire.

The best defense is a good offense.


Best.

Imperius said...

Yes locumranch, I also find it funny, as I do all of David Brin's moralizing. As far as I can tell, Brin's ideology is secularized Judaism/Enlightenment cultism; he has internalized the ethos of his tribe, dispensed with its metaphysical foundations, and now pushes it as some kind of universal secular religion. But of course, this world is indifferent to such moralistic overlays; it is a contest of wills, an eternal power struggle, and memes like "justice" and "progress" which Brin's kind like to wield like weapons are little more than propaganda in these memetic battles. Therefore for David Brin, arch-propagandist and apologist for Enlightenment imperialism, and self-appointed defender of all humanity, to accuse others of arrogance is, shall we say, ironic?

Alfred Differ said...

Impose is the wrong word for what David is trying here. Inspire works better.

None of us really need permission from others to do anything, but there are consequences for actions we might be willing to impose.

See how that version of 'impose' works better? 8)

David Brin said...

Jeez what a couple of twerps. I do believe in contrast and discussion and if a bunch of jerks are bent on changing one of our planet's basic attributes by orders of magnitude and imposing their will upon all of us without discussion, then it is my perfect right to ask if others are interested in adversarially IMPOSING discussion upon them.

Um duh? That's is our way and it is what you two rude, un-self-aware and impervious-to-irony dullards are trying to do... here in this open - no password - comment section.

Yeah, that's my ethos. Enlightenment. In yer face. But dig this... the only carps you were able to raise (poorly) at me were based (poorly) on enlightenment values.

Oh, man. Posers who lack even the power of reflection or self-noting irony. Feh

Patrick said...

I'm looking forward to the results of a 'flash-mob-off' between NYC and San Francisco! I'm rooting for the West Coast to pull off the best job. And somebody needs to suggest fresh, new themes for flash mobs, anyway. We've already seen enough orchestras coming out of the woodwork! Great idea, Mr. Brin!

Alex Tolley said...

The METI example is really part of a wider issue of use and control of technology. Western society seems rather erratic is determining which technologies need regulation or not. Usually it is some demonstrated (or even imagined) harm after use. A classic example is the almost completely untested (except for cancer) universe of chemicals. Today "nano" particles are untested (AFAIK), but like chemicals, may have undesirable environmental and health effects.
But the cost to test everything would almost completely shut down new developments and with it, the economy.

On a risk/benefit analysis, I would have thought these are more problematic than METI.

It isn't clear to me that the METI experiment is more or less risky than, for example, DIY biotech. I certainly support DIY biotech as I think the risks are low, especially if care is taken.

The consequences of METI could be huge, but the probability of harm (how do we even measure it?) is unknown. My bottom line is that while experts may be able to discuss it, the conclusions are likely to be based on which numbers you favor for the Drake equation and your views on what alien civilizations are like.

Anonymous said...

I read the interview, and tried to access the group's web page (for some reason, the video crashed my browser), and I wonder where you get the statement that this group is somehow looking to profit from their action. I have read statements that our current and past radio transmissions would be too attenuated to be intelligible from interstellar distances, but I have to doubt those statements. We have been using radar, which is a high directional transmission, for several decades now, and most of the modern (post WWII) radar signals do not just stop at the edge of our atmosphere. Those radars are also not low-powered affairs, so how are those not a threat, but this is? Better still, why is the star system they plan to target some special worry? We have only a vague impression that there is a planet there. We do not know that it is inhabited. We also do not know that it harbors intelligent life capable of even being a threat to us. I'm sorry, but you seem to be over-reacting to this action, Mr. Brin.

David Brin said...

They aim to "represent" me and my descendants and civilization, without exposing their plans -- to alter a major trait of our planet by orders of magnitude, with unknown effects -- without once exposing those plans to scrutiny and discussion...

...and *I* am over-reacting?

Dig this... they just wrote to me asking that I remove the image of their "private invitation" from my posting...

...and they made this request without a scintilla of irony.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

So, locumranch, are you saying that Dr. Brin is the person who coined the phrase "flash mob" and encouraged its wide-scale use to the point it's the proper terminology? Or are you just snarking at the term "flash mob" and complaining that you feel it's misused and thus blaming him for terminology which is not his fault?

And how are you able to survive with your head shoved so far up your ass? The smell must be wretched, though I suppose you get used to your own shit after a while.

Rob H.

Dan Sutton said...

It could, of course, be pointed out that, by posting this article, David Brin *is* consulting the greater community.

The greater community hereby gives him permission to proceed as he wishes: I speak on its behalf. I do so unilaterally, and I have not consulted the rest of the greater community about it; furthermore, I don't care about either of these things. But that's simply because I'm far less morally well-adjusted than David Brin.

Dan Sutton said...

In addition, it's worth pointing out that at the same time that these idiots attack David Brin for speaking unilaterally for himself, they think it's just fine for them to speak unilaterally for the entire planet. There's some statement that could be made about a mote in Brin's eye and a beam in theirs, I'd imagine.

Anonymous said...

Pomo nonsense

sociotard said...

Still no comment about the NSA issue. I keep hoping for [b]specific[/b] recomendations on how to make this more reciprocally transparent.

The Megacorps collect this data. Sometimes they sell it. Sometimes the government demands it. How can we be reciprocal partners with the mighty megacorps and governments?

David Brin said...

Dan Sutton... you are kidding, right? One is potential public endangerment extending to all of humanity and all future generations and the other is me expressing an opinion? And....

...and you genuinely cannot parse the difference? Egad.

Oh BTW... I do subject my opinions to discourse. There are no barriers on this blog and no moderation. In contract, these guys have refused invitations to expose to scientific critique and discussion assumptions on which they base an aggressive attempt to alter our relationship with the universe.

And there's no difference.... riiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Dan Sutton said...

Yes - I'm kidding (it's my sense of humour that's warped). But they're not...

Amy Eyrie said...

If one of the foremost theoretical physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking, believes alien contact is a cause for concern, why the hell wouldn't we discuss sending out mass messages indiscriminately?

Ian Gould said...

"secularized Judaism... his tribe...Brin's kind..."

Has the Nazi who used ot past as "anonymous" come back with a different screen name?

Dante D'Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dante D'Anthony said...

locumranch,execpt that David's flash mob doesn't effect the whole human race, and isn't a permanent state of affairs. He has a point, and you've failed to counterit seriously.

ppnl said...



Oh please people.

I have yet to see any argument about why aliens would want to come and take over the earth that was anything but funny. And unless you believe in FTL it would take thousands of years to get here anyway and we could probably see them coming. If they do have FTL we are their dog food anyway if they want us.

They could contact us by radio but even that would take thousands of years.

They probably don't even need our radio to know life exists here. Even we are beginning to be able to see the atmosphere of alien worlds. That will show the signs of life.

We could have all kinds of discussions with talking heads on both sides mugging for the camera and delivering sound bites on some mindless talk show. We probably will. But it just doesn't matter.

Tacitus2 said...

