A few thoughts on the search for E.T.


Currently, the Seti at Home project based at the University of Berkeley in California is engaged in a fantastic experiment. It is the attempt to discover intelligent radio signals from 'outer space', using widely distributed computing to analyse remote radio band data, which has been gathered using the Aricebo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. (The radio observatory featured in the film 'Contact'). World-wide, hundreds of thousands of participants in the Seti at Home project are utilising their spare CPU time using a free screensaver to download, analyse and search through small chunks of data and send the results back - all via the Internet. It seems that the collective processing power being used is enormous. I am proud to one of the participants.

Considering both the youth of a new science - radio astronomy - and the recent propagation of advanced technology into the home this experiment is incredible, and at the very least is testament to the rapid charge forward of man's ingenuity. (No help from religion here. Ed) It has engaged the imaginations - and computers(!) - of way over a million people across this planet and brings the question and possibly the answer to 'are we alone?' into the public consciousness. During less than half of my lifetime, in just the last twenty years, I have gone from playing 'pong' on a black and white TV, to helping to search for absolute proof of extra terrestrials - in my own home. If I were on drugs, I would be permanently shouting "WOW!" out of my front bedroom window.

Up to the time of writing - January 2000 - there appears to have been no positive results, though there have been several interesting 'bumps' and 'spikes' recorded. I expect that the Seti at Home project will eventually provide positive, incontrovertible results, even though that success may not be too soon. It will progress exponentially, with the use of a far greater amount of ever faster and faster processing, the collection and analysis of increasing amounts of data across a far greater bandwidth of billions of radio frequencies, and better analysis algorithms.

In the Seti at Home Poll I have voted that I believe intelligent signals will be detected within ten years of the start of the project. Just think, what if the discovery of another culturally advanced life system actually happens? It would be the single most profound event for all humanity, ever. What then are the implications for some organised religions? What will be their reaction? How will they explain the existence of life that is not even mentioned in their Holy Bibles? (See Genesis 1:1 - 1:27). How would they explain that although we are all God's children, He has another, advanced family elsewhere? If this world was God's best crack at producing a perfect, worshipping, religious world, how come He had another go hundreds or thousands of light-years away, and He didn't even bother to mention it? Unfortunately, should a distant civilisation to be discovered meaningful communication would seem, using current technology, a tad too impractical due to the vast distances involved between message senders and receivers, and the speed of light. But we would know that we are not unique, that we were not at the centre of everything, that the existence of life would appear to be relatively common, at least in our small portion of the universe. It would also mean to millions of religious believers that the thin sliver of a gap, in which their God currently exists, was getting smaller by the day.



Martin J Burn 2000

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