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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval 282

Lucas123 writes "The problem: What do you leave behind that billions of years from now, and without context, would give aliens an some kind of accurate depiction of mankind. The answer: A gold-plated silicon disc with just 100 photos. That's the idea behind The Last Pictures project, which is scheduled to blast off in the next few months from Kazakhstan and orbit the earth for 5 billion years. The photos, etched into the silicon using a bitmap format, were chosen over a five-year process that involved interviews with artists, philosophers, and MIT scientists, who included biologists, physicists, and astronomers. To each, was posed a single question: What photos would you choose to send into outer space? The answer became an eclectic mix of images from pre-historic cave paintings to a photo of a group of people taken by a predator drone."
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Gold Artifact To Orbit Earth In Hope of Alien Retrieval

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  • Rosetta Stone (Score:1, Insightful)

    by FriendlyLurker ( 50431 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:20AM (#41546373)
    Will it contain something like the Rosetta Stone [wikipedia.org] to help said aliens decipher our languages? More likely it will be found by some post apocalyptic humanish descendants relearning how to get into space...
  • Voyager discs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:23AM (#41546381) Homepage

    I prefer the Voyager discs. They provide a more positive look on mankind. These photos look more like a guilt trip.

  • by sa666u ( 2626427 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:32AM (#41546419)
    Why do people love stroking their ego so much? Is it so hard to comprehend that in terms of the universe our lives are completely meaningless?
  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:38AM (#41546443) Journal
    The point of the Rosetta Stone was that it contained translations of the same passage into a mixture of languages we understood and ones we didn't. It could then be used as a key to understand the languages that we couldn't yet translate. An equivalent for this would be a passage in English, and two translations of it into languages read by aliens five billion years into the future. So, no.
  • by Maxmin ( 921568 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:40AM (#41546453)

    Without the context of human perception and aesthetics, many of these images may appear as random noise to an alien species!

    Abstract artistic expression works for some of us, but might not be communicating directly enough to clearly convey ideas, concepts, facts, history, even human being's notions of beauty, the latter of which clearly was the curator's primary objective.

    I'm not knocking the images themselves. But without the context of human eyes, human life and experience... these will have little or no meaning to anyone who has never lived earth.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Robert Zenz ( 1680268 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @03:46AM (#41546465) Homepage
    The Rosetta Stone only worked because they knew two languages of the three on the stone. Aliens would most likely not know *any* language we have.
  • by Maow ( 620678 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:18AM (#41546555) Journal

    I quickly browsed the images and had a couple thoughts.

    1) Why didn't they etch images unencoded? Simply make micro images in high detail (ala microfiche) so they don't have to be decoded?

    2) I really didn't think the choice of photos was representative of life on earth. No cityscapes, no human faces close up, no animals / pets (inter-species friendship for example), no image of something technological such as a state of the art mobile phone / laptop. No images of agriculture or even a bouquet of beautiful flowers.

    Hell, I could barely tell what some images were supposed to be (well, number 1 took a couple seconds - I thought it was a crystalline structure, number two I haven't figured out yet).

    I did like earth from space, but how about an image of Armstrong / Aldrin on the moon? A passenger jet taking off showing outside & in?

    So many choices, so poorly selected IMHO.

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:21AM (#41546569) Homepage Journal

    Here's what I dislike about the pictures that I've seen on the project website:

    Most of them would make bugger all sense to an alien species. Heck, some of them are hard to make sense of if you are a human.

    I, too, think the Voyager pictures were a better selection. They provide information about scale and location, something that these pictures don't. Many of them require you to have an understanding of humans and/or human culture to make sense. For example, the indoor pictures have no objective indicators of scale. There is absolutely no hint to tell future alien watchers if these are images of something microscopic, macroscopic, inbetween? Whatever this picture [creativetime.org] is showing, for example, does not even tell the alien if the area shown in the image is 5 mm, 5 cm, 5m, 50m or whatever across. The skeleton in the top-right corner is largely hidden, it only makes sense as a scale measure if you are a human and your brain is trained on filling in the blanks of other humanoid shapes.

