What do you get when Edward Snowden and Neil deGrasse Tyson pair up for a podcast? A really interesting show, of course. At least if you’re into aliens, and especially if you’ve long wondered why earthlings have yet to definitively hear or communicate with those aliens.
But before deGrasse Tyson could discuss communicating with aliens, he had to figure out how to communicate with the exiled-in-Russia Edward Snowden, which ultimately he was able to do, reports Business Insider.
In fact, as much as anything said in the deGrasse Tyson podcast exchange, Snowden flexing his considerable technical prowess by wheeling a robot he was working from Russia into Tyson’s office at the Hayden Planetarium in New York, the robot carrying a screen featuring Snowden ready to chat, was worth the price of admission.
To review why Edward Snowden couldn’t visit deGrasse Tyson in New York: In 2013, classified intelligence and documents began spilling out into the public sphere, revealing top secrets about the U.S. government’s plans of massive surveillance on U.S. citizens, the government clandestinely snatching personal information, phone records and basically whatever they wanted from U.S. Citizens.
Edward Snowden was behind leaking these secret U.S. government documents and the U.S. government wasn’t pleased with him, Snowden becoming a folk-hero to some, and traitorous villain to others. For the U.S. government, Edward Snowden decidedly fell into the traitorous villain category, and the U.S. slapping him with charges of theft and espionage sent Snowden fleeing to Russia, where he received asylum.
Which brings us back to the difficulty Neil deGrasse Tyson faced featuring Snowden, the ex-pat now living in the former USSR, on his September 18 StarTalk podcast, which can be heard in its entirety here.
But once the conversation between astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and expat/communications expert Edward Snowden was established, where else did it have to go but to encryption and communicating with aliens?
Tyson posited to Snowden what effect alien encryption might have on our efforts to understand any communications from alien civilizations.
In short, Snowden responded yes, that any communications being broadcast from an advanced alien civilization would inevitably be encrypted “by default,” which would unfortunately stir any alien communications into the mishmash of existing chaotic, cosmic, audio.
“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… So when we think about everything that we’re hearing through our satellites or everything that they’re hearing from our civilization (if there are indeed aliens out there), all of their communications are encrypted by default… 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.”
In the end, our attempts to communicate with alien civilizations, and their possible attempts to communicate with us (if they even exist), likely end up as being nothing more than exercises of encrypted screaming into the cosmic wind.
At the same time, Neil deGrasse Tyson quipped, maybe the governments of advanced alien civilizations aren’t as secretive and uptight about their communications as we are here on earth.
Edward Snowden agreed from his screen on the robot, any aliens out there likely being “a little more politically sophisticated than us.”
[Image by Adam Berry / Getty Images]