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When there are spaceships in our solar system, we receive data in intervals, depending on how far they are. Problem is, internet has to be faster. In an intergalactic union, how would a person play the newest MMO in Andromeda, or follow live updates from the newest beauty pageant?

So my question is, how would interstellar communication via the internet (or other means) work?

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    $\begingroup$ We would just need to find aliens that like pictures of cute cats and we would be all set. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Dec 3 '14 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ Ah...Comcast in space. Sounds...terrible. $\endgroup$ – Paul Draper Feb 6 '15 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ That's quantum entanglement which can only be used to send random information. $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Aug 10 '15 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ As for MMO, I wish someone wrote one where you teach an AI on your own desktop/console, then let it fight online with other such AIs, then watch the record of the match. $\endgroup$ – Dallaylaen Nov 8 '15 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that high-action online gaming is already regarded as mostly unplayable simply going from one side of the Earth to another. That distance is considerably less than anything we're talking about here. $\endgroup$ – GrandOpener Nov 11 '15 at 21:59

12 Answers 12

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In a hard science fiction universe, information can't travel faster than the speed of light. Sorry, but unless you want to change the laws of physics, there is no way around this. *

So your Ping-time to another planet in the same solar-system would be between minutes and hours, to the closest other solar-system would be years, to the other end of the galaxy would be 200.000 years and your ping to the Andromeda galaxy would be 5 million years. So any action-oriented multiplayer gaming will likely be confined to the planet you are on. The only games which might be feasible on an interplanetary scale are turn-based games which are still enjoyable when you need to wait a while until you receive the turn of the other player (like chess). On an interstellar scale, any multiplayer games would be hard to finish within your natural lifespan.

There is no technical reason why most internet protocols couldn't work with such high latencies. The systems would just need to be reconfigured to allow much larger timespans before having a timeout.

Some protocols require several round-trips before data can be exchanged. The high latency time would make these infeasible. A TCP handshake with a system 10 light-years away would take 30 years, and then another 10 years before the first data from the server arrives. When you want to use TLS encryption (you likely want to, because it would be difficult to physically protect an interplanetary transmission from eavesdropping), even more roundtrips are required.

That means stateless protocols like UDP which don't require handshaking would be more suitable for interstellar networking. To enable encryption, the keypairs of all participants should be exchanged beforehand.

Any news of interstellar public interest (like the intergalactic beauty pageant) would likely not be communicated via a pull-request like on todays internet, because this would double the time the information travels. It would likely be broadcasted in all directions no matter if people want to receive it or not, like the radio- and television technology used in the 20th century on Earth.

  • If you change the laws of physics to allow FTL communication and/or FTL travel, this might change, but writing an answer is pointless unless you describe how FTL travel and communication work in your universe and what limitations they have.
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    $\begingroup$ @MikhailTal The aliens would also be bound to the speed of light unless you change the laws of physics. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 22 '14 at 13:31
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    $\begingroup$ @MikhailTal Without wormholes? Many of the posts regarding FTL travel did not assume a hard science fiction setting, like Philipp (correctly) describes. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 22 '14 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ @MikhailTal No, FTL travel isn't possible. Not without negative mass or antigravity, and there is no reason to believe that either can exist. I know, it's boring, but unfortunately that's how our universe works. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 23 '14 at 0:25
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    $\begingroup$ I'd tell an interstellar UDP joke, but you probably wouldn't get it. $\endgroup$ – Caleb Hines Nov 24 '14 at 4:09
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    $\begingroup$ Simply changing the receive timeout of TCP (from 3 seconds) wouldn't work. There are other issues in interplanetary communications that IP and its associated protocols were never designed to handle. The real live Interplanetary Internet uses a completely different set of protocols. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Dec 15 '15 at 4:27
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An interstellar Internet would likely use store-and-forward protocols similar to those of pre-Internet networking, where you couldn't count on end-to-end connectivity. See, for example, UUCP or NNTP.