Maybe we should quickly follow up with a high powered transmission of the movie Aliens. Just the first 20 minutes though, the part where we appear to have a competent force of Colonial Marines on standby.

No doubt David will have his say on the events of the day...NSA only being one of several concerning ones.

That will be a long and spirited discussion thread.

Tacitus

Ian Gould said...

"They probably don't even need our radio to know life exists here. Even we are beginning to be able to see the atmosphere of alien worlds. That will show the signs of life."

This is why I tend to think David' METI concern is overstated.

Any species capable of reaching us is likely capable of detecting us even if we were actively trying to hide.

Edit_XYZ said...

""They probably don't even need our radio to know life exists here. Even we are beginning to be able to see the atmosphere of alien worlds. That will show the signs of life."

This is why I tend to think David' METI concern is overstated."

Life exists here.
Intelligent, technological life - not so much.

The distinction between the two is enormous- especially considering that the most credible reason aliens would have of attacking us is to prevent a future, advanced humanity to compete with them.

Jumper said...

I found "imperius" funny, and perhaps a sock puppet or too ironic for the internet (I am tempted to coin an acronym: TIFTI)and of course wrong. Funnier than locum, anyway.

My concerns are similar to David's. Unknown unknowns and all that. Plus, I'd like some data on the true attenuation of that signal, as it is pretty much the crux of the matter.

I imagine the Mexicans of 1400 sending out messages in sealed pots containing gold dust as gifts to the benign gods, inviting them to come visit.

David, you are certainly capable of composing an op-ed and sending it to the NYT or WaPo regarding these concerns. Online is not so limited regarding column inches.

David Brin said...


"ppnl" fully illustrated the immaturity that has taken over our modern world. Note the dripping contempt for any perspective other than his/her own, along with utter incuriosity about the vast range of possibilities - or whether the skilled people who have been studying these things for 30 years MIGHT know something that he does not know.

It is the incuriosity that is stunning. In a field like this one! Armwaved nostrums substitute for questions or conversations. "They probably…" is the powerful phrase that substitutes for curiosity, our greatest gift.

Alas, Ian does the same thing… though more courteously. "Likely" substitutes for querying the actual knowledge of actual radio astronomers who actually use things called equations.

Jumper nailed it: "I imagine the Mexicans of 1400 sending out messages in sealed pots containing gold dust as gifts to the benign gods, inviting them to come visit."

Perfectly apropos except it would be 1500.

Ian said...

Where are the equations comparing the signal strength of the various METI projects with what we're already pumping out, David?

Where are the equations that show our ability to actually reach other solar systems is developing faster than our ability to identify and characterize exoplanets?

The METI projects will have virtually no impact on our total broadcasts, you're essentially arguing that they're bad because of their intent, not because of their actual characteristics.

Basically David we've been shooting off flares and sounding foghorns for a century, now you're upset because someone wants to blow a whistle.

David Brin said...

Ian, your note just now started with a question, as it should have, and I was willing to ignore the sarcastic tone.

As a matter of fact, you can find just one of many papers on this at:
http://arxiv.org/pdf/0810.3966.pdf

and
http://arxiv.org/abs/1102.1938

Seth Shostak himself actually calculated that it would take a super-huge orbiting radio array a wholee year spent aimed right at us (and only us) to pick out I Love Lucy, and he is one of the pro-METI guys!

Shostak, S.; Tarter, J., 1982, International Astronautical Federation, International Astronautical Congress, 33rd, Paris, France, pp.3.

Shostak, S., 2007, “Short-Pulse SETI”, IAC-05-A.4.1.

Alas... you proceeded swiftly from (sarcastic) questions to more blithe armwaving away any need to actually contemplate actual equations that might relate to actual facts about the actual world.

Dig this... the difference between I Love Lucy and the DEW Cold War radars... on the one hand... and these beamed METI beams is the same as trying to communicate with the scout camp across a two mile wide lake using (1) hand slaps on the surface of the water vs (2) a laser pointer.

Yes, THAT is the difference. THAT is the right analogy, not flares.

Jumper said...

I think they had pretty much figured it out by 1500.. all too fast. I meant 1400 because of the speed of ocean currents...

(After that I started to muse on whether they had the tech to even seal a clay pot well enough to float for a year or three... only if there was pitch or rosin around. Maybe beeswax, if the right kind of bees were around, which I doubt.)

ppnl said...



I don't think it is fair to say that I'm incurious. I just like my fiction labeled as such. If we buy into every low probability sf plot we will spend our entire lives paralyzed by fear. Nuclear power? Unsafe. Genetic engineering? Oh the horror. Drugs to extend lifespan? Zombie Apocalypse. Nanotechnology? Grey Goo. There are times when you seem to understand this. There are times when you fail.

We face real problems and it is hard enough to convince people that these problems are real. You aren't helping.


And the thing about the Mexicans of 1500 is that there was nothing they could do to cause or prevent what happened. They could have spent their entire lives damping down their camp fires out of fear and it would have done no good. At worst we face the same problem. If they are out there, have FTL and want us we are toast. But we cannot live in fear.

And there is no practical way to prevent messages being sent in the long run anyway.

I suspect that if we are wiped out by aliens it will not be because they answered our call. It will be more like that ant you stepped on going to the mail box. The one you never even noticed and may not have cared about even if you had. The universe is big,time is deep and we are small. We should strive to live brave by facing real dangers that we can actually do something about.


David Brin said...

ppnl is wrong one every count and in every conceivable way. If the Nahuatl-speaking Mexicans had developed quiet trade and listening links with the Caribs they might have learned of the Spaniards and quietly kidnapped a blacksmith and a breeding pair of horses. Even in this world, Cortez nearly lost it all, a dozen times, Had the Aztecs not spurned offers from the Nahuatl-speakers, Cortz would have been toast and the Aztecs would have had their blacksmith and breeding horses.

But ppnl's worst sophistry is to denigrate the mature process of risk management, to which we owe all our lives. I agree that trembling over small probability risks is a bad idea. OTOH we now live because serious people took seriously risks of -- take your pick -- accidental nuclear war, nuclear power melt-downs, the possible escape of biowarfare research agents and myriad other potential failure modes.

Dopes denigrate that long history of balanced care and adversarial fault-mode discovery, without bothering to study or learn a thing, about - for example - the Asilomar Process by which genetic researchers paused to study possible mistakes and came up with fifty procedures that are now followed in nearly all gene labs around the world and that have helped to let us have BOTH rapid science AND careful precautions keeping us safe.

In other words, I am through talking to a moron.

ppnl said...



So we should be looking to kidnap aliens? Dude you are thinking in science fiction plots. Anyway the risks of contact with the outside world would have remained. Disease, conquest, colonization. Which is only fair because thats how they got to the top. So yeah, they would probably be ok with kidnapping people. I think there just might possibly be dangers associated with that.

I think Ivan the terrible did something similar for Russia. I'm not sure it made much difference in the hell that is Russian history.

