Planet Earth. Saturday 12th September 2048.
Huge spaceship. Humongous. Hovering over Sao Paulo, USB(1). A few others in other big cities. Finally they are here!
They send us a message but nobody understands what it means. Quickly, let’s get in touch with Trusted Translations, the one and only translation services in the world now. “Can you give us a quote for a trustlation(2), 50,000 words from Intergalactic Standard, Milky Way flavour (is-MW), into English (en-CN) and Spanish (sp-US). Driver: price, quality and time.”
Would we be able to understand them if anyone from out there ever has the courage to get in touch? In Arthur Clarke’s “Childhood’s End” the Aliens had done their homework, and they spoke fluent English. How convenient!
In Carl Sagan’s “Contact” we had to work it out ourselves because they don’t actually come here. They just send the message. And he proposes to solve the riddle of decoding it with a nifty trick. It is based on mathematics. We start receiving a series of pulses. 239 … 241 … 251 … 257 … What’s up with these numbers? Bus routes? Ah, no, they are all prime. They keep coming 263 … 269 … Ok, intelligent source, little doubt about that. And from here the story unravels.
In a way, I simpatize with Clark’s position. If they are capable to come all this far from Betelgeuse, or wherever, they’d surely be able to speak every human language and then some. Ant language. Anything.
The problem with this approach is that it is highly unlikely to ever happen. The amount of energy involved in interstellar travel is so great that no serious civilization would be inclined to spend it on this kind of trivial pursuit.
So, maybe fortunately, we would never be able to meet each other face to face … or whatever they use as face. But we can TALK to each other.
Then we take the opportunity to ask things very important for us:
“What will be the price of oil next month?”
and twelve hundred years later the answer: “We don’t know!”.
But back to 2048 …
The IT Department of Trusted Translations was in the middle of the celebrations for Programmer’s day(3), but a handful of them were available to descypher the message: “We worship the oddest prime of them all, big power to 2. We have been here in 1024(4), but you were not ready yet …” The rest was just white noise. Or maybe that’s the way they giggle.
(… to be continued …)
(1) United States of Brazil.
(2) trustlation: a quick and reliable translation.
(3) Programmers day is the 256th (28) day of the year. It’s on the 13th of September most years, but the 12th when it’s a leap year.
(4) 2 to the power of 10 (210) is 1024, to the power of 11 is 2048.