Military Embedded Systems

Cryptanalysis, "Ulysses," dolphins, and talking to extraterrestrials


November 30, 2022

Ray Alderman

VITA Standards Organization

WARFARE EVOLUTION BLOG. Let’s take a break from studying the Kill Web and explore something else. Back in the late 1940s, Harvard linguist George Kingsley Zipf picked up a copy of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” and read it. Although it was acclaimed by the pompous literary pundits in rumpled suits as a masterpiece, Zipf could not believe how incomprehensible and boring it was. In case you were not exposed to it in college, reading “Ulysses" is like being mercilessly waterboarded with the English language by shallow characters, in a dull story with no detectable plot, for an unbearable period of time.

Zipf had a similar reaction, so he set out to find something of value in the 732 pages of the novel. He asked his students to count how many times each letter in the alphabet occurred in the book and he created a letter-frequency graph. The most used letters were e, t, a, i, and o (in that order). Additionally, he had his students count how many times a word was used in the book and created a word-frequency graph. The most used words in “Ulysses" were…. the, of, and, a, to. Then, he had the students look at the starting and ending letter of each word (the most common starting letters were t, a, o, d, and w in that order, and the most common ending letters of words were e, s, t, and d). Then he had his students count the words with double and triple letters commonly occurring together (tt, ll, oo, ed, ing, ion, etc). He noticed that the second most used letter or word occurred half as often as the first most frequently used letter/word, and the letter/word frequency graph had a parabolic shape (the same relationship occurs with the third, fourth, fifth etc most used letters and words). That’s the sign of a mathematical power law at work. So, he took the logarithm of the rank of the letter/word and the frequency of that letter/word and plotted them on log graph paper (a Zipf Plot). He got a straight line with a slope of -1 and came-up with Zipf’s Law. He did the same thing with 2 words used together (digrams like “in the”, trigrams, quadragrams, etc). Every human language shows the same frequency characteristics, except the most used letters and words differ. In French, the most used letters are e, s, a, i, and t in that order. In German, they are e, n, i, s, and r. In Spanish, they are e, a, o, s, and r. When converted to logarithms, all languages plot a straight line with a slope of -1 on the letters, words, digrams, trigrams, quadragrams, etc. Zipf discovered that despite the pain and suffering inflicted by reading Ulysses, all languages have a beautiful hidden mathematical structure.

