We may never find aliens if they’re hip to encryption

snowden tv

Edward Snowden has strongly defended citizens’ rights to encrypt their messages, and has taught journalists how to use encryption to protect themselves from spying programs.

But the NSA whistleblower sees a downside to encrypting so much information: aliens may not be able to spot signs of intelligent life.

Snowden, appearing on Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk podcast via a video link from Moscow on Sept. 18, told the astrophysicist how encryption could interfere in our attempts at alien communication.

Done properly, encrypted communication—encoded so that only the intended recipient can read the information—can’t be identified and is indistinguishable from random behavior, Snowden said.

“So if you have an alien civilization trying to listen for other civilizations, or our civilization trying to listen for aliens, there’s only one small period in the development of their society when all of their communication will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means,” Snowden said. “So what we are hearing that’s actually an alien television show or, you know, a phone call … is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation.”

Although as Tyson noted on his podcast, alien species might not be so keen on encryption. “Only if they have the same security problems as us,” he told Snowden.

You might hope that some other species with sufficient advancement in science to track down our wee ball of mud in the night sky – might also have moved to social development more reliant upon science and less dependent on superstition and imperial amorality. And may have grown beyond our need for encryption.

6 thoughts on “We may never find aliens if they’re hip to encryption

  1. It's a cookbook says:

    …given our own history of exploiting or massacring less technologically advanced human cultures, it might in fact be prudent for us to avoid attracting the attention of whatever perhaps equally rapacious alien life forms that may happen to be lurking out there.

  2. Mark says:

    I’d like to know the difference between an alien transmission and an encrypted one. Both incomprehensible most likely.
    If the aliens want to say hi they can pop by with earth beer and a pizza.

  3. Mike says:

    “What Happens If China Makes First Contact? : As America has turned away from searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, China has built the world’s largest radio dish for precisely that purpose.” (The Atlantic. December 2017 issue) https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/12/what-happens-if-china-makes-first-contact/544131/
    Re: “The Three-Body Problem” see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Three-Body_Problem_(novel) and “Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Trilogy. The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction” https://www.tor.com/2014/05/07/the-worst-of-all-possible-universes-and-the-best-of-all-possible-earths-three-body-and-chinese-science-fiction/

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