2572: Alien Observers
Title text: ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.
- This was the seventh comic to come out after the Countdown in header text started.
There is speculation by many people that there could be some form of extraterrestrial life observing us, hovering around in various flying vehicles, or perhaps using some form of giant telescope. These claims are often backed up by blurry pictures which claim to be of alien vehicles. In this comic, the joke is that the aliens are deliberately making sure that all sightings are made unverifiable. However, with most people now carrying a camera with them all the time, a sighting that would be unverifiable just by eyewitness testimony could now be captured by a smartphone camera.
This means that in order for the aliens to keep creating unverifiable sightings for humans, they must keep track of what camera capabilities each human has, leading to different distance restrictions for each human, as seen in the diagram. The effective range of each person's camera is depicted as a circular (or spherical) envelope around themselves, two on the cross-sectional diagram and at least one located off beyond the image edge.
There is also an apparently flat ground-hugging 'no fly zone' connecting two of these areas. This may be part of a general prohibition against landing (and/or causing verifiable ground effects, such as crop circles) or it could be there to show that the capability of a self-focussing camera is greatly enhanced when it also has ground-features to autofocus upon rather than a subject surrounded by nothing but sky.
The comic attempts to explain away the issue already discussed in prior comics, such as 718: The Flake Equation and 1235: Settled, in which the phenomenon of UFO sightings/reports is still left not resolved (either way) despite what modern technology should suggest is possible. It appears that the reason for this is that the sufficiently advanced aliens actually make more than enough observations of the human race to continuously determine how to stay just on the side of plausible deniability in any interactions that they still seem to wish to make.
The attitude of the aliens also mirrors that of a subset of humans, namely those who hold disdain for the consumerist mindset. These humans are frustrated by the tendency of their fellow humans to compulsively buy the latest and greatest versions of products at all times, often at great expense and without regard for the practical benefits of upgrading. Cellphones are one such product, as Apple and their competitors typically release new phone models annually (occasionally semi-annually), often introducing only minor or cosmetic changes with each new iteration.
In the title text, the aliens note that one particular human now has a YouTube account, meaning they are likely to record video instead of attempting to capture still images. This means that the alien craft used to create the sighting must behave as erratically as possible, in order to avoid being identified. This relates to the often wildly oscillating (as well as blurry) films and videos of 'UFOs' that have been taken by the impromptu human observer, beyond the limit of their ability to hold their fully-zoomed camera steady. Although here it is explained away as the flying saucers actually moving in an improbably jerky manner to prevent detailed recording of their craft. Further briefings of the sort depicted would doubtless accompany upgrades in optical/digital-stability features or the purchase of a camera tripod.
It appears the aliens have a classification and tracking system for all humans. It is unclear what the system for assigning these identifiers is, since we see two different formats (38XT11-B-C54 and 910-25J-1Q38). One possibility is that there are two different tracking systems represented, with at least two possibilities for the relation between them.
- Perhaps the two tracking systems are from two different alien agencies dedicated to human tracking, perhaps isomorphic to each other. One may come from a live observation while the other comes via an online alerting system, with no definitive link agreed between the two systems as not even the aliens can guarantee to resolve online anonymity, obfuscation or duplication of identity.
- On the other hand, perhaps the identifier system evolved over time and any given human only has an identifier from one system or the other. Assuming all numbers and letters are usable and each identifier could have only a letter or number in that place, the first identifier represents a space with at least 10*10*26*26*10*10*26*26*100=457 billion entries, while the space of the second is 10*10*10*10*10*26*10*26*10*10=68 billion. Perhaps, like IP addresses evolving from IPV4 to IPV6 because of the fear of exhaustion, the alien tracking systems similarly changed. This would imply the second (YouTube-posting) human is older than the first (cellphone carrying).
- A third possibility is simply regional variations, where different sectors of the Earth have developed their own identification systems, perhaps when population movements (or vacations) were far fewer and intercontinental travel was very rare indeed. Starting from an arbitrary point of time in history, one system may have applied to the Americas and the other to Eurasia (for example) with different challenges of recognising and surreptitiously tracking all individuals from cradle to grave within their communities (the shorter identifier of which forms some part of their full personal code). A revised globally-used system might be in development (or even now be in use, as per the above suggestion) but the diverse legacy systems could still apply to those born before the implementation period).
The identifier for the one buying the phone begins with "Human 38XT11". This seems likely to be a reference to THX 1138. This was the title of George Lucas' first film, which is also referenced in the original Star Wars film. The name contains the number in reverse as well as the letters if human could be written as H.
- [Three aliens are looking at a screen. They each have six tentacles, of which four are used as legs, and the other two can be used as arms. They also have a small mouth and two eye stalks with a large eye at the end of each. The eyes has large eyelashes all the way around. One of the aliens is standing to the left of the screen, pointing to it by raising one of its tentacles. The other two aliens stand to the right of the screen looking at the picture. The screen's image depicts a cross-sectional diagram showing two humans in a rough landscape. There is a shaded area above each of the humans and the terrain. The shaded area's boundary consists of arcs of differing sizes centered upon each human. To the left of the first human there is also a small straight area over the ground. To the left of this towards the edge of the screen, what appears to be an arc with a very large radius that begins and rises high up compared to the other two arcs, around a point beyond the on-screen image's edge. The rightmost human's zone has a dashed region between concentric radii of different sizes indicating that this zone has been revised further out than before. Four flying-saucer like spaceships are shown in the air close to, but above, the shaded areas. One high near the left curve, one over the flat area, one near the intersection between the two small arcs and one over the middle of the right arc.]
- Left Alien: Human 38XT11-B-C54 just bought a new phone with a 10x zoom, so we have to expand our restricted flight zone by 1,800 meters to keep our ship blurry.
- Right Alien 2: Seriously? Didn't they just upgrade?
- Left Alien: I know, I know...
- [Caption below the panel:]
- The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.
- The aliens depicted here appear to be the same lifeforms as seen in the bottom row of 2359: Evidence of Alien Life.
- They have similarities also to the illustration in What-If #20.
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