Doesn\’t matter really

Dr Frank Drake said the phasing out of analogue transmissions from television, radio and radar was making our planet electronically invisible from outer space.

While old style signals used to spread out millions of miles into outer space, even reaching some distant stars, digital transmissions are much weaker and therefore are less easy to detect by extra-terrestrial life forms.

We\’ve still sent out that bolus of signals so anyone interested can still find us by the \”I Love Lucy\” reruns.

And yes, of course, scatty redheads are of interest even in black and white.

14 thoughts on “Doesn\’t matter really”

  1. “even reaching some distant stars, ”

    Hmm, I would say that no stars further than about a light century have been reached by any human signal. In astronomical terms 100 light years is not distant at all.

    “While old style signals used to spread out millions of miles into outer space,”

    My guess is that the new style signals also reach out millions of miles into outerspace; thats only a few times further than the moon.

    Either this guy is dumbing down or he has no idea of scale or magnitude.

  2. doesn’t the inverse square law mean that any tv signals that get into space become so weak that the turn into meaningless static by the edge of the solar system anyway?
    Fun fact of the day, 1% of the static you see on a badly tuned analogue TV is left over radiation from the Big Bang.

  3. Several respected science-fiction writers have pointed out that electronic “invisibility” might be a highly desirable state of affairs. After all, if we can’t sort out a few thousand hairy terrorists from the Middle East who want us all to live in the Stone Age, what would we ever make of a few million possibly hungry / violent / invasive extraterrestrials who can cross Galactic, or inter-Galactic, space?

  4. ChrisM – I’m pretty sure Dr Frank Drake won’t have misunderstood “scale or magnitude”. He’s the guy that came up with The Drake Equation!! On the other hand the journo who wrote the story…..

    rich b – dead right about the inverse square law, however the stuff we’re leaking into space is not just random noise it has order to it. So you can use clever signal processing techniques to spot the paterns and pull it out of the background noise. The SETI Project is doing exactly that with signals from other stars. Even at our level of technology we’d be able to detect the green tentacled version of I Love Lucy coming in from a nearby solar system. So we really are making our presence known to the neighbours.

    Formerty – I guess it depends how paranoid you are. I know the stories you refer to but there’s an alternative theory that anyone smart enough to get here wouldnt need anything we have to offer. On pure economics alone interstellar invasions don’t work.

    Tim adds: Seriously fun fact of the day. The economist who actually worked out how interstellar trade would work (and in detail, how you would deal with interest rates and capital in such) is Paul Krugman. It’s been said that he deserves a second Nobel for that one paper.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Theory_of_Interstellar_Trade

  5. JohnRS, I suspect you are right.
    “After all, if we can’t sort out a few thousand hairy terrorists from the Middle East who want us all to live in the Stone Age, what would we ever make of a few million possibly hungry / violent / invasive extraterrestrials who can cross Galactic, or inter-Galactic, space?”

    Well seeing as to a more advanced civilisation we would be the “hairy terrorists” maybe we wouldn’t fare so badly.

  6. @ JohnRS – I’m only as paranoid as my voices tell me to be, generally, honest.

    I mentioned the electronic invisibility as an interesting side point; if I had to guess I’d like to err on the side of Galactic travellers having a sort of benign indifference to l’il ol’ us.

    [Devil’s Advocate mode] But:

    On pure economics alone interstellar invasions don’t work

    Ha! That’s all we know! As a wise man (for it was he, Arthur C Clarke) once said: “The technology of any sufficiently advanced culture would be indistinguishable from magic”. Perhaps their economics would be, too 😉

    [/Devil’s Advocate Mode]

    @ChrisM: Well seeing as to a more advanced civilisation we would be the “hairy terrorists” maybe we wouldn’t fare so badly.

    Might be interesting to ask the Aborigines and the Inuit for their views, too…..

    @TimW: I had no idea Krugman had written such a thing. Thanks for that.

  7. I am not sure the Aborigines and Inuit today lead anymore retched lives than they did before contact with the West.

  8. @Formerty regarding – Arthur C Clarke once said: “The technology of any sufficiently advanced culture would be indistinguishable from magic”. Perhaps their economics would be, too.

    To go completely off topic – let’s hope they turn up soon, a bit of economic magic would go down a treat just now!

    @Tim, Ihadn’t come across the Krugman paper before, thanks. Looking at it though, it assumes relatavistic travel through normal space, albeit at nearlightspeed, and makes an economic case for interstellar trade dependent on fuel costs, time distance etc but heavily based on time dilation/cost of money etc. If Formerty’s ACC quote is true we could have aliens arriving using ftl travel (aka magic) which would reduce transit time dramatically so the cost of money/time dilation calculations would fall apart. The cost of trade would then be mainly the (presumeably very high) cost of getting here. In this scenario I still doubt if the cost of transporting goods from one system to another would make economic sense. However, characters in Paul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League do seem to make a pretty good living doing exactly that.

  9. I am not sure the Aborigines and Inuit today lead anymore retched lives than they did before contact with the West.

    Heh…. yes, perhaps. But that’s (with huge respect) your view. Theirs, if only powered by the wish to return to bucolic, pre-white-man glory days when they were top dog, might be very different. Maybe the witchetty grubs tasted better back then.

    @JohnRS – yes, I’d certainly sell Gordon Brown and his Cabinet for the alien equivalent of Soylent Green, in exchange for some economic
    magic. Which brings me to this:

    The cost of trade would then be mainly the (presumeably very high) cost of getting here.

    If you have easy control of the limitless amounts of energy you’d need in order to travel at ftl speeds, or to leap point-to-point anywhere in the universe, and your civilisation’s GDP has been averaging 3% p.a. but for 2 or 3 million years, maybe the cost of getting here is just a rounding item of modest importance on page 94 of the manifest.

    I suspect the issue would be more in context of “what on Earth (literally!) do we have that would be worth trading with us for?”

    And be left with the answer “who the hell knows”. We don’t trade noticeably with Aborigines, and even less with bacteria. But we do have an interesting sort of symbiosis with cows, pigs, sheep and the like, and it’s not based on trade or their economic competence.

    Chuck another steak on the barbie, please, and someone turn those voices down!

  10. It’s been fairly apparent (since at least the ’50s) that, with “better living through chemistry” (and physics), we can make almost anything we might want with all sorts of cheap stuff ready to hand, provided plentiful and not-so-expensive energy.

    So, if such posited aliens have limitless energy, what might they want here that they couldn’t produce on their own and to their heart’s
    content? And that’d go doubly if they had “magic.”

    They ain’t comin’ (and we ain’t a-goin’). So, get used to it. And, if that chaps your ass–get used to that, too.

  11. I’m going to assume that the journalist has got some of what the prof is saying confused.

    The switch to digital TV does not mean a weaker signal, if anything it means a slightly stronger signal to get the same geographic coverage because of can be described as digital roll-off.

    What has happened is that the individual channels within the digital signal are weaker and the demodulation of the channels won’t be as intuitive as analogue signals. But if these aliens can travel across the universe then that shouldn’t be a problem.

    It is also unlikely that terrestrial TV will be turned off in the foreseeable future, so the argument about satellite TV doesn’t really hold much water, unless the aliens want to watch test match cricket and repeats.

  12. “Heh…. yes, perhaps. But that’s (with huge respect) your view. ”

    Granted, but (with no less respect) so was your view. Australia at least is still so sparsely populated in most places that should they wish to Aborogines could indeed lead a traditional lifestyle. The fact that most do not suggests that their revealed preferences are not the same as your declared preferences for them.

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