March 21, 2001
Hello? Is Anybody Out There?
Sebastopol, CA--"It is widely believed that this century will see the
discovery of life elsewhere in the universe. But what about 'intelligence'? And
if we do contact extraterrestrials, will any meaningful communication be
possible?" Sir Arthur C. Clarke's contemplation most concisely articulates a
question that has enthralled human kind for many decades and has spawned
programs like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) as a tool to
seek and find a definitive answer. In the book
Beyond Contact: A Guide to
SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations, (O'Reilly, US $24.95)
author Brian McConnell explores in-depth the search for intelligent life in
the universe and how inter-stellar communication could work.
Many people have argued that once primitive life has evolved, natural
will inevitably cause it to advance toward intelligence and technology. For
forty years now, SETI has combed the skies in search of signals from such life.
"There is nothing in the laws of physics that forbids the formation of life on
other planets," McConnell says. "One of the most important things we've learned
in the 20th century was that if something wasn't forbidden, it was probably
happening somewhere. Black holes, once thought to be a fantasy, are a good
example. Just because something is weird and difficult for us to comprehend,
doesn't mean it's not possible."
McConnell continues, "If SETI does succeed, which could happen next week or a
century from now, we may be exposed to information from extraterrestrial
civilizations. What we may learn from this, or how this would affect our own
civilization, is anyone's guess. Being prepared and knowing what types of
communication will be possible, is a good place to start."
Beyond Contact introduces readers to:
The history of SETI research, traditional radio astronomy, the search for
intelligence in optical wavelengths (known as Optical SETI, or OSETI), and the
An overview of the Drake Equation and the Rare Earth Hypothesis, which
scientists use to estimate the number of planets in our galaxy that could
harbor intelligent, communicative life forms
How signals are sent and received over interstellar distances. The author
explains the principles of signal and image processing, and how SETI
researchers identify and process analog signals using Fourier transforms to see
how the power in a signal is distributed across different frequencies
How to build a general-purpose symbolic language for sending signals, and
even computer programs, with present-day SETI equipment.
The author also shows how SETI research-though often thought to be a mere
flight of fancy-has spawned technological improvements in astronomy, computers,
and wireless communications.
"The book does not speculate about when we will detect a signal, or what we
would learn from another civilization," McConnell says. "What the book does is
describe systems for communication, all of which are derived from technology
that is already in use today." And with over 2.8 million public participants and
extensive funding, SETI is a pretty good start.
Advance Praise for Beyond Contact:
"This fascinating book explores all the possible lines of approach to a
challenge, upon whose outcome may one day depend the future of our own
--Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of "2001: A Space Odyssey"
"Beyond Contact summaries well what is the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence. I recommend it for anyone as an entry level book on the
--Stephane Dumas, Physicist
"A thoughtful and beautifully detailed treatise on the search for
extraterrestrial civilizations. If you are an earthling or extraterrestrial
wondering 'Is anybody out there?,' read this book."
--Dan Wertheimer, chief scientist, SETI@home, University of California,
"A refreshingly even-handed treatment of one of the greatest puzzles of our
age, the question of our apparent loneliness in the universe."
--David Brin, author of "The Postman," "Earth," and
"The Transparent Society"
"My colleagues and I at JPL are working on an interplanetary Internet. Brian
McConnell takes the next step towards interstellar communication. If you ever
wondered whether it REALLY would be possible to communicate with
extraterrestrials, read this book."
--Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer and visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion
"In 'Beyond Contact,' the author goes beyond simple bit streams,
showing a sophisticated programming environment designed to be transmitted to
an alien civilization. It is the most creative and useful transmission suggestion
I have ever seen. The author's explanation on its own is appropriate for
astronomy, computer programming, and linguistics."
--Charlie Schick, science writer/editor
"The most exciting and comprehensive practical SETI book in a generation. Brian
McConnell's book will enthrall a new generation of SETI enthusiasts. 'Beyond
Contact' will surely inspire others to mount their own SETI research."
--Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley, director, Columbus Optical SETI Observatory
"Remarkably fresh ideas on how to achieve contact. Wide-ranging, engrossing,
enjoyable. This book is definitely a winner!"
--Dr. Allen Tough, coordinator of the Web-based "Invitation to ETI"
"This thought provoking book ventures boldly where I fear to tread."
--Kent Cullers, Signal Detection Team Leader, Director for SETI Research and
Development, SETI Institute
(Laser) Communication, and Chapter 12,
DNA, are available free online.
An article by Brian McConnell, "Anticryptography: The
Next Frontier in Computer Science."
An article about
David Anderson of SETI@Home.
about the book, including Table of Contents, index, author bio, and
graphic in jpeg format.
More information about SETI can also be found at the
Online site, and at SETI@home.
For more information or to subscribe to the O'Reilly elists, go to:
A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations
By Brian McConnell
ISBN 0-596-000375, 424 pages, $24.95 (US)
O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption by amplifying "faint signals" from the alpha geeks who are creating the future. An active participant in the technology community, the company has a long history of advocacy, meme-making, and evangelism.
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