According to U.S. government whistleblower Edward Snowden, encryption is great and all, but it might prevent us from talking to aliens.
In an appearance from Moscow on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s space-themed podcast, Snowden argued that extraterrestrials might have advanced encryption on their communications. If that is the case, it means that alien messages are indistinguishable from background radiation to us. By the same token, as our technology gets more sophisticated, the possibility increases that alien civilizations will miss us, too.
Of course, the entire hypothetical scenario discussed between deGrasse and Snowden assumes that aliens would come in peace. What if the aliens transmitting in secret using encryption were instead a military force on a mission to control, colonize, or pillage Earth? They could spy and collect information about our planets and solar system. In such a scenario, it would have been smart for us to encrypt our communication.
The search for extraterrestrial life has progressed pretty far from the early days of looking for signals in radio waves. Today, scientists also hunt for evidence of life using telescopes like Hubble. In the decade to come, NASA plans to launch telescopes that could further the search for extraterrestrial life. Since light travels faster than radio waves, this may a better way to hunt for nearby life.
Additionally, if there was a common algorithm or language that can be shared between different forms of life, it might be mathematical and binary in nature. Detecting binary transmissions would be unmistakable.
Snowden is a fan of encryption, and he utilized a variety of encrypted services to leak government information to reporters back in 2013. The world has not been the same since those revelations were released, and his life has certainly changed since he moved to Russia in the wake of international treason accusations.
It’s refreshing to hear his opinion on subjects he is interested in, even if the subject matter is best suited to the world of comic books.
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