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Space Science

SETI Institute Is Looking For a Few Good Algorithms 98

blackbearnh writes "For years, people have been using SETI@Home to help search for signs of extraterrestrial life in radio telescope data. But Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute, wants to take things to the next level. Whereas SETI@Home basically used people's computers as part of a giant distributed network to run a fixed set of filters written by SETI researchers, Tarter thinks someone out there may have even better search algorithms that could be applied. She's teamed with a startup called Cloudant to make large volumes of raw data from the new Allen telescope available, and free Amazon EC2 processing time to crunch the data. According to Tarter: 'SETI@Home came on the scene a decade ago, and it was brilliant and revolutionary. It put distributed computing on the map with such a sexy application. But in the end, it's been service computing. You could execute the SETI searches that were made available to you, but you couldn't make them any better or change them. We'd like to take the next step and invite all of the smart people in the world who don't work for Berkeley or for the SETI Institute to use the new Allen Telescope. To look for signals that nobody's been able to look for before because we haven't had our own telescope; because we haven't had the computing power.'"
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SETI Institute Is Looking For a Few Good Algorithms

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  • Singularity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop ( 305328 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:36PM (#32879368) Homepage

    Maybe it'll all be sorted out retrospectively following the singularity. There's a big crossover between AI and data mining/pattern recognition after all.

    Might make a good plot for a novel... ;)

  • by arc86 ( 1815912 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:41PM (#32879430)

    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from noise. I remembered hearing this in school so I searched and found this paper. []

    As I understand SETI has always been searching for narrowband signals in the past. But our technology is moving toward spread spectrum signals for more efficient use of bandwidth, making our transmissions appear more like noise to anyone who doesn't know the encoding scheme. Aliens could be doing/have done the same. So good luck, scientists!

  • by Inoculate86 ( 1854356 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @05:55PM (#32879654) Homepage
    I don't know about the specifics of analyzing radio waves to search for intelligible communication, but I can suggest one thing. The Kepler telescope set out to hunt for earth-like planets that may contain life. The SETI project as far as I can tell is scanning every part of the sky without discrimination. I suggest that Kepler and SETI team up so that when Kepler finds a planet that is capable of supporting intelligent life, SETI will point its telescopes to it and then run whatever algorithms you have to analyze the radio signals if there are any from that planet. This current method of scanning arbitrary locations in the sky sounds like it could be wasted effort when you don't know what it is you are pointing the radio telescopes at.
  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:03PM (#32879744)

    But would such "noise" get past a zipf analysis? ('s_law). Even compressed and encrypted data doesn't lose order.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:10PM (#32879826)

    Some civilizations will, for a short period of time, use detectable radio as a means of communication, but I suspect that there are very few of these at the same point in their technological development as we are. It would make more sense to look for objects that are almost certainly artifacts. Geometrically placed stars moving in the same direction at the same speed. The infrared signature of Dyson spheres. Anything that's too geometrically perfect to be natural. Anything that's accelerating//decelerating relative to it's surroundings. In our own solar system, what would an asteroid mine tailing look like, and does anything look like that?

  • by BigBadBus ( 653823 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @06:25PM (#32880048) Homepage
    But those of us who were around when the programme kicked off in 1999 got a bit peeved when it was found that we were processing the same workunits over and over again, and then there was the "problem" when it was announced that the clients weren't optimised for the scanning algorithms. A lot of people packed their bags and left the SETI@home project. Myself? I got a little annoyed when it was announced that new ideas for searching through the data were announced...and we'd have to start all over again. Lets hope that whatever is organised next time is a bit better, well, organised :-)
  • by BlueCoder ( 223005 ) on Monday July 12, 2010 @07:42PM (#32880990)

    Sorry to rant a bit but why the hell would a civilization sent out a radio signal from their planet? Look at us, all we do is "listen" but we don't build any transmitters capable of transmitting a signal across a thousand light years. Transmit first, listen second.

    But wait, what if they are capable of interstellar travel, they could send an invasion fleet... we are paranoid, why wouldn't another species be as well?

    So what to do? One you don't send a signal from your planet. Two you design your signal to be easily found; found by another species not even listening randomly for a signal. Answer: you build a spacecraft and send it someplace interesting. Some place an astronomer would find interesting and you either transmit from there or somehow you modulate the natural phenomena to carry a signal for you.

    You would have three types of signals. The first signal would be to get your attention and make you wait and listen for the second signal which would contain enough information (location, frequency, polarity, whatever) to direct you to a third signal that would actually contain an entire database worth of information.

    For an example of a type one signal I don't think it's too far outside possibilities that in the future we might discover a way to generate gravity waves and while they might not travel very far they might be strong enough to influence a star, white dwarf, neutron star, nebula. Imagine one day an astronomer looks at a nebula only to think.. hmmm, that part there sure looks like an arrow...

Someday somebody has got to decide whether the typewriter is the machine, or the person who operates it.