More SETI game theory, part two – messages

It’s my 48th birthday today! Happy birthday to me!

48 is a good number, of course.

So, given that it’s a day for gift-giving, I thought I’d offer something humorous. This should also give you an example of our mischievous Paschat sense of humour, which, as all off-worlders will tell you, is generally agreed to be the most superior in our entire galactic sector.

So then, following on from part one, I thought a glimpse into possible messages ET might send at 1420 MHz might be a useful thought experiment.

Bear in mind, of course, what I said about the progress of technology, with regards to the distance between the sender and the receiver. That’s to say our approximately 200-year window between the invention of radio telescopes (or a SETI-type organisation itself) and quantum teleportation and interstellar travel. Any civilisation sending a message from further than this distance would arrive before the message (assuming faster-than-light travel, of course), so they probably wouldn’t bother.

Likewise, the reality of the zoo hypothesis – namely that this 200 lightyear radius sphere is most likely teeming with advanced spacefaring civilisations who already know everything there is to know about the sender of the message.

So then, here are some possible versions of what kind of message SETI might receive.

Version one:

Hello, puny humans! My name is General Zod. By the time you receive this message we will be right on your doorstep. You will shortly be detecting our state-of-the-art armada entering your system, fully armed with the latest weaponry which, obviously, we haven’t invented yet but surely will in due course. Things like photon torpedoes, graviton disrupters and our ruthless common cold viruses against which your puny immune systems will have no defence. Mwah-ha-ha-ha-haaa!

End of message

Version two:

Greetings! We transmit this honest message of peace and friendship from the glorious workers’ paradise! Our Supreme Soviet sends greetings to all workers of the galaxy, in the hope that you may wish to join our struggle against the decadent capitalist imperialists out there, against whom we recently won a great victory!

By the time you receive this message we should be right on your doorstep, so to speak, having invented the fabled warp drive, ready to welcome you into our burgeoning socialist federation. We shall naturally be sending our heavily armed star destroyers to protect your noble citizens from any imperialist threat. Woe betide any capitalists we encounter on our travels!

Should your people still be in thrall to the evils of consumerism then we shall help them seize the measures necessary for the establishment of a workers’ collective utopia, such as we have here.

Our scientists are currently working on a number of excellent projects which, they assure us, will make us invincible. Photon torpedoes, graviton disruptors and of course our notorious common cold viruses, against which any immune systems weakened by capitalist decadence will have no defence!

With regards to strategy, we shall also be installing cloaking devices on our ships, allowing us the element of surprise. Our simple tactics, honed over the many decades of our recent struggle on own planet, will involve a kind of double pincer movement approaching enemy systems from all four quadrants, having first made cunning use of gas giants to conceal our approach along the plane of the ecliptic.

We trust, likewise, your own generals will be in agreement with our tendency towards blitzkrieg tactics, beginning with a firestorm of devastating strikes on the enemy’s orbital defences, followed by the unleashing of pathogens designed to morally weaken the enemy’s resolve.

“Erm, General?”

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

“You’re still dictating, yes?”

“What do you mean?”

“You told me to send everything you say to the transmitter?”

“What! You fool! You imbecile! You’ve given away our advantage!”

*sound of gunshot*

End of message

Version three:

Greetings! We send a heartfelt message of peace and friendship across the stars! To whomever may receive this humble greeting, we salute you.

Having recently resolved all the internal conflict on our world, we believe we are ready to venture forth into this vast and awesome galaxy, to teach if called upon, to learn if fortunate, and to share our great culture with all the other intelligences which must surely be out there.

Having said that, I do not wish, above all, to create the impression that we are emotionally or psychologically immature. As the chief scientist here at our newly formed SETI institute I am of course fully aware of the future direction of technology, having made a detailed study of the matter during my adolescence, then later as a graduate student here at the Institute. That is to say, within perhaps 150-200 years we shall have solved the engineering problems associated with interstellar travel, in particular the holy grail of faster-than-light propulsion by means of electrogravitics, and so will be overtaking this message by then. Naturally I am also acutely aware of the utterly negligible probability that another intelligent lifeform exists within this 200 light year radius at precisely the same stage of development as us – meaning there is little point whatsoever in wasting my and everyone else’s time sending this pithy little message to all those thousands of star systems within our vicinity.