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    $\begingroup$ This comment made me realize that administrative protocols of interstellar organizations would be limited by the protocols of interstellar communication. I wonder what would an interstellar government or corporation with "store-and-forward" administration be like? Probably resemble something from the colonial era? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Dec 6 '14 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ The currently existing Interplanetary Internet works this way. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hampton Dec 15 '15 at 4:29
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We actually do have interplanetary "internet" right now. http://deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/.

We also have communication to the moon at extremely high bitrates.

The problem at interstellar distances is latency.

You may be able to cheat hard science by sending comms through a wormhole, or a "stationwagon full of tapes" with an Alcubierre Drive

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with the Alcubierre Drive is that it requires antigravity generated by negative mass. There is no reason to believe that negative mass exists or even can exist in our universe. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 24 '14 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ But it's not definitely impossible, and even if it doesn't exist in our universe it might in others, so even for hard science it's not totally ruled out. $\endgroup$ – Vakus Drake Aug 10 '15 at 10:11
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I would use quantum-entangled1 server farms.

At the major intergalactic hubs, companies would have entangled servers that allow for instantaneous intergalactic synchronization. From these hubs, the data would be disseminated locally. Some would go on to sync up with more local regions (such as galactic sectors), and spider-web down until the information was received at a planetary level.

Alternatively, entangled routers could be used instead.

Using routers means having the intergalactic equivalent of Time-Warner Cable and ComCast. That is, major telecommunication carriers.

Using servers means having the quality of the distribution be based on each organizations ability to create and maintain their own server network.

I would see it as being a little bit of both. Large organizations would have their own entangled servers, but typical users would be reliant on the communication carriers.


Since the question didn't specify hard Sci-fi, this would be a fine explanation. Such "quantum entanglement" has been used by some of the most of the most successful Sci-fi authors and world builders of all time.

1. The actual scientific use of the term quantum entanglement is different than how it's used in most Sci-fi, which is as a quick term for an ansible, or: "a fictional machine capable of instantaneous or superluminal communication". It obviously does not have to be called quantum-entanglement, although many readers would readily understand the term used that way.

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    $\begingroup$ Another (deleted) answer already mentioned quantum entanglement. Unfortunately quantum entanglement doesn't work that way! It can not be used to convey information faster than the speed of light. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 24 '14 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ It certainly works that way in enough Sci-fi for me to still be okay suggesting it. If they want a hard-science answer, then they should specify. Otherwise entangled communication, as seen in Fringe's typewriters, can be as valid as Enderverse-like philotes. You can even suggest that the science isn't actually entanglement, but that the name for the concept stuck based on early misunderstandings, or just call it something different and use the same concept. $\endgroup$ – Web Head Nov 24 '14 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp note that this question does not have a science-based or hard-science tag. $\endgroup$ – Harabeck Apr 24 at 19:21
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Of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_Internet

Basically, without FTL communication, you'll be getting streamed stuff - and no cross-talk. You push what you hope they'll want to hear, and hope to get what you want to receive.

Gaming across long-distances would require a longer lifetime - which may occur (life extension technology). But, you'd be better off moving closer to the people you want to talk to (which would also have the advantage of retarding your aging at close to lightspeed). You could also go into hibernation inbetween communication signals, if you don't care about running into the encroaching heat-death of the universe.

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You may want to think about it in this direction: information is information, it doesn't have any shape, size, or wave properties, like light does. Maybe we will find evidence for some even less "physical" particles with less physical constraints, like tachyons. Maybe they could be used to transmit information.

Or, in the depths of quantum-fields we could find tunnels that are capable of sending information to a totally different space coordinates within the planck time frame. The information wouldn't actually travel at all, more like generated at the receiver's position based on the "seed" that came through that "meta-quantum tunnel", similarly to how a cellular automaton generates a seemingly random, but in real, deterministic universe through an iterative process. At the points of receiving and sending, a "quantum-data-converter device" could be used.

Although you might not want to go intergalactic, a galaxy is big enough alone, only expand your technology and else if you know how to fill them in.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problems with tachyons is that even when they should exist (many theories say they can't), they do not interact with normal matter except through gravity, which makes them practically impossible to detect and even more difficult to manipulate. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 24 '14 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ And if they did exist and could interact with matter, they still could not be used for FTL communication. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 2 '16 at 12:50
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz why? (I'm not saying you are wrong, but simply stating that something wouldn't work without pointing to some reasons is not really helpful) $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jun 2 '16 at 18:23
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In the commonwealth saga from Peter F. Hamilton, they use wormholes to transport data.

