The origin of life is a pretty enormous mystery. There are several theories for how life might have come about, but it's difficult to design experiments to narrow down these options. In the meantime, researchers continue to look for clues and evidence for life that didn't originate on our planet. Here are just a few examples that could one day lead us in the right direction.
Ah, life imitating art (or art accidentally imitating life). Earlier this year, we had Rob Reid post an excerpt and discuss his new novel, Year Zero, concerning aliens listening to Earth music for free, without a license... and then realizing that they've been infringing our copyrights for years, and owe the record labels more money than exists in the galaxy. Funny story, right?
Except... as Joe Betsill points out, apparently at least EMI really was afraid that aliens might listen to music without a license. In the Wikipedia entry for the Beatles' famous song, "Here Comes the Sun" it notes the following bit of trivia:
Astronomer and science popularizer Carl Sagan had wanted the song to be included on the Voyager Golden Record, copies of which were attached to both spacecraft of the Voyager program to provide any entity that recovered them a representative sample of human civilization. Although The Beatles favoured the idea, EMI refused to release the rights and when the probes were launched in 1977 the song was not included.
Of course, just a few weeks ago, we also discussed Sagan and the Voyager Golden Record, in noting how the world is changing in that we no longer have to wait for the modern Carl Sagans to decide what gets sent into space any more. So, perhaps the story in Year Zero isn't so far-fetched after all...
Looking for extraterrestrial life has been a largely fruitless task for many decades. There have been a few times when people thought they might have found evidence of life that wasn't from Earth, but upon further analysis, those discoveries weren't so clear cut. Still, the search for ETs is on-going, and here are just a few links on some ways to find alien friends.
As mentioned earlier this week, at 12:30pm PT/3:30pm ET today, we're hosting a live video chat with Rob Reid, the author of Year Zero, our Techdirt Book Club book of the month for July. Rob will be joining me at our offices, and we'll be broadcasting the conversation via Google Hangouts on Air. We'll be posting the embed beneath this text, so it should stream live if you're reading this while the conversation is ongoing. If you're here afterwards, the video should be replayable below.
If you have any questions that you'd like to ask Rob during this conversation, please tweet with the hashtag #yearzero. We will be monitoring that tweetstream and will try to take some questions from the audience.
This is the first time that we're doing something like this via a video stream, rather than a text chat. Please bear with us in case there are technical difficulties. It is very much an experiment, but hopefully provides a worthwhile experience.
As we announced a few weeks ago, the July Techdirt Book Club book is Year Zero written by Rob Reid and which comes out today, published by Random House. Rob will be joining us in a few weeks to talk about writing a comic sci-fi novel about the mess that is copyright law... but in the meantime, he's provided the following excerpt, which is Chapter 1. There is a "prologue" before this, which you can read here, or you can just watch this video, which more or less covers the prologue info:
As part of this, Rob and Random House have agreed to do another give away, this time just for Techdirt readers, which will go to five commenters on this post, based on your voting scores on the comments. We'll give one copy of the book each to the highest ranked "funny" and "insightful" comments, and then the three highest total scores other than the top ranked (so either funny or insightful). There are a few conditions: you have to be in the US or Canada. I know this sucks for those of you not in those places, but there's nothing we can do about it. Also, to win, we obviously have to be able to contact you, which means (a) you need to be logged in when you comment, so we can email you and (b) you have to respond to our email informing you of your win within 24 hours of our email. Also, you can't win twice -- if you score the highest in multiple categories, you get a prize in one and the others will go to the runners-up. We'll keep the voting open until Wednesday night and then tally the votes. So, get to work with your funny/insightful comments...
CHAPTER ONE: ASTLEY
Even if she'd realized that my visitors were aliens who had come to our office to initiate contact
with humanity, Barbara Ann would have resented their timing. Assistants at our law firm clearout at five-thirty, regardless -- and that was almost a minute ago.
"I don't have anyone scheduled," I said, when she called to grouse about the late arrival. "Who is it?"