It is vastly unlikely that anybody is close enough for our messages to be received in anything like a human relevant time frame. Even if they are they are profoundly unlikely to be able to get here in any relevant time frame. If they can they are unlikely to need our signals to know we are here. The chances that another civilization is within a million years of us in technology is pretty small.

How small does a probability need to be in order for it to be clear that time is better spent thinking about actual problems?

I wish we would make contact with an alien civilization. I don't expect it to happen.

I'm sorry you think I'm a moron. I don't think you are a moron. I do think you spend a lot of time thinking in sf plots.


ppnl said...


Seth Shostak himself actually calculated that it would take a super-huge orbiting radio array a wholee year spent aimed right at us (and only us) to pick out I Love Lucy, and he is one of the pro-METI guys!

If they have the technology to be a danger to us then the giant orbital array is probably small potatoes.

Even we are on the cusp of being able to detect living planets. I cannot imagine that we would detect living planets without working out ways to detect civilizations on them in the next few thousand years or so.

The universe is big, time is deep and we are small. That is the only protection an ant can expect.

Edit_XYZ said...

"If they have the technology to be a danger to us then the giant orbital array is probably small potatoes."

Hardly.
If the aliens don't have magical technology (FTL, etc), then crossing interstellar distances will be possible but costly in both time and resources.

Too costly in order to study non-technological life on a distant planet.
VERY CHEAP in order to eliminate a future competitor while he's still helpless.

BTW, the giants (BILLIONS) of orbital arrays needed to point to all potential ciilisation-bearing worlds/sites is so costly in resources as to be unfeasible.

Ian Gould said...

I've just scanned, briefly, the two papers cited.

From the second paper cited, the Zaitsev message could only be received by Earth-equivalent technology out to range of 19 light years.

Let's assume that we, today, detected an alien civilization orbited Proxima Centauri. Let's next assume that we, as a species, decide to devote ourselves utterly to their destruction.

Other than blasting them with continuous Jersey Shore re-runs in the hope of inducing mass suicide, what could we do?



ppnl said...


Too costly in order to study non-technological life on a distant planet.
VERY CHEAP in order to eliminate a future competitor while he's still helpless.


Well that level of paranoia is never cheap but what I mean by cheap is that detecting civilizations would be cheap in comparison to actually sending an invasion fleet.

But lets look at this step by step.

1)An alien race detects our signal. Unlikely but lets go with it.

2)They are paranoid assholes whose first thought is to kill us. Yeah, the cheese is getting a bit thick.

3)They send ships that take hundreds if not thousands of years to get here. That is a galactic level of dedication to their paranoia.

I wouldn't buy this as science fiction.

Now if you allow FTL and ease back on the murderous paranoids and just say contact with a more advanced race is dangerous then you may have a case.

But if FTL is possible then the entire galaxy should have been colonized billions of years ago.





Tacitus2 said...

I suppose if you credit the PreColumbian natives with a great deal of smarts there is something they could have done...

When the first caravel of smallpox ridden Europeans heaves to just have everyone run into the hills and stay there.

Except for a small group of winsome, if syphillis infected, young lasses who express a fond desire to visit the great land across the sea.

The balance of the reciprocal, accidental bio-warfare might have shifted just enough to discourage folks. Instead of names like Florida they would call the place The Plague Coast.

Tacitus
who of course realizes that the origins of syphillis are controversial.

Ian Gould said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Gould said...

Does anyone think that by the time we get anywhere near having the ability to travel to other solar systems (or project force across interstellar distances) the Kilometer Square Array (which the Benfords base their calculations of detection range on) will still be state of the art?

Hank Roberts said...

Ever had some idiot from out in the dark light you up with a bright headlight, or spotlight, or laser pointer?

When someone does, aren't you inclined to throw a rock at the source -- in case they're aiming to throw something at you?

Edit_XYZ said...

"Well that level of paranoia is never cheap but what I mean by cheap is that detecting civilizations would be cheap in comparison to actually sending an invasion fleet."

Quite the contrary - assuming the contacted civilisation sent only "I love Lucy" strength transmissions.

And you only have unsupported arm-waving for not buying the "paranoia".
Much like you presented no arguments whatsoever for the claim that aliens are benevolent.

Of course, the scenario I presented doesn't even have to be probable for the risk/benefit ratio to be extremely unfavourable (that's because the benefit is both doubtful and minimal)

Edit_XYZ said...

Ian Gould
"Does anyone think that by the time we get anywhere near having the ability to travel to other solar systems (or project force across interstellar distances) the Kilometer Square Array (which the Benfords base their calculations of detection range on) will still be state of the art?"

When it cones to detecting EM waves, the laws of physics dictate certain constrains - regardless of how advanced you are.

"From the second paper cited, the Zaitsev message could only be received by Earth-equivalent technology out to range of 19 light years."

Detecting the Zaitsev message from only 19 light years is NOT one of these constrains.

Jumper said...

Well, if the Aztecs had notified the Spanish 100 years earlier, they likely would have gotten wiped out about 100 years earlier. An overall loss for them. And 100 years is about my max lifetime, so the scale has meaning for me personally.

Then again, after it's all washed, first contact is about as likely by psylocibe as electromagnetism.

Tony Fisk said...

When someone does, aren't you inclined to throw a rock at the source -- in case they're aiming to throw something at you?

Reminds me of the apocryphal tale of some traffic police using a radar gun to clock a speeding motorist, only to have it burnt out by a passing Harrier. Enquiries to the RAF confirmed the incident had been logged as a 'radar lock-on'. Fortunately for the Law, the HARM missiles that usually got automatically deployed on such occasions were not in use.

This should not be taken to infer that RAF pilots are alien lifeforms.

Best on-screen cosmic cringe moment: when scientists decoding the signal in 'Contact' realise it's returning the Olympic opening ceremony... from Berlin 1936!

(Suggestion to any prospective flashers: continuously sound the 'da-dee-da-doh-doo' signal from CE3K: word accompaniment: "We-will-send-you-nuts!")

'permitted smightsn': Maybe they should send a collection of capcha quotes instead?

LarryHart said...

Going off-topic for the moment to wish Dr Brin and all the other fathers on this list a happy Father's Day.

My kid is eleven this year, and as hard as the upcoming teenage phase is going to be, I'm just now coming to understand that the rewards of fatherhood are not just something everyone pretends at in order to sucker the rest of the poor fools into reproducing.

My daughter is the best creative work I ever managed to accomplish. And I say that fully cognizant of the fact that my own contribution thereto is about 90% luck and another 90% accident.

Best to all. And thanks to Dr Brin for my summer reading, which begins this year with my third reading of "Infinity's Shore".

Duncan Cairncross said...

ppnl said

"But if FTL is possible then the entire galaxy should have been colonized billions of years ago."

The problem is that even if FTL is IMPOSSIBLE then the entire galaxy should have been colonized billions of years ago.