The size of the wormhole is said to be 0 (or really really small, as you only need to make some cables, or waves etc go through) and thus don't consume too much energy either.

This way, you can have an amazing ping even if you play on the server from another universe.

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Well I would say the way around this is a technology that we don't yet control and that would be wormholes. We don't have the energy or know how yet, but essentially we could create permanent wormholes a few meters wide at facilities and literally pass fibre optic through these; however, in order to sustain a wormhole of that size permanently we would need a huge amount of power, so we would probably have to become early tier 2 civilisation or late tier 1 civilisation. Tier 1 = harness all energy from a world. Tier 2 = harness all energy from a single star. Tier 3 = harness all energy from the galaxy. A reason we may not have heard from other civilisations is that they have found creating direct communications using wormholes is more efficient than sending radio waves through space.

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  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about the Kardashev scale? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 7 '15 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I am sorry late night no all there. $\endgroup$ – user294159 Nov 7 '15 at 22:57
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In Edward M. Lerner's InterstellarNet series it started as usual radio comminications. Nobody liked latency. Later it was changed so if 2 civilization is in constant contact they have 'representative' in each other computer systems running in sandbox. 'Representative' gets stream of data from home and communicates directly with host civilization but host civilization cannot abuse system (basically because of heavily crypto system and sandbox verification) even if they really want to. It was mostly used not for pageants but for trade of new technologies.

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As others pointed out, you would use store-and-forward. Vinton Cerf briefly discussed this scenario in this talk (5:40). The idea is to cast an intense laser beam towards the star and catch it on the other side with many nodes dispersed around the star's space. The nodes are necessary since the laser will be scattered all over the receiving end's space.

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The speed of light is simply too slow for Humans, as we know them, to have any meaningful two-way conversation between stars. Nothing can go faster than light, and light cannot be sped up. The only reasonable way to deal with this reality is for Humans to slow down.

If you could live your life -- thought, motion, biochemistry -- a trillion times slower, then the transmission time from servers up to a thousand light-years away would feel like 31.5 milliseconds.

One way to accomplish this would be to evolve slower Humans. I expect this to take some time so the sooner the project is funded, the better. Actually I think my wife's family is already working on this.

Another possible technique would be to spend a lot of time in suspended animation. If you could press left-left-up-a-b-x and then fall asleep for 800 years, most MMOs wouldn't be so bad. Of course the servers would have to be similarly slow but I think Mythic Entertainment has got that covered.

The method most likely to meet with success would be to upload ourselves to massively powerful simulators and then turn off the turbo switches. Although doable, such slow simulation would require a disruptive paradigm shift, as Patch Tuesday would have to be converted to Patch Millennium.

Of course, whatever method is used, either the entire species would have to agree, or the slow folk would have to protect themselves from the hasty folk. That is, a big problem would be renegade Humans who want to cheat and get on with ruining the Earth, perhaps by living only a hundred billion times slower.

However, living slow should require much less energy than living fast. Slow folk will probably not need to live in a high-energy environment like on a planet, or even near a star. I picture a race of glacially paced creatures forever drifting through deep space, spreading everywhere throughout the galaxy, singing their whalesong of Kardashian diets and LOLcats over a light speed Ethernet.

Hasty folk could be left to burn themselves out by consuming whatever planets and stars they can reach during their pitiful brief lives.

There might even be time before the heat death of the universe to finish rolling out IPv6.

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  • $\begingroup$ I read a story on this concepta few months ago, but the title escapes me now. The whole civilization would sleep 30 years after a month awake. That made travel a "month" journey, and also resources could be gathered for a long period before use. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 2 '16 at 12:53
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If you want to see an interesting look at interstellar internet, check out Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. It's slow and expensive, and rare for an individual to have access to the galactic Web, even though translators sometimes make it seem as informal as if it was.

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  • $\begingroup$ How does it work? $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Nov 8 '15 at 1:37

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