I don’t think the S.E.T.I. (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program will actually get anywhere.

That isn’t to say that I don’t like the idea; I do.  If I were in charge of anything they would continue to get funding to do whatever it is they’re doing.  Some people will probably roll their eyes at the idea of wasting money but there’s a long list of programs I consider to be a bigger waste of money.

It isn’t that I don’t think there isn’t intelligent life somewhere out in the cosmos.  I don’t know if there is, but I have no reason to believe there isn’t.

Let’s digress for a moment.

Fifty years ago, the year was 1959.  In 1959 requested a patent for the integrated circut.  Rawhide, Bonanza, and The Twilight Zone appeared on television.  Radio was still in swing.  There were no cell phones, or home computers.  Commercial airplane travel had only been around for 30 some-odd years. 

One hundred years ago it was 1909.  The movie industry was just getting into gear, with no sound.  Okay, well, let’s be blunt: there wasn’t much in the way of technology.

Five hundred years ago it was 1509.  One thousand years ago the year was 909. 

Can we go over all the changes in the human life between 909 and now?  Can anyone really  say what the 3009 will be like (aside from Futurama)?  Probably not.  I’m pretty sure that if you told someone from 1959 about today’s iPhones or Blackberries they’d think you were writing a Dick Tracy comic.

Let’s get back to SETI for a moment.  Let’s assume that there is a planet out there with intelligent life.  We’ll figure they’re kind of like us.  The only real question is that of time.

Where are these E.T.’s in relation to us in terms of development?

In the unlikely event that we evolved at the same time, at the same pace, and they had the same stuff that we did, then SETI might have a chance of picking up something.  That’s assuming they’re close by.  If they were circling Epsilon Eridani, it would only take ten years for radio transmissions to get there.  That would be plenty of time for someone there to find the transmission and get excited about it.

That’s assuming they’re like us.  If there’s any deviance from there then things would get very sticky, indeed.

Let’s be frank, here.  It hasn’t taken very long for radio and TV to become obsolete.  It’s not entirely there yet, but it will happen.  Signals are being sent over cable more than they are over the air.  If someone isn’t ready to listen over the span of, say, 100 years then they may not get anything from us at all.  In terms of geology and evolution, 100 years is less than a blink.

If this other civilization started after us, maybe 100 years, then they may not even progress to the technological level of being able to listen for us until after we’ve stopped broadcasting and started watching TV full time on computers, or DVR’s, or web-enabled TV’s.

Or maybe they started 100 years before us.  Then what?  Maybe they’re already using nothing but cable to watch “Glork & Mandy.”  Maybe they never thought of broadcasting and they started off with a tin can strung to every household.

The time difference alone is enough of a hurdle to make finding a signal from another civilization to be a major stroke of luck.

Another thought that occurred to me is if a civilization isn’t actively trying to signal their existence to the rest of the cosmos how would the information be broadcast?  Would it be encrypted or compressed?

Some people might wonder why an alien civilization would encrypt or compress all their transmissions.  I brought it up before, but we have no idea how a group of aliens would do anything.  We have absolutely no idea of how their mental processes work or their motives or anything else. 

That’s another hurdle.  We might be looking for something that’s important to us only to be missing something that’s important to them