[Michael]Where is everyone? We have been listeningfor messages from outer space for more than half a century, and so far.
Why? Are we truly alonein the universe? Or is everyone elseacting like us and just doing a lotof listening? Maybe we need to be louder.
Maybe we need to sendmore messages out there.
But how do you write a letterto an extraterrestrial whose language and cultureand biology and mind we have no concept of? And what do you say? And given all of the unknownsabout what they might be, should we sayanything at all? ♪♪ Ever since I was a kid, I've wanted to designa message that is sentto outer space.
A sort of hello from Earthto whatever extraterrestrials might be out there.
I mean, come on, to bethe author of the first thing aliens ever heardfrom our entire planet would be a fantastic honor.
And as it turns out, an opportunity to senda message to space has been given to me.
But it mightbe a waste of time.
What if there isn't anything oranyone out there to receive it? The fact that we still haveno evidence of intelligent alien life despite the high probabilitythat such life exists, is called the Fermi paradox.
And there are manyentertaining theories that attempt to explain it.
One explanationis the theory that whenever twocivilizations meet, destruction always results.
Which is why in 2015, several prominent expertswrote a letter warning against makingany contact at all.
[Stephen Hawking] Ideas like that suggest thatperhaps we should remain silent, send no messages to space.
But Doug Vakochdisagrees.
He is the president of METI, an organization that, despite all of these concerns, is nonethelessactively messaging extraterrestrialintelligence.
If I want to design a messagefor life out there, I should talk to him first.
Why isn't he afraid? I met up with Doug at the Chabot Observatory, home to the largest public refractor telescope in the Western United States.
-[Douglas] So here we are.
This was one of the primetelescopes of a century ago.
This is really an antique.
[Michael] Jeez!I've seen so many observatories and so many big telescopesin pictures.
Believe it or not, I've neverbeen this close to one.
[Douglas]This is a huge instrument, and yet it's balancedtoo exquisitely.
I'm like a super person.
Oh! [Douglas laughs] It had quite a bitof momentum there.
I'm scared to look.
I'm telling you, I had no ideaI would have this feeling, -seeing a telescope this big.
-[Douglas] Well, it is, it is.
Can I handlewhat I would see? I think you can.
I think you can.
You just take a look.
-[Douglas] Not tonight.
-Because of the fog.
-Because of the fog.
[Michael]Just the fog coming inis pretty darn cool.
The universe has existed longer than we have, but we've only been actively listening for life out there for the last half century.
In 1960, astronomer Frank Drake began the search with a 85-foot radio telescope.
He scanned for interstellar radio waves, but did not detect any recognizable signals.
Soon after, SETI, or Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, was formed to continue our search for other life in the universe.
[Mission Control] Liftoff.
[Michael] Besides just listening, we've also launched physical messages like the Golden Records we put aboard both Voyager spacecraft in 1977.
The records were recordingsof images and sounds from Earth that told a story of who we are as Earthlings, as well as coded instructions on how to play them back.
Today, Doug and his team at METI are on a mission to send new messages to the stars.
Thank you for taking some timeto have a conversation with me.
My first questionis simply this: where is everyone? Are we alone? I don't think so.
You know, we've been looking for over 60 years.
And so that leads some peopleto say we must be alone.
The reality is, though, we have justbegun the search.
I mean, we've looked at a fewtens of thousands of stars, and there are 400 billion starsin our galaxy alone.
Billions of galaxiesin the universe.
So I think we just needto keep on looking.
When you put it that way, it actually isn'tthat surprising, is it? I mean, we are still discoveringspecies on our own planet today.
At METI, we switch the process, and instead of just listeningfor signals, we send powerful, intentionalsignals to other stars in the hope of gettinga reply.
What do you sayto people who go, “Hold on, “we should not be alerting anylife out there to our presence.
“It's just not worth the risk.
In fact, it's irresponsible.
” I would say it is too late.
The horse is out of the barn.
We have been announcingour presence to the universe since the beginning of radioand television.
Any civilizationthat has the ability to travel between the stars already picked up I Love Lucy.
So maybe the alienshave been observing us, but they're waiting for usto break the silence.
So our goal isn'tto let them know we're here for the first time.
It's to really givean indication that we wantto make contact.
The one thing that's keeping mefrom being really excited and comfortableabout sending a message out is that a lot of prominentpeople have said, “Don't.
” There are some groupof scientists who have said you shouldn't be doing this.
But that's an exampleof someone very prominent who said you shouldn't transmit, because maybe the alienswill come to Earth.
To me it's notable that, after his death, to commemorate his life, his family, they transmitted his voiceout into space.
Anyone and everyone cantransmit to extraterrestrials.
So I think it's an incrediblecontradiction for people involved in SETIto say we shouldn't transmit, because the day they succeed, everyone will be transmitting.
