Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Test of your Ingenuity.

Here’s an interesting test for you.
You are the “space traffic controller” for a space port on the third planet of Mu Pegasi.  There is an incoming space craft ready to land, but there is a problem.
All the flight crew and human passengers were killed or rendered unconscious by a leak of cyanogen gas.  But that just happens to be what the alien trade and scientific delegation that the ship is bringing to Mu Pegasi breathe on their planet, so they are all fully conscious.  The ship is heading straight at the space port out of control and will slam into port, killing perhaps thousands of people and aliens.  The ship can be put into automatic landing mode with the simple push of a button, the large red one on the LEFT side of the control panel.  But the large red one on the RIGHT side of the panel will lock the ship on its current trajectory.
The problem, is that the aliens have a very minimal grasp of our language and we have an even less grasp of theirs.  We have to tell them to push the left button, but they have no idea what the terms left and right, clockwise and counterclockwise or up and down mean.  How do you explain to them which button to push?
Unfortunately, these aliens are bilaterally symmetric, like us humans, meaning they have near mirror image left and right hand sides so we can tell them to turn toward the side with five appendages or away from the side with three tentacles.  We know nothing of their internal biological structure so we can’t tell them to turn towards the side their heart is on (that would work for us humans).  We can’t send any photos or anything like that as they have no idea how to use our computers. 
We can only use words.  And simple ones at that.  How do you save your life and that of thousands of others?
The alien contingent contains the scientists and their understanding of the world is comparable to our own.  And prior to our face to face contact, we have established some simple common dialogue of a scientific nature.  We can exchange scientific language at a roughly sixth grade level.
How do you differentiate left and right for a being who has no understanding of those concepts?
How do you direct the alien to the correct button?

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