SETI: Advantages of Probes over Conventional SETI Beacon
November 21, 2010 3 Comments
If only Type II and Type III civilizations are likely either to be transmitting photonic signals or to be sending out starprobes, and if probes and photons are energetically indistinguishable alternatives for advanced technical societies, then we must look elsewhere for distinguishability criteria by which to make an intelligent choice between energy-marker and matter-marker strategies. Interstellar probes are the method of choice for for technologically advanced civilizations, for the following reasons.
First, there is the benefit of communications feedback. A probe which discovers a garrulous inhabited world may engage in a true conversation with the indigenes, an almost instantaneous interchange and interweaving of cultures. Interactive exchanges may require mere fractions of a second between questions and answers. On-site starprobes, perhaps in orbit around the host’s sun or home planet, can carry on real-time educational and linguistic functions with a precision no remote signalling system could hope to match. As an added benefit, such intelligent devices could provide a noise-free channel of communication on any frequency of the contactee’s own choosing. By comparison, the traditional SETI beacon acquisition scenarios appear little more than sterile data swaps requiring millenia percycle rather than milliseconds. With interstellar photonic transmissions, delays are interminable and widely dispersed sentient species can never really converse. High probe intelligence will permit such conversation, as if the sending race had made the journey “in person”.
Second, probes have the advantage in acquisition efficiency. Beacons may radiate otherwise useful energy and information out into space for centuries, millenia, or even longerwithout getting any response or gaining any new information in return. This energy, since it was detected by no receiver, in essence was wasted and constitutes pure economic loss for the sending society. Such imprudence reflects an inordinate (and possibly selectively disadvantageous) degree of carelessness or generalized altruism on the part of the transmitting culture.
Starprobes, on the other hand, become independent agents as soon as they are launched. If properly constructed, there should be no further need for energy expenditure by the transmitting society. Sophisticated messenger probes will be self-repairing, self -programming, perhaps even self-reproducing, and capable of refuelling or recharging at every port of call. They may be designed patiently to float in orbit for hundreds or even millions of years, awaiting the emergence of a communicative culture on suitable planets in the system; alternatively, they may be programmed to hop from star to star until they find communicative lifeforms, then enter into an exchange with them at no further cost to the original transmitting society. A subsidiary but nonetheless important benefit of starprobes is that they may serve as cosmic “safety deposit boxes” for the cultural heritage-and knowledge of the sending society. If the transmitting civilization is destroyed or the culture perishes for whatever reasons, the probesthey sent to other worlds can still tell their story to any willing ears for perhaps geological time periods thereafter.
Third, starprobes hive the overwhelming advantage of military security for the transmitting race. Interstellar beacons are an invitation to disaster at the hands of unknown predatory alien civilizations. In. any situation involving contact via signals, the sending society must give away the position of its home star system at great risk for mere speculative benefits. This terrible breach of military security may be remedied by using probes instead of photons. If local technological activity is detected by an intelligent artifact orbiting some target star, the device may initiate contact with the indigenous technical species without ever having to disclose the identity or whereabouts of itscreators. If it is deemed necessary for the starprobe to report its findings back to the transmitting society from time to time, this easily may be accomplished in a manner virtually impossible to trace or to decode (e.g., omnidirectional or “false trail” broadcasts into empty space, trapdoor function encoded messages, shifting relays through randomly dispersed repeater stations in uninhabited solar systems, and so forth.) In other words, probes help to safeguard the security of sending societies in any exchange between themselves and alien cultures.
Unfortunately, until very recently few researchers seriously considered the possibility that extraterrestrial starprobes might already be present in the Solar System. Here is a relatively simple “observational problem,” right in our own backyard. But how can we locate such starprobes if they are resting here, right now! Well, that’s the matter of next articles. Sure!!
[now, I’ll do my best to retain continuity in publishing articles]
[Credit: Robert Freitas]