What should we say to extraterrestrial intelligence?: An analysis of responses to “ Earth Speaks

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May 2013, CompletePage136To148


If scientists engaged in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) detect a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization, one of the most pressing issues facing humankind will be “Should we reply, and if so, what should we say?” Building on an infrastructure that the SETI Institute used to gather over 50,000 messages from around the world to send onboard the Kepler mission, Earth Speaks invites people to submit online their text messages, pictures, and sounds, as they ponder what they would want to say to an extraterrestrial civilization. Participants for the study have been recruited from 68 nations, from all walks of life. By tracking demographic variables for each person submitting a message, we have identified commonalities and differences in message content that are related to such factors as age and gender. Similarly, by tracking the date on which messages were submitted and the location from which the message was sent, we have also identified the way in which message content is related to time and geographic location. Furthermore, when we compare previous themes derived from textual messages to our current categorical analysis of submitted images, we find our textual themes to be concurrently validated. In doing so, we find the Earth Speaks Website not only allows for the construction of interstellar messages, but also functions as a projective psychological assessment of species-level human identity. We next proceed to demonstrate the generative power of our method by showing how we can synthesize artificial messages from the Earth Speaks messages. We then discuss how these artificially generated messages can be tailored to represent both commonality and diversity in human thought as it is revealed through our data. We end by discussing our method's utility for cross-disciplinary research in the social sciences and humanities.

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doi: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2011.05.022