To read more Warfare Evolution Blogs by Ray Alderman, click here. This is where the dolphins enter the story. They make clicks, whistles, and squeaks as they swim around in the oceans. Neuroscientist John Lilly put a group of dolphins in a pool and recorded thousands of hours of their noises. He and his people plotted those squeaks, whistles, and clicks on a frequency chart and saw the same parabolic curve that Zipf saw. They took the log of the rank and frequency of those noises, plotted them on a Zipf plot, and guess what? A straight line with a slope of -1, below the line for human languages. Dolphins seem to have a structured language! Claude Shannon (the father of information theory) looked at all this and wanted to understand the complexity of communications and how much information messages contain. So, he grabbed Boltzmann’s Entropy equation (the second law of thermodynamics) and went to work. He discovered that the English language has a second-order Shannon Entropy of 8 (within the rules of the language, eight words are connected at a time on average). The dolphin language had a second-order Shannon Entropy of 4 (on average, four noises are connected at a time). You can use Shannon’s Law equations and dig much deeper into any language (third-order entropy, fourth-order entropy, fifth-order entropy, etc). This is where cryptanalysis comes into the picture. If we intercept an encrypted enemy message, the intelligence guys know where it comes from (using DF or direction finding). So, we know the language used in the message. Next, our intelligence people know all the letter and word frequency charts for that language. We know the Zipf plots for that language. We know the different orders of Shannon Entropy for that language. And we know that the military vocabulary for any enemy message uses only a few percent of the words in that language (so the rest can be eliminated). When you look at an encrypted message, it looks like a bunch of garbled letters that make no sense. Analyze that encrypted message with letter/word frequency graphs and Zipf plots. Then look at that message with Shannon Entropy equations and start playing letter and word games with it. Compare all that to the letter/word graphs, Zipf plots, and Shannon Entropy of the language used, and you’ll learn something about how the encryption algorithm works, from where letters and words spike differently on the frequency graphs. Now you know a little about the tools cryptanalysts have to break traditional enemy communication codes. That’s why we use elliptical encryption, very long keys, and very complex algorithms to protect our communications. This is where talking to extraterrestrial aliens shows up in the story. Let’s start with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). They are the people with big antennas listening for a radio message from intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe. If they receive a message, SETI has a protocol to notify the United Nations and tell them they have received a message from some xenomorphs in another galaxy. Most people don’t know that the UN has an office for that stuff: UNOOSA (United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs). Their job is to insure space is available for all earth-based countries to use freely and openly, but they don’t have a protocol for talking back to space aliens and who does it….not yet. Next, we have Dr. Hans Freudenthal. In 1960, he designed LINCOS (Lingua Cosmica). That’s a visual language using symbols and mathematical equations that any average intelligent extraterrestrial should understand. However, his language assumes that aliens have eyes that can see in the visible light spectrum (if they have the technology to cross the universe, my bet is that they see in the quantum spectrum so LINCOS would look like a bunch of subatomic particles bouncing around). Humans (and dolphins) communicate verbally, so maybe we should create a LINCOS-to-voice translator? That would be making the same mistake Dr. Hans made, assuming that extraterrestrials have ears. If they got here from light-years away, they might hear in the quantum spectrum too. That takes us back to George Zipf, John Lilly and his dolphins, Claude Shannon, and cryptanalysis. If space aliens do send us a message via SETI (or show up landing here), I think it’s our cryptanalysts who should talk to them, not politicians from the United Nations. If they can give us a bunch of their language in writing (assuming they have digits that can hold a writing instrument), we can run all the letter/word frequency charts, Zipf plots, and Shannon Entropy formulas against it. If they speak a verbal language (assuming they have vocal cords), we can record it and give it to John Lilly so he can run an analysis like he did with the dolphins. But, don’t get your hopes up. As much as we know about dolphin language, we still can’t converse with them. Earlier this year, scientists discovered that dolphins respond to a unique sequence of squeaks, pops, and clicks that might be their names but that’s about it. This is where the Rosetta Stone and Cleopatra’s Needles come into play. Cleopatra’s Needles are obelisks discovered in Egypt with some strange hieroglyphics inscribed on them. The archaeologists at the time understood Greek and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, but not the inscriptions on the obelisks. Enter the Rosetta Stone. It was carved in 196 BC and found in Egypt by Napoleon’s savants in 1799. It was a decree by King Ptolemy in 3 languages: Greek, Ancient Egyptian, and Demotic. As it turns out, the inscriptions on the needles were in Demotic. With the decree in 3 languages, it should be easy to translate the inscriptions on the obelisks, right? Even with the Rosetta Stone as a translation tool, it took over 20 years to decode the Demotic language (Demotic hieroglyphs are a complex mixture of symbols, sounds, and modifiers). So, here’s the deal. If SETI receives a message from extraterrestrials, or they land here on earth, talking to them is going to be incredibly difficult. Go watch the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." We talk to the aliens with five notes on an organ (G, A, F, F, and C) and all we learned was that both parties had an organ. I think we’d be much better informed about extraterrestrial life by doing more research and studies about UFOs (unidentified flying objects). Look at it this way. SETI has spent 60 years and billions of dollars listening for alien radio messages from space and found nothing. We spent billions of dollars sending men to the moon and they found no evidence of alien life. We spent billions of dollars sending rovers to Mars, and they found no extraterrestrials. But people coming out of bars, after spending millions of dollars on alcohol, report seeing hundreds of UFOs being flown by space aliens every month (go to the NUFORC website, the National UFO Reporting Center, to validate my claim). So, where do you think the money is better spent? After deliberate consideration of the results, maybe the money spent on SETI, men on the moon, and the Mars rovers was a serious misallocation of valuable financial and technical resources. If we had spent that money on flying huge aerial nets around the areas where NUFORC reports the most UFO sightings, probability theory calculations reveal that we would have caught something by now. If you want to dig more deeply into George Zipf, Claude Shannon, John Lilly, talking dolphins, the Rosetta Stone, and talking to extraterrestrials, go read Ben Miller’s book, "The Aliens Are Coming!." There’s a lot more to this story. Next time, we’ll take a look at the UFO update report to congress (due in November), new UFO study committees at the Pentagon, and the results of the Army’s Project Convergence 2022 Kill Web exercise conducted in October and November. Somewhere, there’s a connection between UFO technology and the new technologies being deployed in the Kill Web. Even though it would be lots of fun, I promise not to write the next article in LINCOS. Reading it would inflict the same pain as reading "Ulysses."

Featured Companies

VITA Standards Organization

9100 Paseo del Vita
Oklahoma City, OK 73131