Earth Speaks

Douglas Vakoch

Earth Speaks is an online project led by Douglas Vakoch to collect messages from people around the world, representing what they would want to say to intelligent life beyond Earth: In addition to focusing on the content of messages that might be sent to extraterrestrial intelligence, the exhibit at AbsoluteZERO will emphasize the complex interplay of art, science, and ethics as participants grapple with questions central to Earth Speaks, such as

- “Should the usual standards of anonymity of research participants be abandoned if people want to talk about themselves in their messages?”
- “Even after we’ve decided what we want to say, how should we say it?”
- “In what way is creating messages to extraterrestrials artistic? In what way is it scientific?”

Earth Speaks–La Tierra Habla. Image courtesy Everett Taasevigen

As the SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array begins a new phase of research with its galactic plane survey, the chances of detecting a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization increases considerably. If we do detect an extraterrestrial civilization, one of the most pressing issues facing humankind will be “Should we reply, and if so, what should we say?” For many years, the SETI Institute has engaged scholars from a range of disciplines in addressing this issue, through a series of workshops organized by the grant proposer that broadly examined the cultural aspects of SETI, as well as through international workshops and conference symposia more narrowly focused in interstellar messages. None of those venues, however, solicited broad-based input from the global community, although it is often noted that a reply from Earth should be sent on behalf of all of humankind.

Commissioned by ZER01 for the 3rd 01SJ Biennial, and presented with the support of the James Irvine Foundation.