A word to the wise: Turn a deaf ear to all extraterrestrial data transmissions

Here’s a no-brainer: If extraterrestrial beings have the technology to cross the vastness of space without suffering the physical, mental, and time-related effects, then they would undoubtedly have no problem hacking our computers once they arrived. But even if this alien race never departed from their homeworld and merely sent us a message instead, “decontaminating” the transmission and understanding its contents would be nearly impossible and even highly dangerous, indicates a recent report.

The underlying problem is the infinite unknown. While SETI searches the skies for extraterrestrial intelligence, the sender won’t always be the peaceful, happy-hearted beings from Steven Spielberg movies. Instead, we could be the recipient of a transmission from a Predator-like civilization that pinpoints our location and leads to an Independence Day-type visit. We just don’t know who or what is out there and listening. 

“There are several possible threats from an ETI message. On the most basic level, a message might represent a statement like, ‘We will make your sun go supernova tomorrow,'” the report states. “True or not, it could cause widespread panic. More realistically, a longer text could have a demoralizing cultural influence.” 

But what if the message was bigger and contained data? If a single isolated PC contained the message, then whatever possible malicious intent is contained. Even more, scientists could print the data for further investigation, and destroy said data as a precaution. But even if that PC continued to receive the same message, the data would still remain isolated. The scary aspect is when multiple PCs receive the extraterrestrial transmission, such those residing in every household. 

Although messages could in theory be printed on paper, a computer is likely required to figure out its contents. That is because these messages could contain equations, algorithms, and so on that humans can’t examine manually. The message could also be compressed to increase interstellar data transmission speeds, thus a computer is a must to decompress the data like a ZIP file. Because of the possible contents, the PC opening the letter must not have network and/or internet access. 

In one scenario, extraterrestrials could send a message with a hidden “zipped” artificial intelligence. Humans may place this received message on a PC surrounded by nukes on the surface of the moon. Even in this isolated environment, the A.I. — released remotely from Earth — could take control of the PC, disable all safety precautions, and make its way down to our planet to spread across the global network. 

In another scenario, the “caged” A.I. could make a deal with scientists to acquire freedom, such as offering a digital blueprint for cancer-eating nanobots. Taking the bait, the A.I. would be freed and humans would build these nanobots, releasing them into the world not knowing how they work, or their malicious Earth-conquering intent. 

The bottom line is, humans shouldn’t translate any code received from space, nor should we transmit code. Music and images are enough to serve as a galactic Boov-style party invitation … or a challenge, depending on the recipient. 

Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Home Theater

10 apocalyptic TV shows that make the end of civilization binge-worthy

There are plenty of ways civilization can get wiped out, and it can make for some great TV. Each of these series showcases a terrifying event that changes civilization as we know it. These are the best post-apocalyptic shows on TV.

Microsoft’s Presidents Day Sale cuts price of some Surface laptops by up to $200

It is a great time to save on Windows 10 laptops. Microsoft's retail store is running a sale on some of the best tablets and laptops, cutting pricing by up to $200 on the Surface Laptop 2 and more.

Here’s how to set up a virtual private network (VPN) on your Xbox One

Online privacy is more important now than it's ever been, and gaming is happening online more than ever before. Here's a quick guide on how to set up a VPN for your Xbox One so you game in safe anonymity.

New Chrome feature aimed at preventing websites from blocking Incognito Mode

A new Chrome feature will prevent websites from blocking Chrome users as they browse using Incognito Mode. The feature is supposed to fix a known loophole that allows websites to detect and block those using Incognito Mode.

What’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic?

Lightroom CC has evolved into a capable photo editor, but is it enough to supplant Lightroom Classic? We took each program for a test drive to compare the two versions and see which is faster, more powerful, and better organized.

Reluctant to give your email address away? Here's how to make a disposable one

Want to sign up for a service without the risk of flooding your inbox with copious amounts of spam and unwanted email? You might want to consider using disposable email addresses via one of these handy services.

Chrome is a fantastic browser, but is is still the best among new competitors?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.

Need speed? Qualcomm unveils the Snapdragon X55, the world’s fastest 5G modem

Qualcomm is preparing for an even faster future: The silicon giant just unveiled a second generation 5G modem for smartphones, promising blistering download speeds as high as 7Gbps.

Barbie’s Corvette ain’t got nothing on Sphero’s fully programmable robot car

Sphero is known for devices like the Sphero Bolt and BB-8 Star Wars toy, but now the company is back with another addition to its lineup -- the Sphero RVR. The RVR is a fully programmable robot car that can be expanding with different…

Luminar’s libraries gain speed, drop need for you to manually import images

Luminar 3 just got a performance boost. Skylum Luminar 3.0.2 has improved speed over December's update, which added the long-promised libraries feature giving editors a Lightroom alternative.