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Communications Sci-Fi Technology

How To Make Messages Easy For an Alien Race To Understand (hackaday.com) 186

szczys writes: The screen on that new cellphone has amazing pixel density, color vibrance, and refresh rate. The high-end headphones you just picked up do an amazing job reproducing sound. These devices interface extremely well with humans but might not be very good modes of communication for an Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Sure, we haven't made contact with alien life yet. Even if they did pick up our broadcasts or space probes the relatively narrow-range of audio (narrow and low frequency), visual (slow refresh rate), and data transmission methods are likely to make no sense to non-human entities. The Voyager Golden Record took a fascinating approach to making some data available to new civilizations; it's interesting to think of other ways we might communicate with beings of fundamentally different biology.
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How To Make Messages Easy For an Alien Race To Understand

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  • ...uhh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @03:14AM (#50684303)

    Don't bother. If they have the ability to pick up the signal, they'll have the ability to decipher the message.

    • Re:...uhh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CaptQuark ( 2706165 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @03:51AM (#50684395)
      Every signal that we have sent out requires them to be visually oriented. Do you think the TV signals we beam into space will make any sense to beings that communicate ultrasonically? An encoded 2D image interlaced with alternate lines 30 times a second won't be of much use to intelligent vampire bats.

      What about beings from an ice planet that communicate with different temperatures of liquid methane? Or beings that communicate using pheromones? Or interference patterns of UV radiation? Or any other sensory stimuli that we haven't even imagined yet.

      We also try sending out mathematical sequences we assume they will recognize, like Pi. Except many mathematicians think Tau is a better constant to broadcast. (Tau is 2 x Pi. Tau fits many mathematical equations much better than Pi.) Pi and Tau are great constants for plane geometry, but what about beings that live in water or other liquid media. Circles are very rare in water. Spheres are much more common and the use of Pi may or may not be instantly recognizable. What about a constant that describes the relationship of the volume of a sphere to its radius/diameter?

      There have been many studies that show that one method of communication that covers long distances is artificial gravity waves. Until we can send or receive these signals, we might be looked at like newborns clapping their hands and thinking they are communicating.

      --
      • Pretty sure we'd recognize any constant you've mentioned, likewise any math-savvy aliens. For that matter I think we, and the putative "they", would recognize any number .

        • But would we recognize the intent? There was this number experiment by Cornelis de Jager who showed that with a handful of numbers and some creative application of math, you can prove that these numbers are "special" and that whoever used them has a profound understanding of math. He used some values derived from his bicycle to show that whoever made this must have superspecial knowledge of quantum physics because if you multiplied the pedal way with the square root of the bell's diameter and divided it by

          • by fyngyrz ( 762201 )

            So when you show some alien that you know a constant, you also have to show them that you actually intend to show it to them.

            No. All you have to do is show intentional order. Numbers do that well before they take on roles as constants. receiving 1,2,3,4,5,6... would wake up any of our scientists. In any base.

            Until we can determine that we're hearing something intentional -- which a certain (fairly minimal) amount of order is sufficient to do -- how good at math and physics some aliens are isn't much of an

      • Re:...uhh (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @05:31AM (#50684647) Homepage

        Every signal that we have sent out requires them to be visually oriented. Do you think the TV signals we beam into space will make any sense to beings that communicate ultrasonically? An encoded 2D image interlaced with alternate lines 30 times a second won't be of much use to intelligent vampire bats.

        Okay, first off...

        1) Vampire bats do not work that way.

        2) Humans take information that our senses can't perceive all the time and turn in into forms that we can. That's what false-color images and the like are.

        3) A species that can pick up the signal (as the GP posited) is most definitely able to transform signals between mediums. It's pretty much a fundamental part of any receiver technology - you take a propagating signal, turn it into data, then turn the data into a form that you can perceive.

        Obviously no species is going to inherently have the recipe for demodulating the signal just handed to them - they'll have to figure it out, even if their senses are precisely the same as ours. They'll have to recognize, "hey there's a signal here, and by its pattern it doesn't appear to be naturally generated and seems to be storing data in some manner". They'll then have to reverse engineer how to pull the data out of the signal. Then they'll have to figure out how the data is structured (probably the hardest part, esp. with modern compressed digital formats). All of these apply to all beings. But once you've figured all of that out, turning it into a form that you can perceive is the easy part.

