From time to time I get a “bug” to look into the past history of software and the UFO things that come up in the history of software. Now don’t get me wrong, I really do not believe in UFOs visiting us secretly, after all if they were going come all that way, why not tell everyone?
In 1952, Lancelot Hogben, a respected British Mathematician delivered an address before the British Interplanetary Society titled: “Astraglossa or First Steps in Celestial Syntax”, here is where the “number” was pointed out as the most universal concept for establishing communications between intelligent beings.
Well numbers and computers go together so thinking about UFOs has been part of the software business during the formative years of 1955 to 1965, the creator of LISP as well as others were concerned about how would humans be able to communicate with space aliens if they showed up.
For instance, the US National Security Agency posted an a discussion in their technical journal that referenced a possible extraterrestrial communications which is found openly on their site at, and at first read appears to be directly about communications from outside of our Earthly sphere:
There is no discussion of the source of the signal, and there is NOT a statement that the statement was from space aliens, rather the signal was from an extraterrestrial source, unexplained in the article Frankly, I think it was noise, but how would I prove that? How would you prove that the signal was noise? (Think discrete math, this is one of the uses of Discrete math). But a little extra digging into the NSA archives reveals that H. Campaigne was one of the early designers of the NSA computer systems and that the document was part of a series of 29 thought documents for the NSA workers. Well too bad. organizations like CUFON jumped on the one document, as for a freedom of information (FOIA) release and got the other documents (which are a cleaner duplications), so from the FOIA, we see that the “communications” were just part of an interesting thought experiment from page 20 of the link:
However, this is one of the better discussions of why set theory is important to communications and software design! So take a look at it, page 20 is where the article starts.
If you think about what the NSA journal entry is saying, not about the extraterrestrial communications, but rather the technology and thinking behind how to tell if a signal contains intelligence? Set Theory? And so forth.
So how would you start to determine if the signal contained intelligence? One of the tools for software is to detect if there is intelligence in a signal. In some writings and disciplines this is called Signal Entropy which is: measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal, so lower is better. Signal entropy is a part of information theory.
Another item that came out from the heyday of software investigation of UFOs was the language LINCOS, and in this case it was a language, not a computer software language. Later a computer software tool (again not a language) was created to generate the signal to send into outer space.
And the language generator itself can be found as an open source project at:
Apparently the Russians did use this tool and sent off a message in 1999. To find out more about the Russian signal see:
Interestingly the goal of CosmicOS is:
“The current goal of development work on CosmicOS is to communicate enough structure to simulate a simple MUD (multi-user dungeon) and to use the interactions between locations, objects, and characters as an alternative to the clever "morality plays" in Lincos.”
Really, humans would transmit a MUD to the universe at large so that the Aliens would learn about the human civilization through a game. Just what would that look like? Seems very complicated to do so. My mind buzzes at the thought of what that MUD would look like.
Take a look at the code used to generate the signal, at this time the COSMICOS only generates the signal that would be transmitted to the universe at large.
On the other hand, think about it, what would the MUD look like? How would you generate a communication language that a culture that knows nothing about you could use to participate in the MUD? How could you make that into a career that people would actually pay for your work?
Instead of a Moat in God’s Eye, a book by Larry Niven, we would have: MUD in God’s Eye, created by YOU!
Finally, I still don’t believe in this space aliens, but thinking about the MUD and communications part is fun! And after all it’s Funday Sunday!