Signal and Noise

January 31, 2021

There’s a problem with being one of the government’s exosurveyors. You’re assigned to monitor a massive range of data collected by every scientist from here to Zeta Reticuli (if they still call it that), and yet no one takes an interest in your work. Some people, upon learning about you and your job, would probably yell “I knew it!” believing they’d stumbled on some mysterious truth, a conspiracy even.

But my task is a far cry from what these people believe. For a start, the only reason my work is kept low key – not secret! – is precisely because of the furore it would cause if it suddenly became common knowledge. It’s thought that keeping my job as accessible as a library book – generally unseen, yet easily available – demonstrates that it is quotidian.

Some might see me as some kind of censor, but everything I look at, sift through, is already public knowledge before I ever set eyes on it. I’m just looking for things that others wouldn’t waste their time on, or wouldn’t think to look for in the first place. I look for signals in the noise. Or rather, I look for unexpected signals alongside the predictable ones.

Now that our civilisation is collating radio signals from the stars, lidar info from alien terrain, and the microwave background from interstellar space, who knows what might lurk there, amidst the story of our universe’s birth, the sputtering of dying stars, and the cyclic emissions of pulsars?

I did leave something out of those reassurances I gave you. It’s not a secret that I’m looking for these things. It’s simply a second pass at the data, after all. But… how would I know if I found traces of an alien radio broadcast? What have I got to compare it to? Well, therein lies the interesting part of the job…