Neil DeGrasse Tyson was ever wrong

Edward Snowden: Why We Don't Know About Aliens

The question of whether there are other intelligent creatures in the Milky Way besides us has preoccupied mankind for a long time. The so-called Fermi paradox tries to explain why we have not heard of such a thing so far. And Edward Snowden has now added another aspect to this. The Fermi paradox is about the fact that on the one hand it can be assumed as certain that there are other civilizations alone in the Milky Way - as big and old as it is -. This contradicts the fact that we have not yet heard anything from them. In order to clear up this contrast, various factors have been named in the past that ensure that we have not yet heard of extraterrestrials.

Citizenfour: Trailer for the Edward Snowden documentary


The arguments range from the huge distances in space, which prevent the interstellar spread of intelligences despite the long time available, to the fact that all civilizations known to us (on earth) are only stable for a comparatively short time and we simply missed their decisive phase to the point that we are deliberately ignored.

In an interview with the well-known astrophysicist and science journalist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Snowden brought up another aspect as part of the StarTalk podcast: It can be assumed that extraterrestrial civilizations have also come to the conclusion relatively quickly that encryption of communication is a sensible thing is. And even if we were to pick up appropriate signals, they would in fact remain invisible to us.

"A well-encrypted message cannot be distinguished - at least in a theoretical sense - from random background noise," explained Snowden. "So when our civilization tries to eavesdrop on aliens, there is only a short period in the development of their society in which communication takes place via simple and mostly unprotected paths."

Parallels to us

The beginnings of this could already be seen in human civilization. Most of our communication channels, which one day could potentially also be received outside of our solar system, have been encrypted by default for years to a greater extent - these ranges from signals from cellular networks to satellite communication. Even the TV channels that are broadcast via satellite are increasingly being converted to encrypted digital transmissions.

In order to discover extraterrestrials, we would not only have to listen to more complex signals (whereas corresponding projects tend to be limited to very simple ones), but first recognize them in their encrypted form. In this respect, we can only hope to try an active communication which, like the Arecibo message, is kept as simple as possible. Edward Snowden, Whistleblower, VeraxEdwin Lee (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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