So the lack of colonization is not evidence either way

If we wanted to obliterate the odkops of Alpha Centaur - we could do it in less than one lifetime
Use project Daedalus as a basis and ram the probe into their planet at 12% of light speed

Now think about a future when the Christian fundamentalists are in power and some nonhuman and therefore dammed aliens are discovered
They can't be Christians so they must be obliterated

It may not even cost as much as the second Iraqi war

Anonymous said...

I can think of much cheaper methods to destroy the people of another world than fleets of starships.

Presumably this is a more advanced civilization that doesn't want competitors in its stellar neighborhood if/when they manage to get out there.

Send a design for the victim natives to build, tell them it is a powerplant or some such that will solve their energy needs. The victims build it (or many of them) and then use the constructed devices to blow up/poison the victims.

True, the victims might figure it out, but if you're significantly more advanced they very well may not.

Tony Fisk said...

Send a design for the victim natives to build, tell them it is a powerplant or some such that will solve their energy needs. The victims build it (or many of them) and then use the constructed devices to blow up/poison the victims.


I think I read an sf story along those lines once...;-)

time tonement: when the rep*irs w*sh *w*y, le*ving the origin*l d*m*ge.

locumranch said...

The irony inherent in David's post is threefold:

First, he argues that the enlistment of a flash mob of 'ditto-heads' is the rough equivalent of 'intelligent discourse'.

Second, he argues that the 'gone rogue' entrepreneurs at Lone Signal should defer to greater authority before attempting to message ET, even though no such greater authority or first-contact 'expert class' exists outside of our collective imagination.

Third, he assumes that discussion can resolve an issue that transcends human experience. Probability of Lone Signal contacting ET? Unknown & Unlikely. Probability of contacting hostile aliens? Unknown & Very Unlikely. Probability that those improbably hostile aliens will come and eat our livers? Unknown & Very Very Unlikely.

The final irony springs from what David calls "the incuriosity" of those who disagree with his non-empiric (and therefore) inexpert opinion.

Incuriosity?? He is the incurious one in this particular instance. He counsels fear & risk aversion (aka 'prudence') and recommends that humanity protect itself from a potential interstellar bogeyman by pulling a proverbial blanket over its head.

Personally, I would welcome any sort of alien incursion, including a violent one, which could only serve to unify the human race once & for all (assuming we survive), proving that we (humanity) must either hang together or hang separately ... not to mention access to some tasty cast-off alien technologies.

David is a brilliant man and fine writer but, like most humans, some of his views have been, are & will be internally inconsistent as this post was. A few days ago he was talking about taking any risk, daring any consequence, including a one way trip to Mars, in order to gain the stars, now he will only do so with prior authorization & signed parental permission slips. What gives?


Best.

David Brin said...

There is not one assertion made (above) by locumranch that is not a diametric and outright lie.

Clearly it is deliberate. Thus we surmise he is 16 years old.

If an adult patterned his thoughts that way, the conclusion would be mental illness, so I prefer the snarky teenager hypothesis.

Ian Gould said...

So in amongst all these hypotheticals being played out, has anyone considered that NOT responding to alien signals (possibly because we haven't detected them)might actually trigger a hostiel response?

"THey're not responding, WHAT ARE THEY HIDING?"

Robert said...

Or there's two other possibilities:

2. He's one of those adults who mentally never left 16-years-old (far too many these days)

3. He's a troll (see #2)

Rob H.

sociotard said...

So, now the US is done just providing a little food and medicine for refugees, and done just beefing up the Jordanian border. Now we're providing weapons to the Rebels.

It seems a little convenient that this decision was made just as Obama's scandals were starting to dominate the news. This may be a bit of "wag the dog".

Oh, some of those scandals didn't impress me much. (Benghazi). Some did. (Snooping on reporters). But a lot of people care about all of them, and the news agencies were consumed with them. If Obama can make the Syrian situation a little bigger, they'll focus on that. Of course, the Syrian Government was starting to win once Hezbollah joined the fight. That would have settled things. Can't have that.

I still think that Obama is better than McCain would have been. I don't think McCain has ever met a war he didn't like. Still, just once, I'd like to vote for somebody who cared about peace.

Jumper said...

locum has a good vocabulary. Bright boys often become know-it-alls. Some become meth users too, one supposes.

Wasn't there a U.N. statement to not signal aliens without further discussion? I thought I read that in one of the articles in our "assigned reading."

Ian Gould, you made me laugh.

Ian Gould said...

"It seems a little convenient that this decision was made just as Obama's scandals were starting to dominate the news. This may be a bit of "wag the dog"."

The decision was taken weeks ago, it's being announced now.

ppnl said...



David Brin continues to call people who disagree with him names. Moron, incurious, liars...

The incurious one is particularly strange here.

But anyway what I have not seen is an analysis of the risk. I consider the probability of an alien race within a thousand light years pretty small. Compound this with the probability that they are paranoid maniacs and that they have the means to get here and we are dealing with a profoundly small risk.

Our man Brin needs to stop calling people names and run some numbers by us.

Paul451 said...

Re: METI.

Locumranch,
"It follows that David's decision to protest 'messages to ET' is just as arrogant, unilateral & unlikely to succeed as Lone Signal's decision to send those damn messages in the first place."

Errr, yes. That is the point.

Alex Tolley,
"On a risk/benefit analysis"

I think the problem is that when the "risk" is species extinction, what "benefit" can balance that, let alone outweigh it?

Amy Eyrie,
"If one of the foremost theoretical physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking, believes alien contact is a cause for concern..."

For that matter, if the aliens themselves believe alien contact is a cause for concern...

SETI researchers have created a dedicated program to listen to the nearby Kepler hits, using the most sensitive radio telescopes on Earth. Nada. So if they are there, they are being very... very... quiet. And simple probability says that they've been doing this for a lot longer than us. Maybe we should take the hint.

Paul451 said...

Re: METI

ppnl,
"They could contact us by radio but even that would take thousands of years."

Gliese 581 is 22 light years away. 44yr round trip. I've noticed there's a lot of mispreceptions about stellar distances. I often see people confusing solar system and galaxy, galaxy and universe. People seem to only have two perceptions of scale in astronomy, human-scale and [hand-wave] big.

(Ditto the classic snark "When you wish upon a star ... you're actually a few million years late, according to astronomy. The star is dead. Just like your dreams." Of course almost all visible stars are within a few thousand light years. And most of the brightest are near neighbours.)

"I consider the probability of an alien race within a thousand light years pretty small."

But the METI people consider it large. We're merely accepting their proposal as possible. They are sending a direct focused signal because they don't think (in spite their self-contradictory bleating otherwise) that TV/radio/radar is sufficient to gain ET's attention. They believe that ET is contactable (by them), nearby, and listening. If they are right, then the aliens are also quiet. And maybe we should accept that as our first lesson.

Paul451 said...

Re: MTI

Ian,
Re: To rudely not answer their Message for Terrestrial Intelligence program.