Still, what the Fuhrer wants the Fuhrer gets.

I did explain this scientific reasoning to him personally, I can assure you, but the beady-eyed little bastard brushed it aside with one of his typical, customary little hand-waving gestures. You know the one – the kind of annoying, irritating little flourish best suited to lunatic orchestra conductors.

Fortunately, my colleagues and I have been able to conceal from him our recent discovery of the existence of brown dwarf stars, which would’ve added another 11-12,000 stars to our exhausting list of targets.

*Professor Keitel to Security immediately, please. Professor Keitel to Security*

Oh crap.

End of message

Version four:

Greetings, Earthlings, from Zeta Reticuli! Please stop calling us ‘greys’. That’s like calling black people ‘coloureds’.

End of message

Version five:

“Stop messin’ around dude!”

“I’m not messin’ around!”

“Yes you are! This is seriously important business!”

“Ok. So, what are we gonna say?”

“Erm, good question dude.”

“Maybe we should just play them some electric guitar?”

“Yeah! Eddie van Halen?”


“Ok dude, what button is it – this one?”

“Noooo! Not that one!”

End of message

Version six:

Hi! Greetings from planet Earth. This message is brought to you by our corporate sponsors (see Appendix 1 for list). While we’re on the subject of appendices, please refer to Appendix 2 for a selection of inane greetings in 55 different languages. Appendix 3 contains greetings from a number of privileged children which we thought would convey the impression of innocence. Obviously we’re not going to mention the hundreds of millions of impoverished, starving children our exploitative capitalist system has created. For some pointless unintelligible sounds of our planet, see Appendix 4. Appendix 5 contains a selection of music we’ve appropriated entirely from other cultures in our world. The only decent music our country produces is adolescent anti-establishment stuff originally developed by our segregated negroes.

Obviously, we really don’t expect anyone to receive this message. It’s more an exercise in unashamed self-glorification. You see we only represent a nation of some 240 million out of a world population of approximately 4 billion. We think we’re the best country on the planet, we have the best technology and no intention whatsoever of sharing it with anyone else. That would be foolish, I’m sure you’ll agree – it would mean the end of our dominant status as the self-appointed master race. I don’t know about you, but we live in a global system based on conflict, racism and corporate interference in geopolitics – created and perpetuated by us, obviously – and that’s one competition we intend to win. Hopefully by the time you receive this message we’ll have wiped out all hope of a better future in which everyone, regardless of race or cultural identity, is treated with equal respect, and everyone lives in harmony with what’s left of the natural environment we’ve been relentlessly destroying.

Only joking!

We’re actually a really cute humanoid species – as you’ll be able to see from the binary code picture we included on this disc (see Appendix 6). Do you like our golden record, by the way? It looks like our sun!

Guess what? We’ve got over 4 billion bits of code in our genome! How cool is that! Please don’t do any genetic engineering with it, by the way. To be honest I don’t know why we included it, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We also included a little star map showing where this message came from – obviously you’d be able to work that out anyway if you’ve got the technology to receive and decipher this, but hey, we’re scientists in a materialist world and we don’t really do metacognitive empathy.

That might also explain why we haven’t included a dictionary. Yeah, we just wanted to piss you off and have a good laugh thinking about you trying to decipher our language. Sorry about that – not!

“Er, this isn’t working for me.”

“Nah, you’re right. Me neither. I mean you can only take postmodernism so far, huh?”

“Yep. How about we start again?”

“Sure. I’ll just stop the recording and… oh shit!”

End of message

Version seven:

Greetings! Have you heard of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Neither have we.

Oh well, so much for communication then.

End of message

Well, I’m sure I can think of other variations on this theme, but that’s enough for now. Hopefully those fun-lovin’ guys and gals at SETI might now have a few pointers as to what kind of message they might want to beam over to the Centauri system.

You wouldn’t, after all, want to create the wrong impression about your species now, would you?

Catch you later folks! (Oh, and have a nice day!)

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