        Say there's a species with no vision that can only experiences the world through ultrasound echolocation, as in what you probably intended to be your example? Once you understand that the signal is, say, periodic frames representing an array of triplet values (what we know to be RGB) and know how to decode it to that, the species may play it back by, say, an "ultrasound screen" that creates the perception of a 3-dimensional surface, with the height representing pixel intensity. Maybe they might combine all three RGB values into one height, maybe they might present them as side by side heightfields, maybe they might use one value to represent height, another to represent surface roughness, another to represent sound absorptive properties of the surface, or somesuch. They'll pick whatever is most convenient for them.

        I'm not going to humour your "liquid methane temperature" communication concept because that's far too low bandwidth for a sentient species to practically use. Pheromones also. And "interference patterns of UV radiation", that depends on what you mean by "interference patterns" - you're either talking about a UV equivalent of echolocation, as above, or just visible data shifted into the UV, which is just a frequency shift on the RGB image into their visual range. We as humans do frequency shifts of astronomical data all the time, that's what every image made from a UV, X-ray, IR, radio, etc telescope is.

        For any species to be able to get to the phase of being able to receive and demodulate communications, it must have at least the concept and ability to perceive 2D orientation (if not 3D), because it has to be able to align receivers with the right patch of sky. That perception can be of some unthinkably bizarre form by our standards, but it has to exist. Whatever perception of 2D it has, 2d images can be presented in that form.

        Your Pi/Tau example is clearly pointless. We as humans clearly know of both constants. Sure, Pi "stands out" more to us at first glance, but if we received something that appeared to be of non-natural origin, you really think nobody would notice if the data was Tau?

        Circles are no more "rare in water" than on land. The cross section of a sphere is a circle. What do you think bubbles are? Rounded rocks? Round sea life? Heck, lava underwater, unlike on land, tends to produce round structures called pillow lava. And again, if this to the point of being able to isolate faint radio

        • Engineers are great at picking on specifics and then missing the underlying theme. Both you and the parent have assumed if the signal can be percieved that it can be decoded. This is not a given. This isn't even a given among humans. We with all our history and documentation still have problems deciphering what our own species wrote only a few thousands of years ago. We have only the slightest understanding of animal communication despite studying it since Darwin started playing with bugs.

          Putting random non

        • I hope you're using that bigass brain to better humanity.
      • When a race of aliens build a technologically advanced society, it is likely that they will turn to electromagnetic or optical signalling for long range communication, whatever senses they may or may not posess. And once they have that, start listening for word from other worlds, and happen to pick up our signals, it's likely that they'll recognize them for what they are: artifical signals instead of a naturally occurring phenomenon. Once that happens, it shouldn't be too hard for them to pick up on clues
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Honestly, from a discovery standpoint, I don't think we could care any less about those species.

        We, ideally, WANT to discover an alien species that CAN communicate back, a species that have developed external intelligence rather than internally.
        We want a species that has worked their world, has developed similarly to ours.

        Sure, it would be fantastic to find ANY life out there, but the priority is those that can send us a "piss off ya wanker" back to us.
        All of those other lifeforms that can't communicate bac

      • "An encoded 2D image interlaced with alternate lines 30 times a second won't be of much use to intelligent vampire bats."

        As we wouldn't want to alert intelligent vampire bats about our existence, that is a good thing.

      • "Every signal that we have sent out requires them to be visually oriented. Do you think the TV signals we beam into space will make any sense to beings that communicate ultrasonically?"

        Just to see if I understood clearly your point: an hypothetical alien race can detect our TV signals through light years of interstellar vacuum but then they fail to see there's something encoded within because they "communicate ultrasonically"!?

