SETI & Technosignatures

Workshop Ponders Challenges of Communicating Across the Cosmos

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
SETI Institute
November 3, 2014
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Workshop Ponders Challenges of Communicating Across the Cosmos

When astronomers conducting the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) find other cultures in the universe, could we understand their messages?

How can we craft a reply that intelligence on other planets would comprehend? To tackle these questions, the SETI Institute will convene the international workshop “Communicating Across the Cosmos: How Can We Make Ourselves Understood by Other Civilizations in the Galaxy?” on November 10-11, 2014, at its headquarters in Mountain View, California.

“As we search for a universal language to communicate with civilizations beyond Earth, where should we start? Math? Pictures? Something else?” asked Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute and organizer of the workshop. “It may be much more difficult to create an understandable message than we’ve thought in the past, and our workshop faces those challenges head on. “Recommendations from the meeting will be incorporated into the final report of the International Academy of Astronautics’ Study Group on Interstellar Message Construction.

“In the past few years, astronomers have shown that most stars have planets, so there could be many worlds where life has arisen,” said David Black, president and CEO of the SETI Institute. “If we discover life beyond Earth, especially technological life, it would have a profound effect on humanity. We need to take concrete steps now to plan for first contact. The SETI Institute just held a workshop on non-human communication that examined the complex languages used by other life forms on this planet. The insights that we gain into the fundamental aspects of communication from those types of studies inform us potentially about communication with non-terrestrial life forms.”

At the workshop, speakers from six countries will draw on disciplines ranging from astronomy and mathematics, to anthropology and linguistics, as they debate the best ways to create meaningful messages. “As we explore ways to communicate with intelligence in the cosmos, we need to do so intelligently,” explained Pierre Schwob, vice chairman of the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees.

The SETI Institute searches for radio signals from other civilizations with the Allen Telescope Array in northern California, but does not transmit signals to other worlds. “We’re also seeing increased interest within the international SETI community in actively transmitting messages, trying to elicit a response from other intelligence that may be out there,” said Vakoch. “Before we can do that, we need to be clear about what we would say, and how we would say it — the same questions we’ll grapple with in this meeting.”

Program schedule, speakers’ biographies, and abstracts:

This workshop is closed to the public, but videos of all talks will be posted on the SETI Institute’s YouTube channel after the workshop. Media representatives who would like to attend or interview speakers should contact Douglas Vakoch, [email protected], phone +1 650-960-4514, Skype dougvakoch. Only queries from media representatives will be answered.

Media Contact:
Seth Shostak
SETI Institute
+1 650-960-4530
[email protected]

Science Contacts:
Douglas Vakoch
SETI Institute / Chair, “Communicating Across the Cosmos” Workshop
+1 650-960-4514
[email protected]

David Black
SETI Institute
+1 650-960-4550
[email protected]

The SETI Institute is a multi-disciplinary, highly collaborative, research organization designed to explore, understand, and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe utilizing expertise in fields ranging from astrophysics and planetary science to biology and social science, as well as computer science and signal detection. We have a passion not only for discovery, but also for sharing knowledge as scientific ambassadors to the public, the press, and the government. The SETI Institute is a distinguished partner for government agencies, academic institutions, and corporations around the world.

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