If you could ask an alien one question, what would it be? If you had the opportunity to send a message that represented all of humanity out into outer space in hopes of getting a response, what would you say? Last week, Russian gazillionaire Yuri Milner invested $100 million to help search for life in the universe and to make those opportunities for intergalactic conversations happen with The Breakthrough Initiatives.
The Breakthrough Initiatives is a series of multi-disciplinary projects with the common goal of discovering intelligent life out in the universe and has been endorsed by legendary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Some of the world’s top scientific minds are in on the 10-year project, including American astronomer Frank Drake and British astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees. So how does an artist from Houston fit into the picture?
"This is an opportunity to put our scientific and creative thoughts together." That’s Houston-based artist Dario Robleto; he’s the local right-brained figure who was invited by author Ann Druyan to join the Breakthrough Initiative. Druyan is heading up the "Breakthrough Message" portion of the project with the goal of creating digital messages that represent humanity and earth to send to our possible outer space friends zipping through the universe. Robleto became fascinated by space, other intelligent life and making contact after hearing Druyan's voice (he thought it was actually someone from outer space) on the Voyager's Golden Record, a recording of sounds representing life and culture on earth, which anyone in the world could listen to by calling a 1-800 number.
"The thing that gave me goosebumps in London," Robleto says about the conference hosted by Milner and Hawking, "was that everyone in the field thinks we’re just a decade or two away from confirming life in the universe."
Yuri Milner’s cool $100 million will open a window to the 100-closest galaxies, scanning the entire galactic plane and listening for messages with long-distance telescopes, including a 100-meter telescope based in Virginia. Essentially, this is a real life Contact, but without Jodie Foster screaming, "I’m okay to go!" over and over and over.
So, if we do happen to hear from intelligent life out there, what should we ask? How should we respond?
"I think the $100 million question is, 'What’s worthy of representing us?' I think you need minds from every discipline to think it through," says Robleto.
The artist doesn't know exactly what he'll be doing in the project or if he'll even end up being the person crafting and sending the message. However, he still thinks art needs to be included in the grand scheme of things.
"If we actually make contact with something, someone, out there, can you imagine the cultural effect? It’s a question of who we are, which is always a question we ask ourselves in art."