        Or they somehow evolutioned to be able to meake use the horribly faint gravity wa

        • Back before the mid 1980s when they settled on an interchange standard. So in my grad research we'd get these mystery tape bit dumps. I had a rough idea of the structure of the data, but not its exact shape, nor even its number format- many more floating point and integer formats in the old days. So with "od -o" I'd coax an image out these mystery bit dumps. I think it would be fairly straight forward to do this with AM, FM signals.
      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        My thoughts would be that any intelligence we could ever recognize and have any communication with would have to work like our own at least in that it seeks out patterns in stimuli.

        Even if you communicate ultrasonically, heck even if you see that way you still exist in the same N-dimensional universe we do. So if you are looking at a TV signal that you have notices does not fit the normal background pattern of EM and start trying to make sense of it. Eventually you might be able to work out hey this is a

      • "data transmission methods are likely to make no sense to non-human entities. "

        An example of one such is calling my own cat. With more distant species, it will be more difficult.

      • > What about a constant that describes the relationship of the volume of a sphere to its radius/diameter?

        Uhhhh.... Pi? or if you prefer 4/3*Pi

        Anyways, I do not believe that Pi, 2 Pi or 4/3 Pi are fundamentally different.

        Let's assume that today we receive a message from outer space and with the number 1.01015254455 .

        How much time will it take to figure out how it was obtained?

  • by invictusvoyd ( 3546069 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @03:15AM (#50684309)
    of course
  • by Anonymous Coward

    1) Narrow frequency band -- harder to confuse with wideband emissions from most naturally occurring things in space
    2) Send the signal for a long time -- unlike the wow signal, we want to still be transmitting if they scan the same area of their sky again
    3) Something simple to draw attention on one frequency -- not a simple oscillator that could be confused for a pulsar, but something along those lines
    4) Send dot matrix images in binary -- easy to decode and view, don't assume a being that's intelligent enou

  • Umm, ok (Score:5, Funny)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @03:23AM (#50684333) Homepage

    These devices interface extremely well with humans but might not be very good modes of communication for an Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

    I never thought they would be.

    In other news, cars are useless for exploring the oceans.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    • Oh no you don't. I've got Walking Dead, Doctor Who, ST-DS9 and ST-Voyager to finish binge watching first. I don't need to be adding Stargate and it's offspring to the list.
      • by Alumoi ( 1321661 )

        Skip Walking Dead and add ST-Enterprise to the list. And don't even think of Stargate Universe, that's NOT Stargate.

      • Oh no you don't. I've got Walking Dead, Doctor Who, ST-DS9 and ST-Voyager to finish binge watching first. I don't need to be adding Stargate and it's offspring to the list.

        If you cherry-pick episodes of ST-DS9 and ST-Voyager so you watch the actual storyline episodes and skip the ones which are, basically, just about people sitting around in their uniforms complaining about their lives, they can be packed into a easy weekend of viewing.

        Even Sliders can be made quite viewable in this fashion, except replace 'sitting around in their uniforms...' with 'moralising about other cultures which they know nothing about'.

      • Skip the Walking Dead, ST-DS9, ST-Voyager. Stargate is okay but skip the follow on series. Watch the episode Blink from Doctor Who which was the best one. Then listen to the Doctor Who radio dramas from Big Finish. They are much better than the series, especially the last couple of seasons. The previous Doctors are featured in them. If you want a good sci-fi show I would recommend Babylon 5. The graphics are getting dated but the storyline and characters are great. I don't like Star Trek because for

  • Those who are currently listening to us, for whom the speed of light is not any more limitation than the speed of sound for us, do not need much effort to understand our messages. They're likely more interested in more advanced civilizations, however.
    • Re:Humility (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:29AM (#50684485)

      This is 'sci-fi' optimism. You assume that warp drives and hyperspace will eventually trickle down into reality. Our current understanding of physics doesn't make FTL travel for matter look very promising, and we've yet to detect anything that does. Even before humans broke the sound barrier, we observed things that did so all the time. Just like we knew heavier-than-air flight was possible, because birds exist.

      • Re:Humility (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @05:37AM (#50684661) Homepage

        It's the same sort of thing that feeds religion and "The Secret"-type worldviews: if you want something to exist enough, if you really want something to occur with all your heart, then surely it will exist, surely it will occur.