    Also, I agree that at least from the selection they show on their webpage, way too many of them show natural catastrophies and doom and gloom.

    I miss images that would make alien visitors in the not-5-billion-years distant future help make sense of the ruins of our civilization. If you include pictures of cave paintings, why not a city or two? A million years from now, there won't be anything of either left, but a few thousand years from now, ruins of our cities will still be there even if we go away tomorrow.

    And why the focus on humans? What about the other 99% of biomass on the planet?

    For a project this expensive, it looks way too much like a high school project to me. Amateurish.

  • by Nukedoom ( 1776114 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:27AM (#41546587)

    Whaaaa? Why do you say that? We are the Universe--we're the conscious part, a beautiful self-aware organism. We didn't create ourselves, but we are the product of a vastly complex series of interactions taking place over the course of billions of years.

    We're as about as meaningful as anything the Universe has brought into existence, if not more.

  • by maxwells_deamon ( 221474 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @04:39AM (#41546635) Homepage

    Any course correction fuel will quickly (relatively) be used up. Geosynchronous satellites have course correction systems to keep them in the proper orbits.

    Yes air resistance is minor at that distance from earth but they have not solved the three body problem. Tidal forces from the moon will eventually disturb the orbits and that will be the end of it. If this was not the case, we would have tiny natural moons around the earth.

    Now if they put the disk in one of the L points they might have a chance.

    PS: from an orbital mechanics point of view, geosynchronous orbits are not special. They just happen to take the same amount of time as a rotation of the earth. When the length of the day changes over the time frame mentioned, the orbits will no longer be geosynchronous. A billion years is long enough for the moon to change the rotation speed of the earth.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:10AM (#41546741)

    the only way to see the pictures is if you buy the book. thanks world for not being so cool as during and after the space race.

  • Where's the p0rn? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aNonnyMouseCowered ( 2693969 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @05:12AM (#41546745)

    Maybe I'm browsing the project site wrong, but all I saw were about a dozen photographs? None show images of naked humans that can at least give a hint of what a human looks without the environmental protection suit. Photos of couples having sex and babies can also explain the nature of human reproduction. We're not androids that just rolled off the some fab lab.

  • by hairyfish ( 1653411 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:08AM (#41546941)

    I'm not knocking the images themselves. But without the context of human eyes, human life and experience... these will have little or no meaning to anyone who has never lived earth.

    Well I have lived on the earth, my whole life in fact, and even I struggled to figure what half these photos were about. Silly blurry arty black and white shit may work in the cool end of town, but when you're attempting to communicate with foreigners, you need to keep it as simple as possible.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:18AM (#41546981)

    this is to sell a book. Stop looking for deeper meaning and taking this group literally, discussing details like why there aren't any pictures of humans, or pictures of cell phones or buildings. It's a very, very expensive promotion to sell a coffee table book.

  • Re:Bitmap (Score:2, Insightful)

    by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:32AM (#41547029) Homepage Journal

    But how do we know that an alien are equipped to translate a 2D monochrome into anything meaningful?
    Do they even have vision? Were they ever restricted to 2D observation (like our eyes). Perhaps they used area-based sonar for spatial awareness, or something even weirder?

    If your dog can't understand a picture, why would you think an alien can? The dog is likely going to be much closer to what you are.

    Anyhow, this is a folly, plain and simple. And not even an impressive one.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neyla ( 2455118 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:34AM (#41547047)

    Yeah, it's an assumption, and it's perhaps not a 100% certanity that it is correct.

    But I think we can agree that the odds of some alien race being familiar with the concept of integers, is a lot higher than the odds that they'll understand english.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AC-x ( 735297 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @06:35AM (#41547055)

    To understand elements and chemical reactions you need to know how many protons an atom has, which requires knowledge of integers. Atoms are also discrete units, again integers. Even from an astronomical point of view planets and stars for distinct countable (integer) units. If we find aliens they may not understand integers, but if aliens find us they would pretty much have to have all the mathematical and scientific knowledge we do (and a lot more) to get here.

