Scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson and NSA leaker Edward Snowden discussed the potential of a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ life and the Fermi paradox on the astrophysicist’s StarTalk podcast.
The Fermi paradox essentially wonders why if the universe is infinitely large why we haven’t made contact with other intelligent life forms.
Snowden brought up an excellent point that we may not be receiving messages not because there’s nothing there, but rather because we can’t decrypt them.
“When you look at encrypted communications, if they are properly encrypted, there is no real way to tell that they are encrypted. You can’t distinguish a properly encrypted communication, at least in the theoretical sense, from random noise.
“So if you have an a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ civilization trying to listen for other c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s̳, or our civilization trying to listen for a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s, there’s only one small period in the development of their society where all of their communications will be sent via the most primitive and most unprotected means,” Snowden said.
“When we think about everything we’re hearing from our satellites, or everything they’re hearing from our civilization, if there are indeed a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s out there, all of their communications are encrypted by default.
“So what we’re hearing — which is actually an a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳ television show or a phone call or a message between their planet and their own GPS constellation, whatever it happens to be — is indistinguishable to us from cosmic microwave background radiation,” he added.
This assumes, of course, that a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s aren’t trying to actively get in contact with us using would-be universally understood signals (as humans have attempted with projects like the Arecibo message).
So basically the a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s are afraid of getting their credit cards stolen by other people on their planet? Quite possibly.
The fact of the matter is we may have missed our window for audio contact as most c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳s̳ may have gotten too advanced to be widely dispersing information we might just happen to pick up! It’s a strange concept to think encryption could potentially be protecting us from invaders as well as ourselves.
Tyson also points out that we’re “assuming they have the same security issues we have here on Earth.” Snowden admits that it’s possible that a̳l̳i̳e̳n̳s are “politically a little bit more enlightened” than we are.