Contest: An Alien Message


You’re not certain that aliens are real. Even after receiving that email from your friend who works at NASA, with the subject line “What do you make of this?” and a single binary file attached, you’re still not certain. It’s rather unlikely that aliens would be near enough to Earth to make contact with humanity, and unlikelier still that of all the humans on Earth, you would end up being the one tasked with deciphering their message. You are a professional cryptanalyst, but there are many of those in the world. On the other hand, it’s already been months since April Fools, and your friend isn’t really the prankster type.

You sigh and download the file.


No need to use spoiler text in the comments: This is a collaborative contest, where working together is encouraged. (The contest is between all of you and the difficulty of the problem.)

Success criteria: The people of LessWrong will be victorious if they can fully describe the process that generated the message, ideally by presenting a short program that generates the message, but a sufficiently precise verbal description is fine too.

The timeframe of the contest is about 2 weeks. The code that generated the message will be revealed on Tuesday July 12.

Why is this interesting?

This contest is, of course, based on That Alien Message. Recently there was some discussion under I No Longer Believe Intelligence to be “Magical” about how realistic that scenario actually was. Not the part where the entire universe was a simulation by aliens, but the part where humanity was able to figure out the physics of the universe 1 layer up by just looking at a few frames of video. Sure it may be child’s play for Solomonoff Induction, but do bounded agents really stand a chance? This contest should provide some experimental evidence.