Voyager's Golden Record - Greetings from Earth to the Universe

The following is an interview with Ann Druyan, one of the creators of the 1977 Golden Record included on the two Voyager probes, and the love of Carl Sagan's life, the famous scientist, popularizer of science and activist for peace and the protection of our planet.

One of the things I find most fascinating about this record is the fact that those responsible for its production realized that they had to figure out a way to convey their message, should contact ever be made, in a way that would be intelligible to any alien intelligent civilization: mathematics.

Imagine wanting to communicate something to a civilization that speaks a different language, and having to communicate your message through technology that would be just as foreign to them as your language. How would you do it? Think about this one hard, because it's possible, though admittedly difficult.

The secret: teach the recipient civilization the language necessary to decode your message through basic graphic and mathematic incrementally sequential steps by placing these instructions on the surface of the apparatus itself. For instance, you can teach them how to count, and how to represent numbers from graphic to binary to regular numerals to physical patterns, like frequencies, and so on. If they can understand these basic commands, they'll be able not only to play the message but to get some feedback and test whether they have done so correctly. For a great account of the communication obstacles needed to overcome in order for this mission to be successful, and for all kinds of other fascinating ideas related to communication, check out How Real is Real?, by Paul Watzlawick. For a nice little flash tutorial about the Gold Record, click here.

I only recently learned about Druyan, and from that very limited exposure I can't help but feel she is an amazing human being, in the fullest sense of the word. In any case, the interview with Anne Druyan is a casual conversation that describes the romanticism behind the idea of the Golden Record, some of the material included and how Ann and Carl fell in love - a romantic story on its own right.



Click here to listen to another great interview with Druyan, when she appeared on the Point of Inquiry podcast on January of 2007.

For more information about the Voyager missions, and the Golden Record, in particular, visit Voyager: the Interstellar Mission.


Update:

NASA has just released the Voyager's Golden Record and made it available for your listening pleasure, and you don't even have to be an alien from another planet. :)

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