If they are transmitting at us, with enough knowledge of us to be offended by us, then they have not only detected us but are listening to our radio/etc. In which case they would be able to hear whether we have detected their offer-we-can't-refuse. (Eg, they're causing a resonance in our ocean crust, but all we hear is the legendary mysterious "Bloop". Or projecting thoughts into susceptible minds, but all we hear is the ravings of unmedicated paranoid schizophrenics.)

And if they are offended by us not detecting them (because all God's True Children hear The Word), offended enough to attack, then they are random or insane enough that there's no way to anticipate their actions. So trying to anticipate those ETs is like a battered wife trying to appease her abusive drunken husband.

Paul451 said...

"Gliese 581 is 22 light years away."

Oops. Gliese 526, and 18 lyrs.

locumranch said...

That I indulge in trollery, drollery & contrariness is well-established, but outright lies are just not my thing. This thread reads like a synopsis on logical fallacy:

An appeal to the mob (ad consensus gentium); an appeal to fear (ad metum); an appeal to ignorance (ad ignorantiam); and an appeal to authority (ad auctoritatem), followed later by the healthy application of ad hominem, paraphrased as follows.

"Let's use our numbers to stop Lone Signal from their stated METI purpose because of fearful consequence (species extinction, Paul says), unknown & unknowable in all respects, on the authority of imaginary expertise, and you're a silly twit if you disagree."

So much for intelligent discourse or reasoned argument.

And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,'Cause there's bugger all down here on Earth.


Best.

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ppnl said...


"I consider the probability of an alien race within a thousand light years pretty small."

But the METI people consider it large. We're merely accepting their proposal as possible.


Don't take idiots seriously.

There proposal is silly. First of all nobody even knows if Gliese 526 has any planets. If it does nobody knows if it is in the golden zone. Even if it is Gliese 526 is a red dwarf and any such planet will be tidally locked. It is difficult to see how such a planet could have a stable atmosphere let alone intelligent life.

There only real chance to be detected is if their signal passes by Gliese 526 and goes some place interesting.

The whole project is a stylish and totally pointless project to get attention and maybe some of your money. Ignore them and they will dry up and blow away.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451
"I think the problem is that when the "risk" is species extinction, what "benefit" can balance that, let alone outweigh it?"

And the probability of that risk? I would suggest that other existential risks have far higher probabilities (but we cannot be certain). Many of those risks also have benefits. Alien contact could result in human "uplift".

As regards this particular stunt (excluding other general METI attempts), the probability that there is an advanced alien civilization at the target is vanishingly small. If they are there (18 ly) they almost certainly would know we exist with less than a 1/4 century of development behind. If they are going to do us harm, then could already have sent that destruction on its way.

On the wider issue of shouting yoohoo into the cosmos, then I think that DB's point is more valid. However, it also suggests that SETI is pointless, as ETI stays silent to avoid attracting attention. So by doing SETI, we are implicitly acknowledging that not all races think the same way. Of course a beacon (even a narrow beam) could just be a trap, inviting a reply and thence our destruction. However, it seems more likely that such ETI has local detection devices (von Neumann probes?) and that we have already given ourselves away.

Contrary to DB's compaint about this stunt, there may in fact be a positive benefit, that is if it stimulates the public to want to find out more about life elsewhere and that translates into more favorable congressional funding for space science. You never know...

Paul451 said...

ppnl,
"The whole project is [...] to get attention"

Seriously? You actually wrote that.

Does no one get irony any more?

David Brin said...

I called "moron" a snarker who tried to cram words and meanings into my mouth. I called "liar" a lying fool who contorted "logic" into multiple mutant pretzels in order to cram diametrically opposite meanings into my mouth.

That they are incapable of perceiving this and remain self-righteously convinced that they are injured parties, is both pathetic and hilariously snicker-worthy.

I have nothing further to say to these lying morons. Send us the other locumranch.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"And the probability of that risk?"

No frakkin' clue. However, I think you can do a poor man's analysis of relative risk/benefit.

In order for METI to "pay off": there must be a habitable world at Gliese 526 on which there are intelligent aliens, with radio technologically. And they must be listening. And they must be inclined to talk to aliens. And their culture/philosophy/technology must be compatible enough with ours to allow us to talk to them. Any failing in any part just makes METI a financial waste. But that is no concern of mine, it ain't my money, so I don't care what the odds of success are. (The last bit, communication without understanding, is also a kind of waste, but a much more interesting one.)

But these aliens must also not be hostile. They must also not consider us a future potential threat. They must also not consider us an indirect risk to them (by attracting the real monsters.) And finally, their culture/philosophy/technology must also not be damaging to us (Childhood's End is not a happy end.) METI is a risk to us if just one of those four elements isn't true. Even if the probability is in METI's favour for each one, all the dice must come up sixes. (Ie, if each is 85% in METI's favour, the probability of success of all four is just 50%. A coin toss on the fate of humanity.)

"also have benefits. Alien contact could result in human "uplift" "

Whether uplift is beneficial depends largely on the uplifter, less on the uplifted.

Hank Roberts said...

Either those organizing the signal project are aliens who got stranded here, and this project is a disguised appeal for help ...

Or, conversely, they're self-disguising robots dedicated to finding potentially intelligent life forms, simulating them, and organizing such signaling to target the incoming 0.8c bowling ball.

I mean, what's the odds on those choices compared to just dumb natives doing this on their own, eh?

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"However, it also suggests that SETI is pointless, as ETI stays silent to avoid attracting attention."

This is a common response from METI defenders. "If everyone thinks like Brin/Hawking/etc, the galaxy could be full of ETI's all silently listening; someone has to talk!" The difference between us and the aliens is that they've been doing this for a lot longer than we have. A lot longer. On average, half the average-lifespan-of-their-species, minus time-taken-to-develop-radio. That could be millions of years. We've just started, we're children.

Likewise, if alien civilisations are common enough for METI, within a few tens of lightyears, that's one civilisation every hundred or so stars. That means a billion or so civilised worlds in the galaxy. So a few million will just happen to be right next door to each other, close enough to directly detect conventional unidirectional radio/TV, not just directed METI/etc. A few percent of those will open up direct communications after they detect each other (I can already hear and understand you, and I heard the excitement when you detected me. So why not say "Hello"?) And if they have a mutually rewarding experience, a percentage of those pairs will start looking for more civilisations to contact. And, assuming civilisations are close enough to make METI worthwhile, gradually the network will spread out further as more species join in.

None of this requires that "everyone is like us" (beyond certain minimums, civilisation, technology, radio). It's just probability, once you accept METI's assumptions. Plenty will "opt out" and stay silent. Some will even be hostile, or proselytisers, or too weird to understand. But as long as there's enough commonality and no berserkers, the network will spread across the galaxy over millions of years, creating a galaxy wide shared culture of contact. And this would have happened a few billion years ago. Entire civilisations would have come and gone since it began. That network is loud enough for us to detect, and that culture would likely be signalling us from the moment a neighbour detected bio-signs. And yet... it's quiet out there. So either they are not there, or they are staying vewy vewy qwiet. The first means METI is a waste. The second means it's a threat. The probability that we're the first civilisation in a few billion years that contains shouty impatient idiots, and that everyone else has just been waiting billions of years for someone like us to make the first move, seems... unlikely.

