Experts Say Opening Alien Messages Could Get Us Trolled
Astrophysics and research keep advancing. One day soon, we may be able to read alien messages — how exciting!
Not so fast.
Experts warn this is a very bad idea. Why? Because apparently, aliens are dicks.
Astrophysicists say that opening alien messages could expose our computer systems to hacking or — wait for it — trolling.
Michael Hippke and John G. Learned are astrophysicists working in Germany and Hawai’i respectively. Together, they published a paper at arxiv.org which is part of the Cornell University library system.
They preempt their dreary (and nerdy) warning with a disclaimer letting readers know that they acknowledge the excitement of opening messages from extraterrestrial intelligent (ETI) lifeforms. However, since we don’t understand the intentions behind these messages, we’re better off not opening them at all.
Thanks for the bummer, dads.
“If ETI exist, there will be a plurality of good and bad civilizations. Perhaps there are few bad ETI, but we cannot know for sure the intentions of the senders of a message. Consequently, there have been calls that SETI signals need to be ‘decontaminated,'” the report states.
According to a referenced study and this paper’s implications, decontamination is absolutely impossible. In fact, they say we should destroy any messages to prevent complications or damage.
If Alien Messages Don’t Infect Computers, They Could at Least Troll Us
So, what’s the worst that could happen? Hacking and trolling. Yes, really.
The first concern is that the messages could contain malicious information — mostly in the form of a computer virus.
We have no idea how advanced extraterrestrial life may be in another galaxy. Movies may focus a lot on straight up combat and war, but what if our demise is simply a virus that disables earth’s entire communication system?
That’s really what they’re worried about.
Okay, so let’s say we receive a message and it doesn’t include a virus. What now? Well, we might get trolled to death.
At least, that’s how Hippke and Learned explain it: “On the most basic level, a message might represent
a statement like ‘We will make your sun go supernova tomorrow.’ True or not, it could cause widespread panic. More realistically, a longer text could have a demoralizing cultural influence.”
I find it very hard to believe that alien messages could have an even greater “demoralizing cultural influence” than anything the human race has subjected itself to already. I mean, have you seen child beauty pageants?
Does This Mean We Can Never Talk to Aliens?
Hippke and Learned’s paper says that under certain circumstances, it is possible to open and interpret alien messages under one condition: no one finds out about it.
Unfortunately, they say that if researchers come across a benign message, it’s probably best to keep it “contained.”
They also worry that even a very safe message that says “we are friends” could be the work of artificial intelligence. So what? Well, according to the paper, this could be extremely dangerous if their artificial intelligence is smarter than our human intelligence.
Okay, that’s a pretty terrifying thought. I’ll give them that one.
Hippke and Learned aren’t completely against the idea of opening alien messages. In fact, they conclude the paper stating that the risk is very minimal — it’s just not zero. They also recommend we attempt to send messages ourselves in the form of basic text, code, music, or images.
Whether or not the extraterrestrials open the messages — and are able to interpret them — is a completely different story.