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Communications of the ACM

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Future Tense: The Second Signal

The Second Signal, illustration

Credit: Seth Shostak / SETI Institute

When that first alien broadcast came in—no more than a thin stream of bits, really—it was just about the biggest news story ever.

It was also no surprise. For years, scientists had assured themselves, and every documentary TV maker who asked, that tuning in E.T. would be the greatest discovery ever. If researchers finally found proof of other intelligence lurking in our Milky Way galaxy, they would be shoo-ins for a Nobel Prize. More than that, the discovery would also—somehow—change everything.


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