We should take their hint, and shush. At least until we're a little older and wiser and better informed.

Paul451 said...

"unidirectional radio/TV"?

I don't think that words means what I meant it to mean.

David Brin said...

Guys I just had a call from Jim Benford - brother of Greg and my colleague in the dissidents movement who are asking for pre-METI discussions. Jim is the real deal who knows the physics top to bottom. He tells me that the narrow-coherent beam from the refurbished antenna being used by the Lone Signal twits puts out 0.6% of the effective radiated power that Alexander Zaitsev emits on the rare occasions that he is allowed to send METI beams from Evpatoria in the Crimea.

In other words, these guys are scam artists, pulling in dough from gullible wowzer-zealots wanting to scream "yoo-hoo!"

Kinda depressing and reassuring at the same time.

David Brin said...

Paul, Zaitsev's rationalization is the altruistic-benign cowards explanation. They are way ahead of us and harmless, but timid and we, as the new kids, are behooved to start shouting to get the conversation going.

Yes, the power of human minds to concoct delusional "logic" is astonishing. We may be quarantined because "they" find this shit hilarious.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451
"So either they are not there, or they are staying vewy vewy qwiet.(...)The second means it's a threat."

The problem I have with this logic is that we would never be able to disprove that dangerous ETI is out there somewhere. Thus we would forever be in a situation where we couldn't message or even send interst5ellar probes to interesting planets.

Even if we determine that all likely planets are uninhabited, that wouldn't be enough as there would always be some way an ETI could have evaded detection.

So my question is this - what evidence would you accept that it was safe to contact other planets (e.g. by sending a science probe)?

ppnl said...



David Brin said:

I called "moron" a snarker who tried to cram words and meanings into my mouth. I called "liar" a lying fool who contorted "logic" into multiple mutant pretzels in order to cram diametrically opposite meanings into my mouth.


Dude by internet standards the snark has been minimal. If words have been put into your mouth it is only because so few words have come out. I cannot imagine why you think there is credible risk and you have not explained.

That they are incapable of perceiving this and remain self-righteously convinced that they are injured parties, is both pathetic and hilariously snicker-worthy.

Who complained of injury? My only complaint is lack of participation. I called for numbers. I would love to hear your opinion on how probable FTL is. I would love to hear your opinion on how likely interstellar travel at relativistic velocity is. My best estimate is that it is very very hard. Maybe it will never be done. I would love to hear why everything of value in the galaxy wasn't claimed billions of years ago.

In other words, these guys are scam artists, pulling in dough from gullible wowzer-zealots wanting to scream "yoo-hoo!"

Yes and this should have been your first instinct about them. By "calling all flash mobs" it seemed you were doing the same thing they were. Attention seeking.

ppnl said...



@Alex Tolley:

On the wider issue of shouting yoohoo into the cosmos, then I think that DB's point is more valid. However, it also suggests that SETI is pointless, as ETI stays silent to avoid attracting attention.

I don't think SETI is pointless regardless of what is or isn't true or likely. First the hardware is useful for other purposes and the actual searches are pretty cheap. And second the actual SETI searches have value even if no ET is ever detected.

Certainly if you believe in dangerous ETs then SETI is important since detecting the death of a civilization may be the only clue we get to shut up.

But I think that civilizations are so rare in both time and space that the only thing we have a chance of finding is gods and microbes. Detecting anything within millions of years of our development would be a crazy coincidence. And if the gods are dangerous then we are screwed no matter what we do.

ppnl said...


Paul451

If there are a billion civilizations out there all watching each other out of fear the very most dangerous thing you could do is be seen attacking a new civilization. Then everyone would know who the asshole was. This situation would have sorted out long ago.

I doubt a million year old civilization could possibly be ignorant of what was developing in near by systems. If they could get here to destroy us they could get here with probes far cheaper. And if they are that afraid of what is out there they certainly would have.

Edit_XYZ said...

"And if the gods are dangerous then we are screwed no matter what we do."

You're assuming that these gods are not bound by natural law.
You see, if they are, we do have options-

Tim H. said...

METI could provide a story idea, "Poorly managed self-replicateing production plan impoverishes older civilization, METI signal indicates new potential resources.".

Yoshi Moto said...

I think this is a stupid idea as well because no matter how improbable,the slim chance of attracting the attention of the wrong alien group is an endgame situation.

But, wouldn't any alien civilization able to destroy us apes here on Earth be also able to easily see that there is sapient life and a civilization through hyper advanced space telescopes?

Alex Tolley said...

@ppnl
I don't think SETI is pointless regardless of what is or isn't true or likely. And second the actual SETI searches have value even if no ET is ever detected.

The underlying assumption of SETI is that other civilizations will want to contact other civilizations.If civilizations deliberately stay quiet, then the search only has value if we can independently confirm those civilizations exist by other means. (But then if we can do that, why would they stay quiet?) A null result from SETI could not distinguish a situation of no civilizations or more than one other but staying quiet.

Certainly if you believe in dangerous ETs then SETI is important since detecting the death of a civilization may be the only clue we get to shut up.

How would SETI help you to determine the death of a civilization? Some transmission indicating they are being destroyed?

Arthur Clarke suggested another approach - looking for stars that should be stable, going nova or supernova, hinting at intervention.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"The problem I have with this logic is that we would never be able to disprove that dangerous ETI is out there somewhere."

The Sagan network I talked about would disprove the majority of possible danger scenarios. (Well, there's never true "proof" of anything, and yes could all be a trap, but that's a different argument.) My point was that our lack of detection of a Sagan network is itself proof of the absence of a nearby benign alien presence. Either the absence of aliens altogether, or the presence of something they consider dangerous. Scenarios that try to explain the lack of detectable signals don't make sense if you think of the sheer number of civilisation and depth of time that we're talking about in order for there to be an alien civilisation within 20 lightyears.

"Even if we determine that all likely planets are uninhabited, that wouldn't be enough as there would always be some way an ETI could have evaded detection."

Errr, if they were uninhabited, we wouldn't want to signal them.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451
Scenarios that try to explain the lack of detectable signals don't make sense if you think of the sheer number of civilisation and depth of time that we're talking about in order for there to be an alien civilisation within 20 lightyears.

Are you then discounting the "no civilization" hypothesis?

Errr, if they were uninhabited, we wouldn't want to signal them.

My point was that ETI might well no be planet based. Asteroid belts, for example. Therefore there is no way to disprove hidden ETI.

Can you answer the question regarding what evidence would be sufficient for you to change your mind about the precautionary principle that you currently support regarding METI?

Ian Gould said...

Within 20 years or so, we'll have the capability not just to identify Earth-sized exoplanets in the habitable zone but to conduct spectrographic analysis of their atmospheres.

An earth-sized planet with a Nitrogen-Oxygen atmosphere containing measurable levels of Methane would be highly suggestive of life.

