News For Release: Saturday, March 4

Hamilton College
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Clinton, NY 13323

Hamilton College Contact:
Sharon Rippey
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Communicating with Aliens--Computers May Provide the Answer

Clinton, NY -- The first Voyager mission included pictures, music, earth sounds and spoken greetings in the event that the Voyager crew made contact with intelligent life. Many science fiction movies and books assume that we'll be able to communicate with aliens when or if we ever encounter them. Douglas Raybeck, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Hamilton College in his presentation at CONTACT 2000 in Santa Clara California, March 3-5, says communicating with extraterrestrials will be more difficult to resolve than has been envisioned so far.

"There must be some commonality between the sender and receiver in order for communication to occur. We have no evidence that we'll have a way of decoding the information they send our way should we encounter extraterrestrials," says Raybeck.

Based on his research in cross-species communication, Raybeck concludes that difficulties in communicating with extraterrestrials are both basic and profound. He explains that language is part of human evolution and is "hard wired" to specific neural structures in our brain as well as tied to cultural backgrounds and experiences. This gives humans great flexibility yet distinct biological limits on capacity for language and thought.

"It seems fair to think that any life form we may encounter will also be shaped by a specific evolutionary past," says Raybeck. "Its' capabilities and intelligence will be shaped by the environment of its planet of origin." This would mean that intelligent species might exhibit significant differences in aspects of perception, cognition and behavior.

The solution? Computer technology. Raybeck believes the common ground (which is essential for communication) may be as minimal as the ability to process information. Computers could provide a solution, if they can receive and generate complex messages in a human language and could be programmed to create a common language. Given their learning capabilities, computers should refine and improve the process over time.

Raybeck says, "Counter to the body of scientific work, it is ridiculous to think that all we need to communicate with extraterrestrials is an open mind and time to exchange simple messages. I think technology may provide the answers we need."


Douglas Raybeck may be reached at the CONTACT 2000 conference March 2-5 at the Biltmore Hotel in Santa Clara, California, 408-988-8411. CONTACT is an annual interdisciplinary conference which brings together international social and space scientists, science fiction writers and artists to exchange ideas, stimulate new perspectives and encourage serious, creative speculation.

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