"I don't know, Nick. They weren't announced."
"You mean they just sort of . . . turned up at your desk?" I stifled a sneeze as I said this. I'd been fighting a beast of a cold all week.
This was odd. Reception is two key-card-protected floors above us, and no one gets through
unaccompanied, much less unannounced. "What do they look like?" I asked.
"Lady Gaga strange?" Carter, Geller & Marks has some weird-looking clients, and Gaga flirts with the outer fringe, when she's really gussied up.
"No--kind of stranger than that. In a way. I mean, they look like they're from . . . maybe a couple of cults."
From what? "Which ones?"
"One definitely looks Catholic," Barbara Ann said. "Like a . . . priestess? And the other one
looks . . . kind of Talibanny. You know -- robes and stuff?"
"And they won't say where they're from?"
"They can't. They're deaf."
I was about to ask her to maybe try miming some information out of them, but thought better of it. The day was technically over. And like most of her peers, Barbara Ann has a French postal worker's sense of divine entitlement when it comes to her hours. This results from there being just one junior assistant for every four junior lawyers, which makes them monopoly providers of answered phones, FedEx runs, and other secretarial essentials to some truly desperate customers. So as usual, I caved. "Okay, send 'em in."
The first one through the door had dark eyes and a bushy beard. He wore a white robe, a black turban, and a diver's watch the size of a small bagel. Apart from the watch, he looked like the Hollywood ideal of a fatwa-shrieking cleric -- until I noticed a shock of bright red hair protruding from under his turban. This made him look faintly Irish, so I silently christened him O'Sama. His partner was dressed like a nun -- although in a tight habit that betrayed the curves of a lap dancer. She had a gorgeous tan and bright blue eyes and was young enough to get carded anywhere.
O'Sama gazed at me with a sort of childlike amazement, while the sister kept it cool. She tried to catch his eye -- but he kept right on staring. So she tapped him on the shoulder, pointing at her head. At this, they both stuck their fingers under their headdresses to adjust something. "Now we can hear," the nun announced, straightening out a big, medieval-looking crucifix that hung around her neck.
This odd statement aside, I thought I knew what was happening. My birthday had passed a few days back without a call from any of my older brothers. It would be typical of them to forget -- but even more typical of them to pretend to forget, and then ambush me with a wildly inappropriate birthday greeting at my stodgy New York law office. So I figured I had about two seconds before O'Sama started beatboxing and the nun began to strip. Since you never know when some partner's going to barge through your door, I almost begged them to leave. But then I remembered that I was probably getting canned soon anyway. So why not gun for YouTube glory, and capture the fun on my cellphone?
As I considered this, the nun fixed me with a solemn gaze. "Mr. Carter. We are visitors from a distant star."
That settled it. "Then I better record this for NASA." I reached across the desk for my iPhone.
"Not a chance." She extended a finger and the phone leapt from the desk and darted toward her. Then it stopped abruptly, emitted a bright green flash, and collapsed into a glittering pile of dust on the floor.
"What the . . . ?" I basically talk for a living, but this was all I could manage.
"We're camera shy." The nun retracted her finger as if sheathing a weapon. "And as I mentioned, we‘re also visitors from a distant star."
I nodded mutely. That iPhone trick had made a believer out of me.
"And we want you to represent us," O'Sama added. "The reputation of Carter, Geller & Marks extends to the farthest reaches of the universe."
The absurdity of this flipped me right back to thinking "prank" -- albeit one featuring some awesome sleight of hand. "Then you know I'll sue your asses if I don't get my iPhone back within the next two parsecs," I growled, trying to suppress the wimpy, nasal edge
that my cold had injected into my voice. I had no idea what a parsec was, but remembered the term from Star Wars.
"Oh, up your nose with a rubber hose," the nun hissed. As I was puzzling over this odd phrase, she pointed at the dust pile on the floor. It glowed green again, then erupted into a tornado-like form, complete with thunderbolts and lightning. This rose a few feet off the ground before reconstituting itself into my phone, which then resettled gently onto my desk. That refuted the prank theory nicely -- putting me right back into the alien-believer camp.