Conduct an automated Kepler-style survey for candidates and the odds for SETI/METI get a whole lot better.

Or we could go looking for evidence not of stars exploding as Clarke suggested but of Dyson spheres and the like.

David has never said we shouldn't undertake METI just that it's premature to do so now.

Maybe we should be having this debate once we know there are others out there, how far away they are and much further advanced than us they appear to be.

Alex Tolley said...

Like others, I find the logic that aggressive ETI would not employ other technologies than passively watching out for signals. Predators don't generally stay in a location and wait for their prey to announce its presence before moving towards it. They actively seek out prey. Within a century we may well have quite good planetary imaging telescopes, with techniques to detect civilizations. Even now we could detect a Dyson sphere of a K2 civilization. Therefore even civilizations quite close to our level of development might well be able to detect us and exterminate us if they desire. I'm not buying that this hasn't happened because they haven't detected our shouting yoohoo yet. More likely there are no other existing civilizations (at least a civilization we could recognize as such).

Either view - ETI common or ETI non-existent shouldn't be discussed with so little data that it becomes almost a religious argument on both sides. What I don't like is the precautionary principle being applied (we have no data, so do nothing) or alternatively "wait until we have corroborating data" without some guideline as to what data could be used to make a decision that no longer requires the precautionary principle.

Ian Gould said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Yoshi Moto asked a good question.

1) I do not claim that we should never transmit. But that it is foolish to do so when we are learning about the galaxy at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Our knowledge of extrasolar planets has gone from zero to thousands in 18 years. In that case, why not wait a bit, because in 20 years we may know why the universe is so strangely silent. And we may be spreading into the solar system, better able to adapt.

2) Super super sapients may be able to point super instruments, but the sheer number of stars to look at is staggering. They may have catalogued Earth and they may have detected a life atmosphere. They may also not have pointed the expensive scopes our way since we became technological. I see no point in drawing attention till we know why THEY are being so quiet.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
"Are you then discounting the "no civilization" hypothesis?"

It wasn't clear, I meant there's no scenario where METI works which isn't outweighed by the threat. I do consider "no civilisations" to have the highest probability, but within just the scenarios where METI makes sense... METI being safe has the lowest probability (and a hell of a cost). Does that make more sense?

"Can you answer the question regarding what evidence would be sufficient for you to change your mind about the precautionary principle that you currently support regarding METI?"

I thought I did: A Sagan network. METI assumes that there are aliens nearby, advanced enough to hear us. That implies somewhere around a billion civilisations in the galaxy, which implies a bunch of other things, which ends with a Sagan network. Lack of a Sagan network means no aliens, or a threat that prevents the formation of a Sagan Network. And since a Sagan Network is just focused radio transmissions, that implies a threat to us.

Over time, we'll learn more about our local interstellar neighbourhood; how many stars have habitable planets, how many have signs of life, even signs of industrialisation. It'll give us a better idea of what's out there. And if, with larger and larger arrays, we one day pick up the faint traces of a more distant Sagan network... then they are not being quiet, just less numerous, and my argument no longer applies.

"I find the logic that aggressive ETI would not employ other technologies than passively watching out for signals."

But that's not the "logic". I have no idea what form the threat takes. I'm just saying that maybe we should take the hint from our older wiser neighbours and shut up until we know a lot more about how things work.

I'm only asking for a few millennia of modest caution to learn about the neighbourhood. How is that unreasonable?

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451
I'm only asking for a few millennia of modest caution to learn about the neighbourhood. How is that unreasonable?

Doesn't that imply not sending out probes to the stars, especially those with large observable signatures like beamed sails?

Taking that a step further, we might not even want to colonize the solar system if that results in obvious energy releases.

I really hope that we can resolve METI issues within decades, at most a century. In a few millenia and we might not even have an earth civilization.

Ed said...

Fermi's paradox and Neumann's self reproducing probes are nicely explained here
http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/cosmo/lectures/lec28.html
The aliens are either not there or are already here.

Ed Pell

Ed said...

We could also look on the bright side. If the galaxy is dangerous we may need friends.

Maybe we each project our own beliefs on the unknown.

In the end we will never know what is out there unless we look. The fearful will stay home and the rest of us will have an adventure. Staying home can be dangerous even fatal.

David Brin said...

ALex T said: "Doesn't that imply not sending out probes to the stars, especially those with large observable signatures like beamed sails?…Taking that a step further, we might not even want to colonize the solar system if that results in obvious energy releases. "

Sorry Alex. That is just like those dopes claiming: "Because Brin wanted folks to picket the arrogant METI guys into accepting discussion, that means Brin is a hypocrite and opposes discussion."

Say what? There is no logic. That's just snarkitudinous outright lying.

In your case: um... if we got beamed sails, that means we have Way-honking peta-giga LASERS. Hooah!

ppnl said...


Alex Tollet:

>The underlying assumption of SETI is that other civilizations will want to contact other civilizations.

No there need be no underlying assumption. You look. You always aggressively look at stuff wherever. The only limit to looking is how much you are willing to spend. SETI is relatively cheap and has all kinds of other benefits. So what if finding ET is profoundly unlikely? Look anyway. Find stuff even if it isn't the stuff you were looking for.

Meti otoh is different. Even if they are out there it is profoundly unlikely they will recieve any message in your life time. It is pretty pointless and useless but entirely harmless.

>How would SETI help you to determine the death of a civilization? Some transmission indicating they are being destroyed?

Possibly. Possibly we would just hear their transmissions fall silent. Possibly we could see the death fleet decelerating on arrival. Possibly we would see the aftermath of what could only be a large relativistic velocity impact. Anyway we need to be looking even if all this is so unlikely that it hardly needs mentioning.

ppnl said...

Edit_XYZ

>"And if the gods are dangerous then we are screwed no matter what we do."

>You're assuming that these gods are not bound by natural law.
You see, if they are, we do have options-

No even a 1000 years ahead of us not to even contemplate millions we are toast. Picture today's navy against the Germans of WWII. Thats less than a hundred years. Look at the American tanks against the much larger force of Iraqi tanks. Thats less than 50 years difference in technology. To quote Data "We will die never even having seen the faces of our attacker."

If they are paranoid and can do interstellar travel then they will have probes out as far as they can. If they are near then they are here. METI becomes irrelevant. Even if they are far it is still likely that they are so far ahead of us that we cannot hope to escape their notice for long enough to make any difference.

Our only hope is if the galaxy isn't populated by psychotic gods. I like our odds. METI is utterly pointless but it does not scare me. People scared of the dark scare me much more.

ppnl said...


Well we have one suggestion that we wait 20 years and another that we give it a few millennia.

It is hard to imagine what we could see in 20 years that would make any difference. It is hard to take thousands of years seriously. It does highlight the dangerous slippery slope once you give in to fear of the dark. It is like people whistling in the dark trying to work up the courage to walk past the cemetery. The real danger is that you will legitimize the fear of ghosts. Twenty years could really turn in to effectively forever. Maybe thats the best argument for doing METI.

