Be Very Wary of Infohazards

Author: Shaked Koplewitz

The orders were clear: As tempting as it was, we were not to let the psychics process the alien message. Instead, we were to send it through to an old-fashioned linguistics team, who’d work with pen and paper to decipher what they could of it.

This seemed impossible – this was the first-year alien message we’d ever received. Heck, until recent developments in long-distance communication the only evidence we’d even had that the aliens existed were some weird radiation patterns around a star that the astronomers said looked like a Dyson sphere. It was only the psychics’ abilities that had given me any hope we could read it at all. And now we were banned from using them.

When I went to the director to complain, she was apoplectic. “Think about it!” She shouted. “Psychics don’t just read symbols, the process information at the intent level. They make the message *real*. Does the word infohazard mean *nothing* to you?!”
“All we know about these aliens is that they have a Dyson sphere and they sent us a message. The first means they’re more advanced than us, maybe more advanced than we can even imagine. Can you tell me what the second means?”
“That… That they want something from us. And we have no idea what, or how they’re planning to get it.” I went white as I realized the implication.

“That’s right,” she continued. “So we’re not processing this information, and we’re not going to put it anywhere it might harm someone. Instead, we’re going to translate pieces of it, as slowly and piecemeal as we can. Maybe we’ll learn something about them out of it.”

So I gave the message to my translation team and waited for results. At first, they were as hopeless as I was about it, but after three days they started getting a few words. After a week, I got an alert that they’d found something. I went down to the bunker.

“We got a whole paragraph, we think,” the head translator said. But then we had this idea – why not just go to the psychics? I went ahead and forwarded the message to them – the computer didn’t want to send it out, but we found a workaround-”

I stopped in horror. Surely they understood why they couldn’t do that! Hadn’t I explained? No, wait, I had explained. I remembered that quite clearly. And then I noticed the lopsided grin on the translator’s face and the mad gleam in his eye.

I stayed there, transfixed in horror as he walked up and whispered in my ear. “It’s too late”, he whispered. “It’s already out.”

2 Comments

  1. unrewarded

    clever, and creepy

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