"Thank you very kindly," I said, determined not to annoy Xena Warrior Fingers ever, ever again.
"Don't mention it. Anyway, as my colleague was saying, the reputation of Carter, Geller &
Marks extends to the farthest corner of the universe, and we'd like to retain your services."
Now that I was buying the space alien bit, this hit me in a very different way. The farthest corner of the universe is a long way for fame to travel, even for assholes like us. I mean, global fame, sure -- to the extent that law firms specializing in copyright and patents actually get famous. We're the ones who almost got a country booted from the UN over its lax enforcement of DVD copyrights. We're even more renowned for our many jihads against the Internet. And we're downright notorious for virtually shutting down American automobile production over a patent claim that was simply preposterous. So yes, Earthly fame I was aware of. But I couldn't imagine why they'd be hearing about us way out on Zørkan 5, or wherever these two were from.
"So, what area of the law do you need help in?" I asked in a relaxed, almost bored tone. Feigning calm believably is a survival tactic that I perfected as the youngest of four boys (or of seven, if you count our cousins, who lived three doors down. I sure did). It made me boring to pick on -- and useless as a prank victim, because I'd treat the damnedest events and circumstances as being
mundane, and entirely expected. It had also helped me immensely as a lawyer (although by itself, it had not been enough to make me a successful one).
Sister Venus gave me a cagey look. "It's sort of . . . an intellectual property thing."
Okay, I know it was just two days ago that we announced the Techdirt Book Club book for June (and, a reminder that tomorrow at 1pm PT/4pm ET, we'll be holding a Q&A with Patricia Aufderheide for the Techdirt Book Club book for May), but today we're "pre-announcing" the Techdirt Book Club book for July. And that's because if you want to get a free hard copy of the book, you can enter a giveaway starting today. You may remember, a few months back, Rob Reid (founder of Listen.com, among other things) got plenty of attention for his rather humorous talk about copyright math. And, earlier this week, we wrote about his op-ed for the WSJ concerning ways to compete with "free."
But none of that compares to Year Zero, Reid's new novel, which is being released on July 10th. It's all about aliens who go bankrupt after they realize they owe the record labels more money than exists in the universe, because they got hooked on our music, and shared that music with other aliens. Rob has released a video trailer as a teaser for the book, which is quite amusing:
I've had a chance to read the book, and I can say that it's awesome. Think Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but with copyright law driving a major plot line. A mainstream humorous sci-fi novel that uses the Berne Convention as a key plot point and tosses aside casual references to Larry Lessig and Fark? Yes. Count me in. And, unlike most novels that bring up copyright, this one gets the legal issues mostly right (there is one point where trademark and copyright get confused, but it's so minor, you'll let it slip).
Anyway, as we said, this will be the Book Club book for July, and we'll be doing some fun things with Rob to have him engage with everyone here—but, if you're lucky, there's a chance for you to get a physical copy of the book delivered a month before it's actually released. Rob has the details on his blog, but basically you have to let him know (via a comment on his blog, a tweet or a Facebook comment) what song you'd like to beam to the aliens. Thirty winners -- ten from the comments, ten from Twitter and ten from Facebook (though you can enter all three) -- will be chosen at random to get books. So, go ahead and beam some songs to aliens. And just hope the RIAA doesn't claim that you're "inducing" infringement by doing so...
Just about every science fiction story that involves aliens has to come up with some way for different languages to be translated and understood. Babel Fish, C3PO and Star Trek's "universal translator" all served this purpose. But, it would be revolutionary for technology just to translate between different human languages. Here are some quick links on the topic of communication research.
The search for intelligent life somewhere else in the universe hasn't turned up any positive results so far. But the universe is a big place -- and we haven't really been looking for that long. Here are some quick links on some projects that could help identify ETs.