David Brin said...

I love smug know-it-alls telling the universe how itz gotta be. Categorical, blinkered. No other possibilities allowed in to spoil smug perfection. Contempt for any who say "but...."

I've known enough Marxists, Randians, religious zealots, hippies and Austrian economists -- that mind set gives me hives.

Edit_XYZ said...


"No even a 1000 years ahead of us not to even contemplate millions we are toast. Picture today's navy against the Germans of WWII. Thats less than a hundred years. Look at the American tanks against the much larger force of Iraqi tanks. Thats less than 50 years difference in technology. To quote Data "We will die never even having seen the faces of our attacker."

Can today's navy sent FTL signals? Can it break a single fundamental natural law?
Much like any previous navy.

Technological advance =/ being able to break laws such as lightspeed, etc.
As such, your comparisons are straw-men.

Alex Tolley said...

@DB
In your case: um... if we got beamed sails, that means we have Way-honking peta-giga LASERS. Hooah!

I don't understand your comment.

I thought your concern about METI was that a strong, targeted signal was the equivalent of shouting yoohoo into the cosmos, which could draw attention to us. That attention might not be benign.

Far sooner than the millenia Paul451 wanted to stay silent, we are likely to be sending physical probes to the stars. Beamed sails look like a good approach (Jim Benford's talk at Starship Century, that you attended, made that option look quite attractive). I would have thought, but correct me if I am wrong, a 50GW laser/microwave power source for such a sail wouldn't be all that different from a communication signal in terms of drawing attention to us.
If that is true, we wouldn't want to be doing that based on the precautionary principle.
I personally would like us to send probes to study other star systems, especially ones that could send us data on biologies.

Without being snarky or dismissive, can you explain why METI and beamed sails are not equivalent in terms of your objections to METI?

ppnl said...


Edit_XYZ

>Can today's navy sent FTL signals? Can it break a single fundamental natural law?
Much like any previous navy.

Nooo.....

And a million year old race wouldn't need such capabilities in order to kill us. As has been pointed out a simple relativistic impactor would do the job. Self replicating killer robots would violate no natural law. Even nuclear weapons would do the job. Or genetically engineer an incurable plague. If they can make the trip here then killing us is child's play. With great effort we could do some of these to ourselves. They could do it so easily that not only would we never see the faces of our attacker we may never even know we had an attacker. We could just wake up dead one day.

I don't understand why you think they would need supernatural power in order to totally outclass us.

ppnl said...


David Brin

>I love smug know-it-alls telling the universe how itz gotta be. Categorical, blinkered. No other possibilities allowed in to spoil smug perfection. Contempt for any who say "but...."

Except I am discussing things with people who say "but..". You aren't.

Please answer Alex Tolley's question. I would really like to hear what you have to say. I would value it. I may disagree with it and I may even be a little snarky. But dude... don't take it so personally.

Paul451 said...

David said: "if we got beamed sails, that means we have Way-honking peta-giga LASERS. Hooah!"

I assumed David humorously meant it is a defensive weapon. ("Sure it's a risk, but we'll be armed!")

Alex Tolley,
Re: Probes.

A probe is a different beast to a METI program. The whole purpose of METI is attracting attention. That's its central design concept. That's a completely different game to a probe, which is intended to gain information.

But importantly, the technology that allows us to send a probe to another star system also allows us to send a telescope in the opposite direction to our sun's gravitation focus, for vastly less money, and much sooner. That means that we'll certainly survey the target system in fine detail with such a gravity-telescope before we can afford to send an interstellar probe. So we'll have a really good idea what we're heading into. My objection to METI is not absolute, is it based on our lack of knowledge and the logical inconsistency in METI's reasoning.

I would still be careful pointing the mega-laser at random stars (hell, I think we should be more careful with the DSN than we are). But a probe isn't anything like the same risk as METI.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - I appreciate both your explanation of DB's comment and your explanation of why you see probes as different from METI in an operational sense.

If I understand your argument correctly, you are saying that the probe will only explore stars we have well characterized, possibly with a solar gravitational lensed telescope. I agree with that. On Centauri Dreams, we have in the past been discussing that such telescopes could be operationally deployed within 50 years of design and funding even using current chemical tech, and disregarding nuclear thermal rockets. Which suggests that our first probes could be sent as soon at the technology and funding is available after that (which might be a long time). If we got extremely lucky and detected a civilization on a target system, and it looked safe (however we would define that), would you be OK to initiate METI with that civilization? Or, for added safety, send a probe to communicate. IOW, do METI with worlds we know something about, rather than the case with current attempts.

Paul451 said...

Alex,
Re: Doing METI from a position of knowledge.
It depends on what we detect. We would still need to have the discussion first. But we'd have more information to make that decision. (For example, do the Doppler shifts on the signals imply they are on a single planet, or in orbit, or spread throughout their solar system? Are we picking them up because they're talking to other interstellar species? Etc.]

[Also, once the existence of the aliens is announced, one argument would be to make official, organised contact before the idiots start shouting their idiocy at the aliens. The lowest risk then may be official government-backed METI. Ie, a higher risk than not doing METI, but a lower risk than letting idiots do METI.]

As I said before, I doubt there's anything out there - neither devils nor angels. But METI's own justifying logic is self-defeating. If they believe there are aliens numerous enough to be close to us, and willing to communicate with any young species who shouts at them, then the creation of a Sagan Network a billion or so years ago is inevitable. We would already have detected such a network. Since we haven't, METI is wrong. The only question is in what way.

Re: Probes in 50/100 years.
If interstellar probes are possible, then at some point in the last few billion years, some species better adapted to interstellar travel than us will have colonised the whole galaxy. We wouldn't have had a chance to evolve. Since we did, they haven't. So if interstellar travel turns out to be as easy as these guys think, Fermi's Paradox becomes that much stronger, and it becomes that much less likely that anyone else exists. In that case, I consider probes to be a low risk high return activity.

The only "monster" scenario is that someone did spread out, killed off everything else, and went dormant. We got lucky and missed the sweep through out neighbourhood. In that scenario, we need information. A probe is the lowest risk way of getting it (after we've exhausted the limits of gravity-lens telescopes). Again, probes are a whole different monkey than METI.

Melissa said...

How does one go about imposing one's will upon a flash mob? Some kind of zombie ray beamed over their cell phones?

I do have some reservations about somebody presuming to send a message to a total stranger on my behalf inviting them to drop by my house unannounced. I would like to have some input as to how that invitation is phrased: BYOB, no death-rays please. THat sort of thing. If they rejected my request to discuss the matter, I might indeed stand outside their house and shout at them that I really, really object to their speaking on my behalf without my input.
I would have the same kind of objection to an informal, unauthorized coalition of strangers popping over to Iraq and inviting a randomly-selected group to come on by the good-old US of A. We're all ready to convert to Islam. Suitcase nukes? Why not. Again, I would like my duly elected government to have some input there.