Lets assume that intelligent extraterrestrials visited earth and gave a human a gift of allowing him/her to ask one question and just one. These beings come from far away, humans can't see their ships and don't know they exist and that they are already here.

You know this because you are the human that randomly was selected to receive that gift, you will not be able to see them nor hear their voices you can only write your question and they will look at it from the sky, you can leave it on an outdoor space, laying on the street. They will answer sending you a letter by mail.

The first condition is that you can only ask questions about them, the second condition is that you can't ask questions about the universe or how they got here or what are their intentions. You are allowed to ask about them and only them, the third condition is that you can't tell anyone about this and that you have one hour to ask. if any of these conditions are not met they wont answer you back.

The interesting part is that they will judge human kind with your question, that's why they chose a random average human, if your question makes sense for them they might make themselves appear so that all the world can see and know they do exist. They will always know if you are asking a question because you really want to know or just because you want to make the human kind seem better to them, so keep the answer true to yourself, something that you really want to know about them.

What would your question be and why?

I made this scenario because I wanted to know how many people would ask for help and how many would complicate a simple question.

  • $\begingroup$ What did the aliens do to convince me that they exist and are really aliens? How did they communicate those conditions? The lack of interaction makes most questions beyond "Do you eat people?" or "Do you practice slavery?" type irrelevant. That wall of text probably should have paragraph breaks. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 15 '15 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ That's why it starts with "Lets assume" $\endgroup$ – adrian May 15 '15 at 10:46
  • $\begingroup$ Will they grant you an answer to any question? (Thinking about something like "Please describe in high detail the exact process in which we could ask you two more questions on the same conditions as before.") $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 15 '15 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, is it possible to make assumptions? For example "Suppose that I have a machine that reads a string, splits it by question marks, interprets each part as a question as you would have done and then answers it truthfully. What would be the response of the machine to the following string: <and here a looong list of actual questions>" $\endgroup$ – dtldarek May 15 '15 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ "What is the last decimal place of pi?" $\endgroup$ – user6760 May 15 '15 at 14:22

"What could possibly make you think this is a good way to judge a species?"

Because really, coming all the way here to ask a single, random person to come up with a question in under an hour is really a waste of resources and a huge gamble to get anything useful out it.

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    $\begingroup$ You're absolutely right, but this also doesn't answer the OP's question. If you don't think an answer is possible, you should vote to close instead. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is an okay answer to OP's question. $\endgroup$ – palako May 15 '15 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ You mean to ask this to the aliens or to comment that this is a silly scenario? $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Both. It's a very silly scenario, but if I were to end up in it, I would definately ask for clarification on what made them think this approach was a good idea. $\endgroup$ – Erik May 15 '15 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik Then I'll retract the downvote. I didn't think this was meant to be a serious answer. Edit: I can't retract the downvote. : / $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 12:42

"How do I construct/instantiate the piece of technology/knowledge that you have which you believe would be most beneficial to humanity"

Why? Their answer is likely to be useful even this is the only interaction you ever have with them, is likely to tell you a lot about their value structure and is likely to tell you something about their tech level.

  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily. What if they provide us instructions by which to use to produce a solar panel? Technically that may be the most beneficial technology to use right now, yet we have other reasons why we don't use it. It also wouldn't necessarily provide any information about their tech level. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Neil I agree to an extent but if they also know those reasons then they would know the constraints put limits on the usefulness of the item. anyway. I'm willing to take that risk. If someone from the 1500's had asked me that question and I answered honestly I don't think I'd have given them a diagram of a plough even if it's really useful to them. There's just too many other things that I can think of that would have been more useful to them. $\endgroup$ – Murphy May 15 '15 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly, though if you truly wanted to help someone from the 1500s, you wouldn't show them how to build a telephone but rather you'd share with them better argicultural techniques, most of which might already be known, but simply not applied because most farmers were too poor. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ If I was benevolent and interpreting "technology" liberally, personally I'd probably send back a how-to on smallpox vaccines(cowpox pus) as it's the highest utility thing available at their tech level I can think of worth hundreds of millions of lives. I can imagine someone from 2500 having something similar that they could think of. $\endgroup$ – Murphy May 15 '15 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ So the world's population would grow faster before we have the capacity to feed all these people. I don't know if that is necessarily better. We may have inadvertently created a global illness that is even more efficient than smallpox or cowpox without the capacity to deal with it. It's difficult for us to know what would have been best, and we know our history. How difficult would it be for an alien species to do when they don't know our future? $\endgroup$ – Neil May 15 '15 at 13:09

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