Let's say we've made first contact with another internet-using species. We would love to send our latest cat video to them.

Naturally, our internet would work differently than theirs. They may be using different materials for their electronic switches, and their file formats would certainly be different than ours.

That said, many things would likely be the same: I assume that both would use binary for their information, and it would likely be based on electricity (for fast speeds).

Therefore, in order to transmit a video to their species, what would we likely need adapters for?

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    $\begingroup$ Binary computers are no guarantee. We have in the past developed computers that used Ternary instead of Binary. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ternary_computer $\endgroup$ Mar 8 '17 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ you assumption that they rely on electronics is pretty wild, too. what stops them from using photonics or even organic computers? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Mar 8 '17 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ Anyone that has watched Independence Day knows that aliens run MacOS 7 (System 7.5.2), and AppleTalk :D $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 8 '17 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ In anything - most of the de facto standards (digital electronics with 2-valued bits, 1 byte = 8 bit) are all the result of a social effect and the pressure of the compatibility. It is perfectly possible, for example, that an alien internet would be fully analogue. It has to work surely with electrons or to use at least the electromagnetic interaction. Building low-level adapters for that would be relatively easy, to understand their protocols probably won't be (but possible). It has happened many times in the history that we found completely alien civilizations on the Earth, the major $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Mar 8 '17 at 20:38
  • $\begingroup$ hardness to understand the unknown, maybe more developed technologies was always mainly cultural and political, and not technologic. $\endgroup$
    – Gray Sheep
    Mar 8 '17 at 20:41

You have to consider how alien alien could be. For one thing, why assume we're on a similar time scale? If they're gargantuan space whales that live on an ocean planet and live 1000 years, and have huge powerful but slow brains, they might use much larger files to convey more information and not really care if it takes 10 of our days to send a file.

Why would they need files that big? Maybe it has to cater to different senses. I don't imagine a creature that had nothing in common with a human would necessarily want video files. What if they can speak to each other using EM/radio waves and have sonar, but they can't see very well? Their viewing device could emit or absorb vibration to simulate viewing an object with sonar the way our screens imitate light patterns seen when viewing objects.

But to get away from really far out sci-fi stuff, even if it's electrical and binary it could vary in voltage levels, baud rate, typical packet sizes, modulation frequency used and encoding format. It could convey signals using current or voltage if you're talking about wired formats. There is also variation in whether it uses timing or transitions to indicate a zero or a one. In some digital formats, a one is a low to high or high to low transition, in others, it's a low or high signal for a given amount of time.



First off, the different electronics shouldn't matter too much. Assuming we receive some sort of binary signal, then the format change is really not much different from converting, say, MP4 to AVI. Files are really just a bunch of numbers jumbled together in a way the computer can interpret.

Even binary probably isn't necessary. Number systems should be universal, and binary should therefore be the universally least complex system available and what they would likely use. It is entirely plausible, however, that they have some faster non-binary system that we cannot fathom. Even then, however, converting the data should still be trivial as it's a task computers do all the time.


We understand how their data is encoded. We need to know whether they use binary or some other number system. We need to know which pieces of data relate to which pixels. We need to know how they store audio files. In theory, we might be able to use algorithms make educated guesses as to how the format works, given a small/simple file type (OBJ files are pretty easy to guess), but that would be incredibly difficult. Much easier if they send along some handy instructions for which bits mean what.

Moreover, we are assuming that they use video the same way we do (sound and picture). It is entirely plausible they have something else entirely that we wouldn't be able to comprehend even if we could recreate it. Still, assuming that the finished format is comprehensible to humans, converting it shouldn't be a problem.

Transmitting video back to them should be as straightforward as sending them an MP4 and instructions on what the data means. Again though, assuming they have the same concept of video screens/sound/etc. Though sending them instructions on building those devices is also doable.


As mentioned before I wouldn't relay on the binary option. One could argue that binary is connected to humanoid build (we have two eyes and two ears but four limbs) so this method may not be universal.

Second - you assume that internet is artificial for aliens as it is for us. Which may not be true. Maybe they developed form of communication through grapevines. Like in "Avatar" (minus the plugin to a tree).

Third - you assume they use electric like we. But assume they developed radio in different way. How different? Let's say that to receive transmission you just need a cat's-whisker detection. And your aliens can develop this type of receiver inside their bodies. Because is just need a little crystal and metal. Which both can be produced by alien organs. So they could not use anything that interfere with their natural radio.


I've thought about this in the past, day-dreaming but never wrote a story (about the geeks hitting it off while the diplomats lumbered through, not understanding each other):

The aliens have a history of 9-bit bytes and culminated with 63-bit words. Protocol interaction is complicated by the fact that their bytes don't fit in ours, and larger binary values like floating point and structure layout is the other way, our 64-bit unit not fitting in their 63-bit unit.

They have totally different character sets. Their main global system ended up using the full 9 bits, and they have three cases, thus breaking all classification systems and making it difficult to use as just another character set in software systems that already adapts to different languages.

  • $\begingroup$ Unicode is 21 bits IIRC. While a fractional multiple of either side's smallest addressable unit would lead to some wasted memory and storage space, that's far from a showstopper for interoperability. There have been plenty of Earth-based computers that used what we would today consider odd word sizes; IIRC both 6 bit bytes and 80 bit words have been reasonably common. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Mar 8 '17 at 10:59

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