Okay, so how do we crafta message for E.
? Well, it dependswhat we would want to do.
I would want to know somethingabout that civilization.
And so then we tryto figure out, what is it that we havein common with the extraterrestrials? What do you think the alienswould know that we know? I always go to math.
So that's the naturalstarting place.
But how can you communicatethe idea of numbers? Like this.
[both clap] -Hey, look, we're communicating.
-Okay, okay, great, great.
You could keep that up.
You could use that to count up to a million.
But that doesn't capturewhat it is to be human.
So you want to tella little bit about yourself.
The goal, for me, is to learnabout other civilizations if, in fact, they're out there.
But I thinkeven if they're not, simply this processof reflecting on what stories do we want to tellabout ourselves, how do we want to representourselves to the universe, forces us to lookat ourselves anew.
And I think thatcan only be good.
One of my favorite messages that humans have ever sentfor extraterrestrials to some day receivewas written in 1974 by Frank Drakeand Carl Sagan.
They sent the message to a starcluster 25, 000 light years away.
It contained 1, 679binary digits that, when decoded, created an image: the famous Arecibo message.
This message is full of generalinformation about us.
Up here in the whiteare numbers.
Now, since math is probablypretty universal, I feel like it's fair to say that aliens will understandthat part.
But what about some of theseother parts? This is a human figure, but will aliens be able to tell that that is supposed to be the shape of the thingthat made this? Could an alien figure outwhat all these symbols mean? For that matter, could a humaneven correctly figure out what they all mean? And I bet that if you wereto ask two people to guess what all this means, you would gettwo different answers.
I want to give some humansa message, and I want to see how quicklythey come up with meanings I didn't put in there, or conflicting interpretations, because if that happens, well it could spell troublefor our ability to say much more than simple mathematical truthsto whatever might be out there.
To help me answer this question, I recruited Dr.
Vance leads a habitability team for JPL's Astrobiology group, meaning it's his job to think about the possibility of life on other planets.
I don't think it's crazy that if the Arecibo messageis received, the alien civilizationthat gets it will see all kindsof meanings in it.
They're going to see thingsthrough the lens of how they experiencetheir world.
And I think if we receiveda message from outer space, we would think of the oneswe've sent out, and we would lookfor these pieces in it.
And maybe the messagecontains none of those things.
I'm really curiousabout this hypothesis that they will find meaningwhere there isn't any.
There's onlyone way to find out.
Let's do it.
-Let's do it.
[Michael] To find out how individuals' own backgrounds would influence their approach to a message from space, we sought out a veritable A-team of critical thinkers and problem solvers to put to the test.
I'm a sophomore engineer, and I have a PhD in physics.
I'm a game designerand programmer.
I am a professionalpoker player.
I'm a graphic artistand app coder.
I teach college coursesin writing film and psychology.
This set of experts would be told that the message they were receiving was intercepted from outer space, and would be asked to decode it using a variety of office supplies and computer software.
What they didn't know is that although similar to the original Arecibo message, our message is just noise.
Would our group of experts notice that there was nothing to get, or apply their own meaningsto this indecipherable message? It was time to find out.
We received a message using a radio telescopefrom outer space.
Not the kind of thingthat naturally happens.
What we want to knowis what it says.
A copy of the messageas received is on that laptop.
This is an audio outputof that message.
Using your individual expertise and the toolsthat you have in front of you, please figure outwhat this message is saying.
This is not an easy task.
-Okay, you ready to listen?-Let's hear it.
Here we go.
[pings] Before the team can interpret that our jumbled image is meaningless, they first have to figure out that they're supposed to decipher it visually.
This would be the first step for any alien civilization who received the real Arecibo message.
To do that, the first step is to recognize that it's binary.
There are two different tones in the message.
[man] Is there a differencein time between any of these? [woman]It doesn't look like it.
The rhythm doesn't vary.
[man]It doesn't vary? There's going to be a repeatingpattern in there, probably.
It seems likethere's only two notes.
Yeah, it doesn't seem to goany higher or lower than that.
So there's only two tones.
We're thinking some kind of binary message, zeros and ones, We should probablystart transcribing it and look for repeating patterns.
Right off the bat, all right? They're noticing two tones, binary message.
I think that's a veryhuman thing to do, because we alreadycome to this knowing that binary is thisgreat way to talk, right? So we're already seeing into itwhat we expect to see.
Okay, so, we have a wayto encode binary into letters.
So if an alien intelligenceis sending things, we obviously wouldn't know that, -and it wouldn't bethe same language anyway.
So they're probably just sendingus straight numbers.
Like, there's, you know, universal language and all that.
So we got to find outwhat those numbers are.
