Weird Alien Communication: IETI

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Imagine all the ways aliens could potentially contact us.  Radio signal from deep space…  Fleet of flying saucers descending on world capitals…  Ominous black monoliths hanging out with monkeys…  Yet another anal probe (brrr! that was cold, Kraa-AANG!)…  How about a mass email?

As Paul Davies points out in his book, if aliens are already quietly monitoring us, they’ll have learned about our language, culture, and best ways to communicate with us for when the time comes to announce their presence.  Why not leave up a website for them to simply email us?  Sure, it’d be kind of an anticlimactic way to make first contact (let’s hope it doesn’t go to the spam folder), but why not give it a try?

Well, that’s exactly what an informal group of SETI researchers and aficionados have done, at the Invitation to Extraterrestrial Intelligence (IETI) Project website.  IETI.org is a charmingly low-tech website, using circa ’98 era web design to peacefully invite any willing aliens to make contact.  Because alien browsers probably don’t support cascading style sheets.  An excerpt from their greeting message:

“Greetings to extraterrestrial intelligence!  If you originated in some other place in the universe, we welcome you here. And we invite you to establish communication with us and with all of humanity. We enthusiastically look forward to that dialogue.”

I enthusiastically discourage anyone from sending a prank email to the IETI folks from “Khan.N.Singh@CetiAlphaFive.org”, stating your intent to get your revenge on Kirk.  That would not be in the least bit hilarious.

So have they gotten any legitimate alien messages?  Nope.  Just emails from bored earthlings:

“Approximately 60 have claimed to be from ETI. Although many of these messages seem sincere rather than deliberate pranks, none have yet come close to persuading us of their authenticity. In fact, only three have reached the stage of discussing possible tests or other evidence, and all three ceased to communicate soon afterwards. In fact, two of the three admitted their attempted hoax within a few days. A report of these three cases was written by Dr. Scarlett Wang. A report of a face-to-face vetting encounter was written by H. Paul Shuch and Allen Tough.”

The first report they mention, “Have We Got a Message from ETI?: Three Dress Rehearsals for Contact Online” by Dr. Scarlett Wang, goes into detail about the three most convincing emails they received.  Apparently they get various bored nerds sending semi-convincing emails (imagine that!), only to blow their cover when pressed for hard evidence.  One hoaxer successfully answered a test question designed to smoke out hoaxers, about factoring a very large number into its prime factors, but then couldn’t handle an even bigger number (one that was beyond our best mathematicians, but presumably within the reach of more advanced aliens).

The second report describes the time they got contacted by someone (whom they pseudonymously call “Adam Adamson”), who claimed to have a transmitter embedded in his body.  They actually met him face to face, and actually proceeded to test his claim that the embedded device was emitting radio signals.  After seeing nothing but static on their radio-frequency receivers, Mr. Adamson apparently said this confirms his suspicions, since the aliens have disguised the emitted signals to look like noise.  How convenient — the absence of any proof is considered confirmation of your hypothesis?  If that worked, I’d quit this blog and start working on getting that Fields medal.  The IETI folks were admirably patient with him (much more than I would be), treating the entire experience with scientific objectivity and respect.  They’ve even left a space in their report for Mr. Adamson to add his conclusions.  Unfortunately, they haven’t heard from him since.

All in all, the IETI Project is an absolutely charming mix of optimism and scientific skepticism.  I bet the meetings are fun.  Especially when they break out the guitars to sing the official theme song of the IETI Project.

 

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