infotainment: LANGUAGE EXPERTS SPEAK TO THE FUTURE
|From:||Jonathan Chang <zhang2323@...>|
|Date:||Tuesday, June 13, 2000, 15:13|
from the Oakland Tribune, June 12, 2000:
LANGUAGE EXPERTS SPEAK TO THE FUTURE:
Researchers must invent universal communication
By Glenn Roberts, Jr., staff writer
Thousands of years from now, granite obelisks will stand above the desert
landscape of southeast New Mexico to warn visitors of radioactive toxins
buried nearly one-half mile deep.
An earthen berm, implanted with magnets, will mark the boundaries of the
toxic dump. Chambers with granite-slab walls, buried near the surface to
survive the millenia, will be engraved with warnings.
The messages will be written in seven languages, including English,
Chinese, Russian and Navajo. Pictographs will relate universal messages on
the dangers of radioactive and toxic wastes.
Pictographs, such as the symbols that represent pedestrian crossings and
no-smoking areas, transcend written language with simple visual cues.
Since the dawn of humankind, people have used pictures to relate
information and ideas. Cave paintings and spiral motifs carved on Stonehenge
monoliths are among the earlier examples.
The pictographs at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico will
include drawings that warn of the harm caused by digging and drilling at the
A panel of experts, including scientists, futurists and science-fiction
writers, developed the plan to make WIPP an unwelcome place when it is
retired in about 30 years.
Their task was to communicate to strangers - to convey clear messages to
all visitors who stumble upon the site within the next 10,000 years.
Researchers at the Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence Institute in
Mountainview[, CA] face a similar challenge in speaking to an unknown
audience using a universal language.
Doug Vakoch, a social scientist at the SETI Institute, is studying the
use of pictographs and other forms of universal communication to send
messages to others beings in the universe. "To me, the question is not 'Would
another civilization be smart enough to talk with us?' but, 'Can they be dumb
enough?' " Vakoch said.
Radio technology, which has been used to broadcast messages to space, is
only about 60 years old on Earth, he said, though it is possible that radio
is rather primitive to other civilizations in the universe.
One of the challenges in sending messges to space is to send messages
that show our sophistication rather than our ignorance, he said.
"If we're going to communicate with another civilization, we have to show
that we're an advanced civilization. The first impression could make a big
Perhaps the creation of a new language, based upon mathematics and
pictures, will help us to formulate messages, he said.
Frank Drake, president of the SETI Institute, in 1974 used a radio
telescope to send a binary message to the stars. The message was a pictograph
with a human figure, the planets in the solar system, and the double-helix
structure of DNA, the key to life on Earth.
In the 1800's, researchers theorized that people on Earth could
communicate their knowledge to beings on the moon and other planets by carving
a Pythagorean triangle in the forests of Siberia or igniting a circle of
flames in the Sahara desert.
These early concepts for communicating beyond our planet convey some of
the mathematical and scientific achievements of our day.