Click to viewWelcome back to MangoBot, a biweekly column about Asian futurism by TokyoMango blogger Lisa Katayama. I've been thinking about extraterrestrials a lot this week. Do they exist? How will we know? Who will they call if they decide to make contact with us, and through what medium? First off, nobody knows if extraterrestrials really exist. Organizations like SETI are banking on the high possibility that they do, but to date there is no concrete evidence to prove or disprove this. For the purposes of contemplation, though, let's just assume they do. If aliens decide to make contact with Earthlings, they'll probably want to contact the Japanese using prime numbers and laser pulses. Call me biased (I was born and raised in Japan), but I think there is a really good possibility that this will be the case (and so does the guy who writes alien messages for SETI). And I don't just think this because I spent my childhood watching reenactments of UFO sightings on Japanese TV while eating fried noodles out of a giant UFO-shaped bowl aptly named "UFO Yakisoba."
Here are five reasons why aliens might reach out to humankind via the islands of Japan first:
1. The Japanese are ready to greet them. Part of Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba's national security strategy includes musings about how we'd respond to an alien attack under a pacifist constitution. Late last year, he told the press:
If they descended, saying 'People on Earth, let's make friends,' it would not be considered an unjust attack on our country. And there is another issue of how can we convey our intentions if we don't understand what they are saying. We should consider various possibilities.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura has also stated his firm belief that extraterrestrials do exist. The Japanese government has detailed official guidelines on what to do if we do indeed come in contact with extraterrestrials.
You could make the counterargument that the Japanese government's heightened fear of alien attacks may deter extraterrestrials from landing there, I actually think that aliens will feel more at ease knowing that the Japanese are at least aware of and ready for their arrival. What's the fun in arriving at a party where nobody knows who you are?
2. We emailed them. In 1983, Japanese astronomers sent a radio message to Altair-a solar system 16 light years away-with 13 binary-encoded images 71 by 71 pixels each showing some basic facts about us, like where our planet is located, what humans look like, the structure of DNA, and the basic chemistry of life on earth. If someone on Altair had received this message, then we can expect a reply as early as 2015.
"When constructing a message to extraterrestrials, it's important that we make it a message that represents the diversity of human cultures," says Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at SETI. "It makes sense to start with science because ET doesn't speak English or Japanese or Swahili, but I'm going to be very disappointed if the only thing we hear from ET is that 2+2=4. I want to know what they think is important in their world."
Messages sent to aliens-including the 1983 Japanese one-are written in prime numbers because it's a concept that intelligent species universally understand. A similar message was sent in 1974 from the world's largest radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, but this one was sent to a cluster of stars 25,000 light years away. We won't be hearing back from those aliens for a while. But the Altair-bound message holds promise to return within our lifetimes.
3. Japan has one of the only observatories that is actively seeking optical frequencies from outer space. Most observatories search only for radio frequencies. Even after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Charles Townes suggested looking for brief laser pulses for alien detection in the sixties, people ruled it out because it was too expensive and energy-consuming. Nishiharima is the only place that's currently scanning the skies for nanosecond-level pulses in the air waves. "I think it's very reasonable that the first detection of life beyond earth could happen in Japan," says Vakoch. "Brief pulses are like morse code. You can send an enormous amount of information very quickly. If someone could text message ET, it'll be Nishiharima. That assumes, of course, that we can decode what they were trying to say."
4. Japan will soon have AIs that match alien intelligence. Aliens are supposedly infinitely more advanced and brainy than humans are, so the most likely scenario is that, when they get here, they'll want to talk to AIs. Since the Japanese have already figured out how to navigate virtual worlds with brain power and have robots assisting humans in everyday life, it would surprise nobody if aliens showed up there first.
5. North Korea knows things the rest of us don't. North Korea is rumored to have recently released a statement claiming that their nuclear reactor has the dual capability of communicating wirelessly with alien species up to 1,000 light years away in real time. Of course, we can't believe everything that the North Korean government says, but seriously, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were already communicating with other planets. If that's the case, it should be relatively easy for Japan, a neighboring country, to intercept their signals with laser pulses and let the world know definitively what Kim Jong Il has known for decades-that there is life beyond Earth.
Images: LabyrinthX via Flickr, Darren Hester via Flickr, Sankei, and Nishiharima Astronomical Observatory