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Earth Barcoded For Alien Convenience

This story is a bit different, so bear with me. It starts with the Hello World Project that Bernd Hopfengärtner was working on this past summer. He spent a considerable amount of time cutting a semacode into a wheat field just outside of Ilmenau in Germany.


(Hello World Project semacode)

A "semacode" is a special kind of a barcode, a two-dimensional barcode that is a computer-generated visual tag. It has been used for ubiquitous computing projects; semacode takes an URL (a web address) and converts it into a graphic that can be read with a suitably-equipped picture phone. You see the semacode pasted to a real world object, take a picture with your phone, the software decodes the semacode image and voila you go to the URL on your web-enabled phone. For example, you could put a semacode tag on a lamppost outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that encoded "http://www.whitehouse.gov."

So now Bernd has tagged the Earth with a semacode that reads "Hello World." His semacode is 170 meters by 170 meters, and consists of an 18x18 grid of light and dark squares. He assumes that people will use Google Earth to read it.


(Hello World Project semacode close-up)

Apparently, he doesn't realize that, since this object can be seen from space, it "tags" the Earth for visiting aliens in the same way that streetcorners or other objects can be tagged for people.

It just so happens that the idea of somehow creating codes or symbols that are large enough to be read from space by aliens is an idea that is more than a century old. In his 1867 novel From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne wrote about a way to communicate with the inhabitants of the Moon:

I am bound to add that some practical geniuses have attempted to establish actual communication with her. Thus, a few days ago, a German geometrician proposed to send a scientific expedition to the steppes of Siberia. There, on those vast plains, they were to describe enormous geometric figures, drawn in characters of reflecting luminosity...
(Read more about Verne's way to communicate with aliens)

Update: Remember the famous images on the plain of Nazca?

Read more about Hello World and semacodes, via pasta&vinegar.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/7/2006)

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