June 17, 2019

Would We Recognize Alien Tech If We Saw It?

“Despite the impression one gets from textbooks, our current knowledge of the universe represents a small island in a vast ocean of ignorance. The scientific enterprise is all about expanding the landmass of this island. And it is fun to engage in the activity of gaining knowledge; knowing everything in advance would have been much more boring. Still, it would be shocking to learn all at once of the discoveries of an alien civilization that been doing scientific and technological exploration for billions of years, in contrast to our mere few centuries. The eminent science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke codified this idea in the third of his three laws : “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Put another way, members of such a civilization would appear to us as a pretty good approximation to God.

Meeting a piece of advanced technological equipment developed by an extraterrestrial intelligence might resemble an imaginary encounter of ancient cave people with a modern cell phone. At first, they would interpret it as a shiny rock, not recognizing it as a communication device. The same thing might have happened in reaction to the first detection of an interstellar visitor to the solar system, ‘Oumuamua, which showed six peculiar properties but was nevertheless interpreted as a rock by mainstream astronomers.

Because it would likely be relatively small, most advanced equipment could only be recognized in the darkness of space when it comes close enough to our nearest lamppost, the sun. We can search for technological “keys” under this lamppost, but most of them will stay unnoticed if they pass far away. More fundamentally, one may wonder whether we are able to recognize technologies that were not already developed by us. After all, these technologies might feature subtle purposes—like the cell phone communication signals that a cave person would miss.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Daily Picks

"How many monarchies remain? About 30, reigning over some 45 countries. The British monarchy, which dates to the 11th century's William the Conqueror, technically rules over 16 countries, including Canada and Australia. The current head of the..."

"I’ve been called for jury duty three or four times, but was never selected until last month, when I was put on the jury for a civil case in Superior Court in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It was a long day. You’re expected to show up at 8:30 in the..."

"The marker proclaims the settlement will be known as “Trump Heights.” Netanyahu said the name was chosen to thank President Donald Trump for breaking decades of US tradition and recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel in March. Prior to..."

"Taylor Swift released the second single from her just-announced forthcoming album Lover on Thursday, and the gist of it is classic Swift: “You Need to Calm Down” tells Swift’s haters that their mission to diminish her brilliance is doomed, that..."

"Over the last decade, more Americans have turned to renting houses instead of owning them. Data from 2017 says there are more people renting than at any other point in the past 50 years—since 1965. While a majority of these people are in their 20s"

"What do a Yemeni refugee in the queue for food aid, a checkout worker in a British supermarket and a depressed university student have in common? They're all being sifted by some form of artificial intelligence..."

"“You’re not in Jazzercise, ladies,” a trim, tattooed, fitness instructor chided me and the roomful of women who were attempting to work up a sweat one morning a few months ago. I’d never done Jazzercise, but I knew what she meant. The caustic cue.."

""Many classic children’s books beg for philosophical readings: the likes of “Charlotte’s Web” or “Are You My Mother?” are well known as complex and subterranean ruminations on death and identity and community. Had you asked me a couple of years..."

"Recent efforts to legalize marijuana in New York and New Jersey have been stalled — but not killed — by disputes over how exactly to divvy up the revenues from marijuana sales and by worries about drugged driving. Those are both important issues..."

"More than a dozen kosher eateries — selling pizza, bagels, falafel and schnitzel — dot Main Street in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood of Queens. But a newcomer on the block is sure to turn some heads, and maybe stomachs, too..."

"Founded in 1867, the Keuffel & Esser Co. commissioned a study of the future for its 100th anniversary. If you’re of a certain vintage, you might have used a K&E slide rule. Their “visionary” study was a huge dud, missing completely the electronic.."

"The Bible is the world’s most influential book. But books, like people, can be influential because of what they say, or because of what they are thought to have said. With a book as huge as the Bible, readers need some kind of key that will..."