View Full Version : Communicating Across the Cosmos 4: The Quest for a Rosetta Stone

2014-Dec-01, 02:50 PM
On television and in the movies, it’s so easy. Aliens almost always speak English (at least in America they do). If it’s explained at all, we are typically told that they learned it by intercepting communications with our astronauts, or tapping into our television broadcasts. A universal translator device instantly abolishes communication difficulties. Hollywood aliens […]

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Mark Sloan
2014-Dec-02, 07:28 AM
Looking over the abstracts of talks at the ‘Communicating across the Cosmos’ SETI conference, I don’t see that cooperation strategies were mentioned as part of the cross-species universal knowledge data base (as an aid to alien language translation).

Perhaps it would be interesting to investigate that idea.

There are two reasons I expect knowledge of cooperation strategies such as direct and indirect reciprocity are commonly cross-species universal. First, it seems likely any intelligent aliens will have evolved with a strong interest in how to increase the benefits of cooperation. (The benefits of cooperation made us the highly cooperative, social, and arguably ‘overly’ intelligent species we are.) Second, these strategies are a direct output of game theory. They are winning strategies in a certain class of iterated-multiple-player prisoner's dilemma problems that require cooperation in order to ‘win’. So any species that understands the relatively basic math of game theory is likely to have looked for means to overcome cooperation dilemmas.

But how could one start with simple mathematics and, only by species independent means, communicate what ‘indirect reciprocity’ means? I have no idea, but perhaps others might. To me, the first step in constructing a species independent Rosetta stone is identifying cross-species universal knowledge.

Just FYI, the strategy indirect reciprocity is what we are advocating when we say “Do to others as you would have them do to you”.

If we could represent indirect reciprocity in ways that an alien reader would recognize as talking about indirect reciprocity (which I argue would be a familiar concept), the ‘prize’ would be a quick and important start on important vocabulary. Such as needed to discuss cooperation and competition, social obligations, who deserves to be treated fairly, and the like.