Okay, let's havethree people do this, just so we make surewe don't miss anything.
Let's do zero for low, one for high, and let's startwriting it down.
[woman]Zero, one, zero, zero, zero.
Now they are creatinga visual representation of these different tones.
The key is to see how many tonesthere are.
-Zero, zero—Oh, wait, sorry.
I got it.
[pinging] [woman]Do we need to play it in halftime -because I feel likewe're scrambling.
-Yeah, we're just scrambling.
[man]No worries, no worries.
[Michael]The message is 17 minutes long, with 1, 679 individual tones.
Because this would take so long to transcribe, I decided to help them speed up the process.
This thumb drive containsa transcription of the message, pretty much just likewhat you're doing right now.
-But now you're just kind ofjumped ahead in time.
– Fast forward, yeah.
-Here it is.
-All right, we will continue.
-All right, I'll leaveyou guys to it.
[man]Okay, this is pretty long here.
[woman]It's not repeating at all.
Does it look likean even distribution of zeros and ones? No, there's way more zerosthan ones.
So, what is the totalnumber of–? [woman]1, 679 total.
Is that divisibleby anything in particular? -It's a prime number.
-Could be a prime number.
It's going to be hard to testthat without writing a script.
Just divide, divide, divide, divide.
[man]Let's do a little division.
[Michael] Just like the Arecibo message, our meaningless image contains 1, 679 total tones.
The number 1, 679 can only be divided into two prime numbers: 23 and 73.
When you arrange the ones and zeros from the message into a 23-by-73 grid, the jumbled image will begin to emerge.
If the group can discover this feature of 1, 679, they may be able to start breaking down the tones of the message into an image.
Ooh! Hey, it's– hey, yo, this is important, guys.
This number breaks downto 23×73.
There it is.
And that isthe only breakdown, because 23 and 73are prime numbers.
So that's its primefactorization.
So that is very relevant.
Look at the big brainon that dude.
[man] Do you think it's worth it to try and straight up, like, make a 23-by-73 grid, and then you couldsay that the lows are white and the ones are black, and maybe there's some kindof image being sent there.
I like that idea.
[man] I'm strongly with the graph idea.
[woman]What I'm doing right now is I'mpasting it into Excel, -and then we can graph itin Excel and see.
-Yeah, that's good.
[Bonnie]You mean like fill the cells -Yeah.
-and make the numbers white, and all that? Yeah.
She's going to try to make thisa little easier by coloring -all of the cellsthat have a one in them.
We picked these people becauseof their knowledge of mathematicsand physics and music.
But their knowledgeof how to use Excel is proving to be the best skill.
Amazingly, in just a couple of hours, the team figured out how to break down our fake Arecibo message into an image.
Will they try to find meaning in the message, or will they realize it's just noise? Oh, I'm done!Guys, I'm done! -Oh, you did it.
-That was fast.
[man]That looks sadly random.
That almost looks like it'sgoing to resolve into something.
[woman]Maybe it's a map.
-Those aren't letters, are they?-They could be.
[man]No, they're all back halfof the alphabet, then.
Except forlittle nine over here.
Look at that littlenine.
-[woman] Baby nine.
-[man] That's an “I”, right? I'm pretty surethere's nothing there.
There's no pattern here.
Do we agree, like, this probablylooks like nothing? [woman]Yeah, I don't think going anyfurther with this is really.
Our group had followed the clues correctly and built out an image, even though there wasn't one that made sense.
And, incredibly, they didn't try to make sense of it.
Within a matter of minutes, they realized it was random and moved on.
So it was time to let them in on the ruse.
All right, so, this is Steve Vance.
He's taken the day offfrom JPL.
Have you learned anythingabout the message? What do you know? It seems very random still.
Though it did have a nice primefactorization.
That did not seemrandom to me.
Let me show you guyssomething new.
[man]What the heck? It looks like 23 across.
-I see how you're doing this.
-Oh, we were almost there! We tried arrangingthese ones and zeros kind of in these blocks.
[woman] But there's somepatterns repeating there that we don't actually havemapped correctly here.
[Michael]Now, this is not the messagethat you're looking at.
This is the famousArecibo message.
Now, what you have beenworking on is this message, but randomized.
[laughs] Thanks a lot.
[all laugh] Oh, I'm just going to collapseon the ground now.
In a way, you guys werequite successful.
You, first of all, recognized the semi-prime natureof this message very quickly, and tried to build an image.
I was wonderingif you would start to see things therethat weren't.
But it didn't really happen, did it? I think the real reasonthat we weren't interpreting anything out of that is we were lookingfor clearly defined patterns.
We're lookingfor something like this.
This is actuallywhat we're looking for.
Even symmetry would have beena big thing for me.
If I'd seen any symmetryin these patterns, I would have said, “This is not random.
