Have you ever dreamed of finding an alien? You know, an outer space alien?
Well, whether you have or not, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute wants your help in their search for alien intelligence. If you want to help they have a new mobile app that might make you the first human to discover intelligent life in the universe.
That would probably make you more famous than being a finalist on American Idol.
SETI wants amateur astronomers to help them. Their unique app—SetiQuest Explorer—is engineered to accomplish jobs that computers cannot do well. Humans are needed because computers aren’t very efficient at finding and identifying undefined patterns. That’s something the human mind excels at.
According to SETI the current app only runs on Android 2.2, but a future version compatible with iPhone should be available by summer 2011.
A desktop version that uses Flash Player 10.2 is also available.
The University of California at Berkeley is currently managing a project called SETI@Home. It harnesses a volunteer network of computers strung across the world gathering and processing data streams collected by SETI from space. SetiQuest Explorer is a spin off of the Berkley project employing humans across the planet in an effort to distribute visual recognition tasks.
Jill Tarter, the director of SETI Institute told ZDNet in an interview: “We want to tap into the brain power of the world.” And they may if enough people download the app.
Humans will be looking for subtle things that computers can easily miss.
“We are looking for anomalies, patterns that aren’t recognizable,” Tarter explained. “We know there are data we are missing. There are so many signals in the narrow band [of the radio frequencies], our automated code has to skip over it.”
And that gap may be where elusive E.T. signals are hiding.
Those that volunteer some of their time to the SetiQuest Explorer project will be tasked to search for anomalous patterns among the background static of space radio signals detected by the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in Northern California. ATA is focused on neighboring stars with planets that astronomers working with NASA’s Kepler space telescope believe can sustain life.
What does SETI want participants to seek? Some type of a recognizable pattern such as a zigzag, straight line, or even a pulse-like image superimposed against the background of galactic static. SETI has a guideline outlining seven types of patterns. The guide is a generalized template because an intelligent signal might look like almost anything—except static.
“We want people to help us find things we don’t expect,” Tarter said. “A computer doesn’t do random pattern matching. A computer is not very good at serendipitous detection, and humans are.”
Finding a match might mean that an aberrant signal or clutter has crept in from a terrestrial source like satellite, CB, aircraft or other localized transmission. Those would be filtered out by SETI scientists.
But a Eureka! pattern might be strong cause for a closer look and mean an intelligently generated signal.
To date, no intelligent signal has been discovered.