Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer at the SETI Institute, has an answer for why aliens probably don’t look like the way we usually illustrate them in pop culture (the skinny gray/green body beneath a bulging, vaguely triangular head and glassy bug eyes). Speaking to Neil deGrasse Tyson last week for a National Geographic Star Talk entitled, “The Science of Alien Sightings,” Shostak discussed common (supposed) misconceptions about how aliens are often portrayed in the media. Comedian Michael Ian Black was also present, if you were for any reason worried that Tyson wouldn’t bring sufficient personality.
Humor-wise, it’s still pretty watery stuff, but Shostak’s correction (if we can call it that) about our collective perception of aliens is worth noting. As he points out to Tyson, a third of the public believes in the “UFO phenomena”. Yet despite the massive number of people who have claimed alien sightings (and abductions), the description of their appearance usually falls along familiar lines.
“Think what were gonna do in this century, which is invent thinking machines,” Shostak said. “The aliens have probably already done that, so the real aliens probably look like machines.”
At this juncture we do have questions, mostly revolving around the implied idea that machines all look alike and that alien machines would look like machines as we tend to picture them, but perhaps that is for another day. Shostak, who’s also the former Center for SETI Research director, has spoken before about how aliens are more likely to resemble something mechanical rather than something soft and tentacle-y.
You can watch the full clip below, though don’t say we didn’t warn you about the humor. It is bad.