Volume 2, Issue 3
3rd Quarter, 2007

Trajectories to the Heavens

William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D.

Page 2 of 6

The crucial point here is not the risky nature of the neuronal approach, but the fact that most conceivable versions of it produce a computerized data file, just as the behavioral approach does. My own work has rather conservatively followed the behavioral approach, initially developing a large set of questionnaire items like those commonly used in social psychology, sociology, and political science. Table 1 lists eleven similar software modules I produced, each of which asks the user to rate a series of stimuli on two scales. For example, The Year 2100 consists of 2,000 predictions about the future of the world, collected through an online questionnaire called Survey2000 [1] that was sponsored by the National Geographic Society.[2] For each prediction, the users is supposed to judge how bad or good it would be if it came true, on an 8-point scale, and judge on a similar scale how unlikely or likely it is to happen. Thus, 2,000 stimuli with two questions each mean 4,000 questionnaire items.

Table 1 (click above for larger image)

I have also developed two experimental modules that are not ready to be shared. One simply takes the 2,000 emotion-eliciting stimuli from the Emotions modules, and asks the user to say how much each would elicit each of 20 emotions, for a total of 40,000 items. The other asks the user to recall strings of digits briefly, using a classical experimental technique that times the response delays to chart the individual’s short-term memory capacity and retrieval.

At the same time I have enthusiastically supported research by scientists who employ digital cameras and computer vision techniques to record and analyze human physical movements, such as those involved with gestures and facial expressions. A very promising set of methods that have recently become available involve automatic collection of all of a person’s electronic communications, applying speech recognition software to telephone calls, text analysis software to e-mail messages, and -- as I will explain more fully later -- recording all the individual’s actions in virtual worlds. Some of my current research concerns ways to import questionnaire-based data into virtual worlds, to give artificial intelligences the habits of real human individuals. For now, let us assume that abundant data about an individual’s personality has been translated into digital form, and we want to port it beyond the Earth. How do we do that?

Transmission to Extraterrestrial Civilizations

Paradoxically, one of the most feasible near-term methods, and one that helps prepare the discussion for other methods later in this essay, is also one that the general public may find most radical: Transmitting the data file via radio (or lasers, which use essentially short-wavelength radio beams) to extraterrestrial civilizations that already exist near other stars. Back in the 1960s it became clear that sensitive radio telescopes were capable of detecting radio signals of realistic power beamed in their direction from stars within a few tens of light years. Concerted efforts to increase the range of transmitters and receivers could have dramatic benefits on the number of stars within communication range. While the power required to send a signal of given strength increases according to the square of the distance, the number of stars increases with the cube of the distance, so the number of stars covered is a linear function of power, before one factors in any improvement in receiving systems.

A rather non-controversial scenario for long-term establishment of communication between two galactic civilizations goes as follows. Any advancing technological civilization will emit radio waves. While civilizations may switch from radio broadcasting to delivery of data over fiber optical cable, as we are beginning to do today, they will change the uses to which they put the radio spectrum, rather than abandoning it. For example, long-distance radars are among the most powerful sources of coherent radio signals. Using radio telescopes, high sensitivity receivers, and computer detection algorithms, another civilization will scan all the stars in its neighborhood and detect these signals. It will then do two things: (1) build extensive technological infrastructure for not only detecting but decoding signals from civilizations throughout the galaxy, and (2) intentionally beam contact-establishing signals back to the detected civilization. This will lead to slow two-way communication.

In an essay titled, “Direct Contact with Extraterrestrials via Computer Emulation,” I have argued that cognitive science and information technology are progressing in a direction that will make it possible to transmit realistic avatars of individual human beings to extraterrestrial civilizations (Bainbridge, in press). Suppose we detect a civilization 100 light years away. A two-way exchange of messages -- one question followed by one answer -- would take 200 years by conventional reckoning. I suggest that full and rich dialog can be accomplished in just 100 years, by sending ourselves electronically to the other civilization, along with instructions about how to construct a virtual world for us to inhabit. Embassies from multiple civilizations can be situated in a virtual reality Cosmopolis, where computer-generated avatars emulate the original biological beings in social interaction, trade, and cultural innovation. The objects for trade will be informatic rather than material, of course, but could include a great diversity of things, such as: music, scientific findings, technological inventions, and a host of unexpected but sharable bits of information, such as astronomical observations from a different vantage point and large prime numbers that are universal but difficult to find.

www.cyberev.org Clearly, this scenario involves a good deal of effort and time. However, nothing prevents us from transmitting low-fidelity representations of ourselves toward nearby stars, and doing so immediately today -- as CyBeRev [3] is in fact doing. Indeed, there are at least four reasons why this is a good idea. First, it is possible that the nearest other civilization is actually quite close, has already detected our early commercial radio broadcasts from the 1920s, and is avidly studying the radio transmissions from our planet. Second, even if this is not the case, there is no reason why we cannot fairly cheaply rebroadcast our data at increasing power levels over the coming years; this harmonizes with my view that the fidelity with which we can capture personalities will be increasing over that time, so the original data can be constantly incremented and transmitted. Third, preparing the data for broadcast will put it in forms that are suitable for long-term archiving on Earth and for some of the other scenarios described below. Fourth, the act of broadcasting personality data toward the heavens announces to fellow Earthlings that a grand, new social movement of incalculable importance is in the process of formation.

Next Page

Footnotes (Additional References on Page 6)

1. Survey 2000 - uses computer assisted interviewingtechniques that allows for use of complex question skip patterns and questionnaire customization. The result is a survey instrument thatminimizes respondent burden and tailors survey content based oninformation collected during the course of the questionnaire.
http://business.clemson.edu/socio/s2kdata211.html August 13, 2007

2. National Geographic Society - Since 1890 the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration has supported more than 7,500 projects and expeditions — including the excavation of Machu Picchu, the discovery of Titanic, and the work of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and the Leakey family. The committee continues to fund vital research, embodying the Society's 115-year-old mission: "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge." http://www.nationalgeographic.com/research/ August 14, 2007 3:03PM EST

3. CyBeRev - means cybernetic beingness revival. The purpose of the CyBeRev project is to prevent death by preserving sufficient digital information about a person so that recovery remains possible by foreseeable technology. Terasem Movement believes that future technology will be able to recover full functionality for CyBeRev people.
http://www.cyberev.org/ August 14, 2007 3:07PM EST

1 2 3 4 5 6 next page>