” I'm also interestedin knowing the best kindof message to send, because I have an opportunityto send a message.
You know, a markerto where we are is kind ofthe biggest thing for me, but then it's like, do we reallywant to tell them where we are? Is that something–Do we want them to come visit? -I don't know.
-What do you guys think? Should we be sending messagesto outer space? [all]Yeah, yes.
[Matthew]I don't think we should.
Every single timeany civilization encounters any othercivilization, and one is technologicallyadvanced, one guy gets crushed.
You know, what if they're notmore advanced than us? What if we're at the same place, and the only way we cancommunicate is like this? What if we can just exchangethe recipe for fusion? We would have so much to learnfrom those people, and really nothing to losein that situation.
You're making an argument that we almost havea moral imperative to send our knowledge to sharewith other civilizations.
-It's a really interestingpoint.
That's kind of where I land.
Let's just think of thisas a way to preserve the storiesthat we've been able to tell, which, by the way, we tellbetter than the universe does.
Thank you all so much.
This was a phenomenal exercise.
You know, honestly, I thoughtthat the human tendency to find meaning where there isnone would more quickly emerge.
But that didn't really happen.
What I also didn't expectwas just how educational the whole challengewould be.
I mean, I saw some human flawsand biases at work, but more generally, I saw the human mind at work, who we are.
Which kind of makes sense, right? I mean, the VoyagerGolden Record really isn't just a neat thingfor extraterrestrials.
It's a neat archive by, of and for us.
I don't think we will allever agree about whether or notwe should be sending messages to outer spaceannouncing that we are here.
But here's the thing.
Sending focused messagesto outer space requires technologythat not all of us have.
So only those with access can say hello toextraterrestrials if they want.
But who chose themto speak for us, for all of Earth? Well, I've come here, to Vazquez Rocks State Park, to talk to a manwho is changing that.
He is democratizing active SETI, because the service he has built is allowing anyone to sendany message they want to outer space.
He's an expert in the field of alien communication with a doctorate in elementary particle physics, and he's the one who's going to help me send my message.
Tell me about the wayyou are talking to aliens and helping otherpeople do it.
Well, I have built a website, called SpaceSpeak.
And it allows peopleto send a text in audio or a image messageout into space.
My view is, as many peoplethat can reach out to aliens or the universe in general, the better.
What are you usingto transmit these messages? Radio waves.
Radio waves arejust another form of photon.
And once a photon is broadcastinto space, it persists.
It never dies.
It never decays.
A million years from now, maybe the earth is gone, maybe the solar system is gone, but your messageis still out there, and essentially becomearchaeological photons for some future generationto see what we were about.
-I want to do this.
-Absolutely, let's do it.
Going to take a chairright here.
-This is it.
This is the Space Speaktransmitter.
This is a transmitter box here.
And the antennais right back here.
I've been thinkingabout this a lot, and I've spokento a lot of people about what to send, how to write the message, and whether or notI should send anything at all.
I don't think this is somethingto take as fact.
It's my personal opinion.
I don't have any fearthat this is dangerous.
-I spent a lot of time constructing what I believe to be a really neat, clever idea.
I was going to not senda two-dimensional image like the Arecibo, but a three-dimensional imagemade of voxels.
And I got really into this.
And then after talking to youand really thinking about the point of communicatingwith outer space, beyond Earth, I.
I just think to decide what to sayand how to say it.
is an exercise in learninghow we communicate at all.
-It's always coming back to who we are.
My grandmother passed awaya few days ago.
I'm so sorryto hear that.
I'm actually leaving tomorrowto her funeral, and I'll get to seeall of my family.
And obviously I'm never goingto forget my grandma.
And the way she, you know, made me who I am, that will, in a way, like echolike ripples in a pond, right? For generations to come.
But this is a messagemade of light that will be around forever.
until the universe ends, somehow.
So I have the last photograph that was ever takenof us together.
I'd like to sendthat picture out.
-Let's do it.
This photo is herin the hospital, using one of those, like, grabber tools, you know, to pull my beard hairsand hurt me.
[laughs] And she was so weak, but with that tool, she could pinch.
-Oh, that's awesome.
-It's a great picture of who we were.
She wasn't a big fan of aliens as far as I know, but it's uscaught in this moment that I think I wantto remember, and I want the universeto remember.
well, let's do it.
Go ahead and hit “send.
And look at that.
-It's already 229, 435 milesaway from Earth.
I don't think she ever traveledthat far in her entire life.
-Now she has.
-She has now, absolutely.
[Michael]And she will continue traveling.
Your grandmotherwill touch the universe.
Peter, thank youvery much.
You are very welcome, sir.
It was a pleasure.
[Michael] And, as always, thanks for watching.