The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Encrypted Space Communication


Neil deGrasse Tyson and Edward Snowden recently discussed the idea that encryption mechanisms with advanced extraterrestrial species and humans could theoretically render communication as indistinguishable from cosmic background radiation. With only a short period of time in a species growth where open communication is broadcast to the stars (through the sluggish and primitive nature of radio broadcasts), this could prevent us (or other species) from making contact with one another.

With the Drake Equation stating a high probability of communicative extraterrestrial civilizations and the contrasting Fermi Paradox citing lacking evidence of such, it begs the question of whether outlying reasons have an impact. In my opinion, the Drake Equation rings true in the sense that hundreds of billions of stars exist in our galaxy alone (many with their own diverse planetary bodies), setting the stage for extraterrestrial life to disavow itself as insatiable ramblings. Unlike that which is eminent in the Fermi Paradox, I believe, in this case, a conclusion based off of inductive reasoning seems to hold more water than an evidence-only approach.

Keeping in mind the discussion in The Guardian article, a flaw of the Fermi Paradox’s evidence-based perspective should become apparent: secure, encrypted communication (cloaked by design) would render the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence invisible to the prying ear. If intentional, there could be many reasons for withholding this whereabouts of a species location. An abstract theory from science fiction may itself hold a degree of truth. An example of which, is the video game series ‘Mass Effect,’ where an advanced, sentient machine-race cleanse the galaxy of advanced life every 40,000 years. The reasoning for doing so is to “bring order to chaos” and for reasons “unfathomable.” Be it for an abstract reason such as this or simply for secure communication, the encryption of the resultant transmission’s presence wouldn't register as noticeable to any observers. As nearly all signs of outside life would be mute, it then lays in the other senses that hold the most promise of enlightenment.

As such, in order to discover life, our best bet may not be audible intercepts, but rather, through other means of investigation. To understand whether other species exist (and where) it’s crucial to focus on projects that analyse the orbiting distance, size and mass of exoplanets (through Kepler). In correlation with the James Webb Space Telescope (launching 2018), we’ll study the chemical composition of these atmospheres, exponentially increasing our chances of discovery. Yet, we would still not be wholly guaranteed to find a plethora of alien life, due to the dwindling possibility posed by the inherent dangers of space and the unknown implications of voicing one’s origins. The act of viewing the stars may hold better prospects than listening to them, but we are still better to exhaust all options presented to us — focusing on new transmission technology as it becomes available, and funding the relevant R&D.

One example is using lasers for communication, through the LLCD (and follow-up LCRD in 2017), the former of which broke speed records by sending data from the moon 384,633 km (239,000 miles) to Earth at 622 Mbps. This is equivalent to downloading a 1 GB file in less than 13 seconds! While the disadvantages of both systems encapsulate a limited acceptance range (unlike radio which has a broad signal), one could hope we improve these receptors in great strides over time (if not, this could be another pitfall in receiving extraterrestrial transmissions). For all we know, we could iterate this technology to transmit across space at speeds faster-than-light, if the demonstrations by Günter Nimtz hold water along with the analysis that Faster Than Light through Quantum tunnelling doesn’t violate relativity theory. If created, an interstellar communication system of this sort would prepare us for widespread space exploration.

Another project worth the effort is SETI, which recently got an influx of $100 million dollars by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner. This 10 year initiative would gain thousands of observation hours per year on telescopes around the world, allowing a 10-fold increase in the space-canvassed and scanning the entire 1–10 gHz range. This spectrum referred to as the “quiet zone” isn’t impeded by Earth’s atmosphere or cosmic sources, so intelligent life would theoretically know its use for garnering the attention of other species. Building and maintaining these projects are integral to the search for life, as various components are necessary to understand our place in the universe. Encryption employed by ET’s could involve transmission through multiple communication methods that coalesce into a complete message (else would singularly appear irrelevant or illegible). Therefore, the more equipment we utilize to cater to our inquisitiveness, the higher the chances that scientists and machine learning can join to reveal patterns formerly concealed by ignorance.

Irrespective the success of the immediate search for life, the interim holds scientific progress nonetheless. The obscurity of the cosmos holds answers to the incumbent questions of life, the moments of the past and the hint of what’s to come as time transcends the universal veil. As our place changes amongst its scope, we may find ourselves contacted directly by an outside intelligence where advanced-encryption is intentionally-absent. Or, we may realize that the very information we’ve been receiving all along with stellar instruments has held messages encoded in a form undecipherable with current technology. It could be the ability to decode this information that distinguishes us as the beginning of a type 1 civilization, fostering our recognition as one of importance in the stellar community. Or, by some lonely, statistically improbable, extremely-unlikely fluke, we are the first intelligence to arise from the ashes of stardust.