    Unless of course said aliens are a sentient cloud of energy / Boltzmann brain, but the laws of physics seem to like to combine common elements into the same organic molecules that life on earth uses, so it seems likely that relatively familiar carbon based live would also evolve on other planets.

    Plus at least simple counting has been shown in many animals, even those only distantly related to primates, so it's not like humans are even the only species on earth that can count integers.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Thursday October 04, 2012 @08:44AM (#41547765) Homepage

    They will have to understand math and integers, but not our textual representations of them.

    So they'll have to figure out what the encoding is. Given that they need to build a spacecraft to even be able to get to the message in the first place, decoding shouldn't be totally beyond their powers. It might take them quite a while to do it, but why worry about that?

  • What the hell? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @09:55AM (#41548507)

    From the collection of photos shown on their website it would appear they were selected by an art student with an obnoxiously cynical view of humanity. The hold little meaning beyond this pervasive sense of negativity.

    Let's take stock:
    Before and after photos of melting glaciers
    Grainy photo waves crashing on a pier with a bunch of people watching
    Some random ship in what appears to be the Suez canal
    An approaching dust storm during what I think is the dust bowl
    Barely decipherable cave paintings
    A mine
    Some nonsensical photo of a huge auditorium with 7 tv screens depicting highway interchanges
    A waterspout
    A blurry photo taken by a drone (presumably pre strike)
    Random kids standing in water, most looking away from the camera
    A rather strange looking room that looks like something from colonial times

    I'm a human and I see no rhyme or reason in these photos beyond what I mentioned above. What the hell is an alien intelligence going to make of these? I think this is a neat concept, but that's a rather pathetic selection of photos.

  • Re:Rosetta Stone (Score:5, Insightful)

    by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @10:48AM (#41549083)

    > No it is not. Math itself is universal, but Mathematical Notation is a human contrivance which has no meaning without a frame of reference

    That is not entirely correct.

    *Symbols* are universal -- which is why you dream in them and not a language or math.

    Math IS symbol *manipulation* using certain rules that are based on assumptions. Fortunately ALL of math is based on *assumptions*; regarding how to define integers and how to manipulate them can be easily expressed and almost universally understood; you don't *need* to express "higher" math such the arbitrary rules such as negative exponent rules. The abstract assumptions are "context" free.

    First pick a generic set of symbols that represent *sequence* and *addition*. This also demonstrates the fact that you understand primes. (Ignore the underscores, they are for spacing...)

    0 1 2_ 3 _ 4 __ 5 _ _ 6 _ __ 7 _ _ _ 8 _ _ __ 9 _ _ _ _ showing the corresponding Arabic numeral system
    _ x xx xxx xxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx showing any generic counting system

    Demonstrating the Goldbach's conjecture

    x + x _ _ _. = xx _ _ _. 1 + 1 = 2
    xx + x ._ _. = xxx ._ _. 2 + 1 = 3
    xxx + x _ _. = xxxx _ _. 3 + 1 = 4
    xxx + xx ._. = xxxxx ._. 3 + 2 = 5
    xxxxx + x _. = xxxxxx _. 5 + 1 = 6
    xxxxx + xx . = xxxxxxx _ 5 + 2 = 7
    xxxxx + xxx _= xxxxxxxx_ 5 + 3 = 8
    xxxxxxx + xx = xxxxxxxxx 7 + 2 = 9

    Of couse one could demonstrate sub, mul, div, etc. but the above is sufficient.

    Slashdot's lame-ass filtering is retarded for posting math, code, and alignment.

  • Re:Voyager discs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Comrade Ogilvy ( 1719488 ) on Thursday October 04, 2012 @01:44PM (#41551209)

    In particular, the pictures show very, very little about who this mysterious species that created the disk happens to be. I like the cave paintings, but who cares what a glacier looks like? Or a tornado? Or big waves? Or the inside of a mine/tunnel? How about showing a boat where you can actually see the people? Any space-faring race that finds Earth will have trillions of photographs of interesting geology in their libraries.

    Voyager was a sincere attempt to be testimony on the human species. This is just a testimony on the grandiose artistic pretensions of one specific human.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus