Cosmic OS outline

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Development has moved to

Outline of CosmicOS

It's a familiar problem. You've finally managed to contact that alien civilization. Things are going great. You feel like your world will never be the same, that whole new realms of possibilities are opening up before your eyes. Then, inevitably, a hint of strain starts to creep into your relationship. You find that you don't really have all that much in common. Heck, sometimes it feels like you're not even in the same galaxy. It's as if there is this vast gulf between you, making communication almost impossible. You're not even sure you'd understand each other no matter how physically close you become. What do you do?

You design a language for cosmic intercourse. Hans Freudenthal made a start at one in his book, Lincos, published in 1960. I think it's time for version II, the all-new action-packed sequel guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat, which is a specific structure with a flat surface perpendicular to the pull of gravity, which is a thing that, oh never mind.


Goals of CosmicOS

The "intelligence" reading the message could be extra-terrestrial, or artificial. It is this second possibility that motivates me -- I want this message as a challenge for AI -- but the ET possibility is also fun.

Current status

The current goal of development work on CosmicOS is to communicate enough structure to simulate a simple MUD (multi-user dungeon) and to use the interactions between locations, objects, and characters as an alternative to the clever "morality plays" in Lincos.

The message has a strong backbone of actual executable code. The results of executing code is fundamentally what gets talked about in most of the message so far. This has the advantage that it can be understood on two levels: working out what the code does by looking at its details, or just treating it as a black box and learning from examples what it does. It also gives the listener the ability to do experiments using the code that are not talked about in the message. At the level of the MUD, this means the listener is free to play around with the simulated world and understand its logic through experimentation.

A difficulty with using code is that it assumes the listener has a computer to run the code on, or is computer-like enough themselves to work through the code with excruciating patience. I'm okay with this assumption for now, since it is hard to imagine the message being detected in the first place without some good hardware.

Source code

Development has moved to

Version 0.9 of CosmicOS is available for viewing and download. This version is under development and has not yet been frozen.

For archival purposes, here are previous versions of CosmicOS.

Version 0.8 of CosmicOS is available (1-June-2005).

Version 0.7 of CosmicOS is available (20-Jan-2005).

Version 0.6 of CosmicOS is available (30-Oct-2004).

Version 0.5 of CosmicOS is available (30-Mar-2004). It developed a better object model, and it was starting to get easier to talk about objects and object relationships.

Version 0.4 of CosmicOS is available (21-Oct-2003). Definitions of term have been added wherever possible for ideas previously introduced through examples of usage alone, so that there is more than one way to work out what they mean.

Version 0.3 of CosmicOS is available (17-Oct-2003). The core notation is drastically simplified. The ability to describe computational objects is emerging.

Version 0.2 of CosmicOS is available (7-Oct-2003). The core notation is now similar to a functional programming language. Uses prefix notation.

Version 0.1 of CosmicOS is available (1-Oct-2003). The core notation is similar to the programming language Forth (uses reverse-Polish notation).

The code and message are licensed under the GNU Public License (available here - wouldn't it be interesting to communicate this license within the message itself - perhaps by explaining "intellectual property" for the express purpose of denying it)

You are encouraged to make your own, better messages or message generators, or submit patches/extensions to this message (paulfitz at


          AUTHOR : Freudenthal, Hans
           TITLE : Lincos; design of a language for cosmic intercourse.
       PUBLISHED : Amsterdam, North-Holland Pub. Co., 1960-
   PHYSICAL DESC : v. 23 cm.
          SERIES : Studies in logic and the foundations of mathematics; 
         SUBJECT : Lincos (Artificial language)

Disclaimer: There are a lot of strange people out there. Some have interesting ideas, others have less productive, naive ideas. The references and links here include all kinds. Read with your skeptical hat on.

Communication with Alien Intelligence by Prof. Marvin Minsky

Bassi, Bruno Were it perfect, would it work better?, a survey of a language for cosmic intercourse

Cameron A G W (ed.) 1963 Interstellar Communication. Benjamin, New York.

Dick S J 1982 Plurality of worlds : the origins of the extraterrestrial life debate from Democritus to Kant Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Freudenthal H 1960 Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse. North-Holland, Amsterdam.

Freudenthal, Hans 1974 Cosmic Language, in T. A. Sebeok (ed), Current Trends in Linguirstics, vol 12, Mouton, The Hague, pp. 1019-1042

MacGowan R A, Ordway F I 1966 Intelligence in the Universe. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Martin, Martin C. 1991 SETI Puzzle, posted to sci.crypt, sci.astro,, rec.arts.sf-lovers and rec.puzzles.

McConnell, Brian S. 2001 Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations. O'Reilly, Cambridge, MA

McConnell, Brian S. 2002 Algorithmic Communication with ETI & Mixed Media Message Composition

Ollongren A 1998-2000 Large-size Message Construction for ETI. Abstracts IAA Congresses.

Sagan C 1985 Contact. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Sagan C (ed.) 1973 Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CETI). MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Shklovskii I S, Sagan C 1966 Intelligent Life in the Universe. Holden-Day, San Francisco, CA.

Webb S 2002 If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens... Where is Everybody: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life New York: Praxis Publishing

(thanks to Paul Scott Wilson for suggesting some entries)

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