        Basically, "magical thinking".

  • by Tom ( 822 )

    The core point is to investigate the assumptions we make, and that's what makes this a philosophical challenge, not a linguistic or engineering one.

    Our life is full of assumptions that we are not even aware of. Thinking about aliens lets us challenge these assumptions. Visual communication? Maybe, but in which part of the electromagnetic spectrum? Audio? Which frequencies and what patterns? Tacticle? Chemical? Something else entirely?

    What are "basics" of the universe that we can use to construct a communica

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      To be able to hold a pointing orientation in space, one has to be able to understand 2D. To be able to understand changing positions in space, one has to be able to understand 3D. To interact with physical objects, they must have some method to perceive their shape. If they're interacting with spacecraft, they have to be able to do some pretty damned precise things in regards to all three of these things The methods used to be able to do these things may be alien to us, but they have to be able to understan

  • LINCOS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:02AM (#50684419)

    Read LINCOS: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse, Part 1 by Hans Freudenthal, North Holland Publ. 1960. Unfortunately, he never got to publish the second volume covering more advanced concepts, but the language was further developed by NASA and by various enthusiasts later. It's still the most systematic treatment for communicating with aliens.

  • by binarstu ( 720435 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:08AM (#50684433)

    TFA (not the linked wikipedia article) basically just asks the question, "what if an alien's sensory systems (vision and hearing) were far more acute than ours?", and then gives a rather superficial answer to that question. TFA seems to be trying to make the argument that if an alien's vision or hearing were better than ours, the alien would not be able to comprehend our electronic visual displays or sound reproductions. The argument is not convincing at all, though. After all, we have color vision, but black and white media still works quite well for us.

    TFA also makes some rather silly statements, such as, "With its advanced hearing, perhaps the Oculako [TFA's name for the alien] even transmits complex data by sound." Yeah, humans already do that, every day. Human speech is pretty good tool for transmitting "complex data by sound." Or, for a technological example, how does the author think fax machines and telephone-line data modems work?

    Finally, the title of the Slashdot summary is "How To Make Messages Easy For an Alien Race To Understand", but TFA doesn't even attempt to answer that question. In fact, the article ends with this: "...it’s a very difficult problem to come up with an interspecies communication mechanism. ... Given the technological advances since the 1970s how would you design this era’s golden record?" And that's it. The closest TFA comes to the question is asking the reader how he or she would solve it.

    • TFA (not the linked wikipedia article) basically just asks the question, "what if an alien's sensory systems (vision and hearing) were far more acute than ours?", and then gives a rather superficial answer to that question.

      I knew it would do that when I started running into grammatical errors. I was right.

      TFA seems to be trying to make the argument that if an alien's vision or hearing were better than ours, the alien would not be able to comprehend our electronic visual displays or sound reproductions. The argument is not convincing at all, though. After all, we have color vision, but black and white media still works quite well for us.

      They were arguing that our displays depend on persistence of vision, and that this creature won't have any. A preposterous notion, because persistence of vision is in the brain, not the eye [wikipedia.org], and we've known this for over a hundred years. But this argument pales next to the stupidity of the argument that a creature with a higher hearing range wouldn't be able to perceive our audible communications. Really? That's so stupid, I

      • But this argument pales next to the stupidity of the argument that a creature with a higher hearing range wouldn't be able to perceive our audible communications. Really? That's so stupid, I can't even stupid how stupid it's stupid. We have pets with higher hearing ranges, and they can literally understand what we are saying in some cases as their brains are sufficiently developed. They're claiming a smarter entity with more advanced senses won't be able to understand us? That's nothing short of idiotic.

        Not to mention the fact that the article posited incredible hearing all the way up to 100kHz! Of course, that's really less than two and a half octaves higher than normal human hearing.

        If you can't walk upright, you can't free your hands for masturbation.

        Which is why the Tyrannosaurus Rex was always so sad [imgur.com].

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        A creature with four legs is still at a disadvantage when it comes to industrialization.

        Would the same be true of a creature with two arms that double as legs [pineight.com]?

        • Would the same be true of a creature with two arms that double as legs?

