Warren Ellis just posted a piece about the interstellar advertisement that Doritos beamed off into space yesterday.
Given the choice, how would you prefer to announce the presence of your species in local space? Imagine all the ways you could describe the emergence of a digital-age society on this planet. All the ways you could explain our species and our environment and biosphere, and explain that, no, we’re not perfect, we’re still fighting, we still haven’t resolved our relationship with nature, there are still hungry people and sick people. But we’re trying, and in some places we’re winning, and although we can’t reach you, we could really use a friend. All the ways in which you could hope to open up a conversation with the Other, wherever it may lie.
Because, yes, on the morning of June 12 2008, the EISCAT high-powered space transmitter station on Svalbard used its array of radars to beam a Doritos ad at a solar system 42 light years from here.
The piece goes on from there to question what the hell is wrong with us when it comes to the amount and type of interstellar noise we’re making.
That got me thinking back to Will Wright’s speech at the 2006 GDC. Where he basically rambled for two hours about the ground work design of Spore and how he had piles of money to blow on his own bizarre obsessions that only tangentially tied into the game.
One of those obsessions was why the hell we were alone in the galaxy. Mathematically we shouldn’t be the only noisy lifeforms out there. So he took EA’s checkbook, went to NASA and some xenobiologists and told them to build him a predictive model of life in the galaxy. What they handed him back was a visual modeling tool that I would stab a nun to get my hands on.
Here’s some footage of it in action. He’s using an eye-dropper like tool to deposit life at various points in this galactic model.
After the basic life demo, he goes even further to tweak the settings for intelligent life. Because, as that video shows, a single intelligent life form should be able to overrun the entire galaxy. Obviously that wasn’t the case. They started to factor in other civilization killing variables like war, disease, natural disaster and evolutionary changes into the intelligent life model. What they got was something that I can only call a bloom pattern .
It is the same spinning galactic model that you see above, with the same colored dots representing life. But, in the enhanced intelligent life model, the colored areas would appear, bloom out like a flower into the areas around their origin, then wither back down to a fraction of their former size, and then disappear entirely. Across the galaxy there were maybe a half dozen of these clumps of life at a time. All going through the same process. Over the course of the 100 million year or so simulation there were thousands of interstellar life forms, but never that many all at once. And out of that thousand, less than thirty actually came in contact with another sentient life form.
According to Wright’s modeling program, the galaxy never teams with sentient life, but it is out there. The main thing keeping us from finding it is the sheer volume of space between us and the time required to travel that space. The galaxy is just too damn big and sentient life doesn’t seem to last that long.