          A creature with that much ass and that little leg would be at a serious disadvantage in a machine shop

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] and xenopsychology [rfreitas.com].
  • ... watching Big Bang Theory.
  • by X10 ( 186866 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @05:21AM (#50684619) Homepage

    Aliens that find us will probably be so much more advanced than we are, they'll put us in their zoo, or they'll eat us. There should be a law against contacting intelligent alien life forms.

    • Don't worry, until they have received the message we have already extincted ourselves.
    • by sinij ( 911942 )
      You come across a giant ant hill, one that populated by ants that could probably bite you but unlikely to ever kill unless you let them. What do you do? Study it from a distance if it is novel, but mostly leave it alone. Unless it is on your property.

      Lets hope we are not on anyone's galactic property.
      • You come across a giant ant hill, one that populated by ants that could probably bite you but unlikely to ever kill unless you let them. What do you do?

        What do you do, lets see.

        You take your most nasty villains and you stake them out on the ant hill and cover their genitalia with honey.

        I wonder if thats whats happening here...

        • by sinij ( 911942 )
          I don't see any evidence of honey, but then we might not know the difference and take its presence for given.
    • I don't think space aliens would travel thousands of light-years for a Homo Sapiens sandwich. We don't taste that good. Zoos might be a legitimate concern. They might think, with justification, that they're saving us from extinction.

      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        I don't think space aliens would travel thousands of light-years for a Homo Sapiens sandwich. We don't taste that good.

        Taste is a matter of preference. If a civilization is advanced enough that they could travel thousands of light-years, I wouldn't rule out anything from what their particular taste preferences are.

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      Aliens that find us will probably be so much more advanced than we are, they'll put us in their zoo, or they'll eat us. There should be a law against contacting intelligent alien life forms.

      No. No they wouldn't.

      If aliens had the technology to make the interstellar trek to us in any reasonable time frame, then they have moved well beyond the want or need for imprisoning and/or consuming random life they encounter. It's also unlikely that they would want or need Earth for resources, as they would have the technology to easily gather what they need from any number of uninhabited worlds throughout the galaxy. Not only that, but it's also likely that they have moved beyond inconveniences like morta

      • The problem with that logic is that it's human. If we had Star Trek-style ships, we'd go around our area of the galaxy and study everybody. We'd have no need to mine any resources on those planets, and the primitive civilizations would be unable to produce any manufactured product we couldn't get far more cheaply. (I don't think sending any commodities over interstellar distances will ever be economic: we'd be able to produce the same stuff cheaper.)

        Of course, if starships were cheap enough, we'd hav

    • > Aliens that find us will probably be so much more advanced than we are, they'll put us in their zoo, or they'll eat us.

      false dichotomy. You left of options 3 and 4.

      OR being sufficiently advanced they respect all life and want to interact with all the different life forms in the galaxy to learn how our human perspective is different and similar to theirs.
      ALONG WITH most alien species are completely AFRAID of humans as they know our true potential. They want NOTHING to do with us until we grow the fuck

      • ALONG WITH most alien species are completely AFRAID of humans as they know our true potential. They want NOTHING to do with us until we grow the fuck up (spiritually.)

        You must be assuming some galactic police force existing too, then, because if they're afraid of us and developed enough to be aware of us they can almost certainly send us a rock that we can't cope with.

  • Just attach it to a word document, Every single retard I know seems to know how those work.
    • Just attach it to a word document

      If the Aliens have any intelligence at all, they won't open any attachments from folks from another planet.

      If the Aliens want to conquer us, all they need to do, is to send us nasty stuff in attachments. Some idiot here on Earth will open it, and we will all be turned into a Alien Earthling Burger Botnet.

      Yum, yum.

  • How To Make Messages Easy For an Alien Race To Understand

    Just speak loudly, use short sentences and include what ever small bits of any foreign language you know. If they don't understand speak in an adulterated way:

    Englishman to Alien: Me Human. You Alien. We Friends. Comprendrez?
    Alien to Englishman: (some sort of bioluminescent flashing)
    Englishman to Alien: Huuuuuuuman. Aleeean Frieeeends. Das ist gut, Jah?"
    Alien to Englishman: (some sort of bioluminescent flashing)

  • Animal behavior teaches us the importance of bluffing and looking bigger, meaner or scarier than you actually are. While there's no reason to assume that xenobiology would be the same, there's no reason to assume it would be different either. Leaving aside the question of whether it's a good idea to even attempt communication at all - could a simple, easy to understand message be interpreted as weakness?
    • I would think the biggest weakness from the get go is that they have the tech to come here, not the other way around. They know it and you know it. I would discourage to make yourself 'look bigger, meaner or scarier than you actually are' lest you wish the resolve the first contact situation with minus 1 planet.
    • Weakness? No. Bait? Hell yes...
  • Wondering if there's any food that thaw well from the frozen space~

  • The island that was later named Peterssen Island is a tiny spec in the vast Pacific Ocean. Barely five feet off the sea level it is nearly invisible even to ships barely three miles away. It had neither bird colonies nor coconut palms. It was very fortunately situated, the atmospheric air currents and ocean currents were such that it would rain regularly like a clockwork every evening at sunset. There was no source of fresh water in two hundred mile radius around that island.

    It had a very small band of hu

  • So Simple (Score:2, Funny)

    by imikem ( 767509 )

    Obviously, we should just speak English, ssslllloooooowwwwww and LOUD!!!!! Everyone understands that. Especially aliens, who are all just humans with weird coloration and skin conditions.

    • Obviously, we should just speak English, ssslllloooooowwwwww and LOUD!!!!! Everyone understands that. Especially aliens, who are all just humans with weird coloration and skin conditions.

      Well based on everything I've been taught about alien life, mostly its just a variation in forehead configurations... And their females all have interesting chest-bumps.

  • If you are even remotely good at math you know that looking or contacting aliens is pointless. Our galaxy is over 13 billion years old, we haven't been around long enough. Give a few more hundred thousand years and the chances will increase slightly.

  • Apparently, they have been around long enough that they know our languages already. http://spherebeingalliance.com... [spherebeingalliance.com.] The telepathic ones are even better off.

  • A smiley face etched into the earth that can be seen from space should be sufficient.
  • 1. Detection
    Pulses of prime numbers. Not natural phenomenon, same in all number systems. Simple beat with silence:

    2-3-5-7-11-13-17-19
    011
    0111
    011111
    01111111
    011111111111
    01111111111111
    011111111111111111
    01111111111 111111111

    2. Binary, you speak it
    We repeat this in binary, which should be fairly easy to recognize as the previous information aligned to 8 bit = byte values.
    00000010 00000011 00000101 00000111
    00001011 00001101 00010001 00010011

    3. Length of payload in bytes + payload
    00000000 00000000 00000001 10110000

  • If we've learned anything from movies it's that we definitely don't want to try to communicate with a Sikorsky helicopter outfitted with banks of flashing lights.
  • Aside from some radar beams and a very few directed communication attempts, no radio signals generated by humans would be detectable at even the closest star system. Regular broadcast TV and radio and most other things are simply too weak.

    Those signals will probably not make it out of the solar system. A passing ship or probe might hear us. But probably not.

    Some very high-power military radars might be detectable at a distance but those signals aren't meant to communicate. They would appear artificial

  • An alien race with only OUR level of intelligence/development, upon receiving broadcasts from Earth, would recognize them almost immediately as not being from natural phenomena and would have them decoded in a fairly short time. Maybe the signals would make sense, maybe not, but we would surely have their attention. The hard part would be a 2-way communication, as there might be significant cognitive/sensory/cultural differences to overcome.
  • This is all complete conjecture until we contact an "alien race".

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    1. Don't use Perl

  • Weapons are the universal language on earth. Throughout history they have been the harbinger of cultural intersections be they families, tribes or nations. They mark territories and religious domains. The desire for weapons stimulates progress in many other areas of life not the least of which is the economy of every significant culture. Weapons are the Lowest Common Denominator of life on earth and the distinguishing factor separating intelligent from other life forms.

    Instead of the Voyager Golden Record,

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