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SETI Running Out of Money

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the no-worries-we-still-have-sigourney-weaver dept.

Space 312

New submitter opusman writes "According to an Australian space analyst, SETI is running out of money. Despite needing only $2 million a year, a relatively small amount in space industry terms, they are facing a financial crisis. From the article: 'Getting on board a spacecraft is tricky. There are few places for professional astronauts. Even when Richard Branson and a group of other visionaries makes space tourism more affordable, it will still cost huge sums to fly. But getting a foothold in the greatest quest of all can be done for just a few tens of donated dollars. Which is why it beggars belief that the SETI quest is on its knees.'"

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That's sad. (5, Interesting)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about 2 years ago | (#40535551)

Sounds like they need a Kickstart project.

Re:That's sad. (3, Insightful)

josephtd (817237) | about 2 years ago | (#40535615)

Or more of the slashdot readers that claim to support their efforts to pony up.

Re:That's sad. (-1)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about 2 years ago | (#40535647)

Right. With no organized structure, or method to do it. Good luck with that.

Re:That's sad. (5, Informative)

vriemeister (711710) | about 2 years ago | (#40535849)

Googling SETI donate gave the first link:
https://www.teamseti.org/donate

SETI just isn't in the public consciousness as much as it used to be. Kickstarter or getting Justin Beiber to <3 aliens would definately be helpful.

Re:That's sad. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535899)

Justin Beiber is an alien! Oh Canada, our home and native land...

Re:That's sad. (5, Informative)

SETIGuy (33768) | about 2 years ago | (#40536563)

It's important to distinguish between the SETI Insitute, an organization that does some SETI (but also does a lot of biology, geology, planetary science and bioastronomy), from SETI the discipline. Most people who do SETI do not work at the SETI Institute.

Re:That's sad. (1)

SETIGuy (33768) | about 2 years ago | (#40536575)

I wonder if there's a way someone could contribute to specific SETI projects.

Re:That's sad. (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about 2 years ago | (#40535679)

Considering the crazy things that get funded through CrowdFunding (not just at KickStarter, and in fact I don't think KickStarter wouldn't allow them, but at e.g. IndieGoGo, RocketHub (who testified before Congress on the JOBS Act, pretty interesting stuff in the video of that), etc.), that could - possibly - be an avenue.

But I think SETI lacks something.. SETI simply isn't sexy. Its greatest benefactor in popular media was probably the movie Contact - but even in that the message from the skeptics rang more true than that of the 'believers'.

While I think the response of various cultures around the world to undeniable proof of life outside of our solar system would be rather interesting, there's very little we could actually do with that knowledge in terms of actionable items.
I guess that maybe it'd push governments and businesses to work together to make interstellar travel the next "go to the moon" thing (after going to Mars, perhaps), but I wouldn't exact bet on it.

Re:That's sad. (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | about 2 years ago | (#40535697)

Snap - I messed that up.
Option A: I don't think KickStarter would allow them.
Option B: I think KickStarter wouldn't allow them.

Re:That's sad. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535863)

Considering the crazy things that get funded through CrowdFunding

Yes, soon I will CrowdFund some novel original nigger jokes. Seriously I've heard 'em all. Want some new ones. Jew and Mexican jokes (kyke & spic) appreciated too.

Re:That's sad. (5, Funny)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#40536619)

No need for that. All they need to do is update the SETI@Home [berkeley.edu] client (BOINC) to also mine for Bitcoins. [wikipedia.org]

I Want to Believe. (not) (3, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | about 2 years ago | (#40535553)

Like Fox Mulder I became cynical. He and I no longer believe in alien visitors. So no more donations.
Deceive
Inveigle
Obfuscate
BELIEVE THE LIE

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (2)

multicoregeneral (2618207) | about 2 years ago | (#40535575)

My thought is that the only reason they're not finding anything is because the aliens are using gigahertz and terahertz frequencies to communicate on. And it's only now that we have some inkling that it's even possible. Or maybe they're not using radio at all. I mean, it's kind of an inefficient slow form of communication over long distances, if you think about it.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (5, Insightful)

smpoole7 (1467717) | about 2 years ago | (#40535927)

> gigahertz and terahertz frequencies

Or something else entirely. Look at our own communications, which are rapidly switching to all-digital. Unless you know how the digital is encoded/modulated/carried, all you're going to hear is random noise. And who says aliens use anything like we do?

I postulate that a technical civilization would only stick with radio for approximately 100-200 years before moving to something better -- and something that we probably don't even know how to listen to. When measured against just the age of our local group, that's very narrow odds.

Be better to spend the money actually GOING to the stars than just listening to them, in my opinion. :)

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (2)

f3rret (1776822) | about 2 years ago | (#40536139)

> gigahertz and terahertz frequencies

Or something else entirely. Look at our own communications, which are rapidly switching to all-digital. Unless you know how the digital is encoded/modulated/carried, all you're going to hear is random noise. And who says aliens use anything like we do?

I postulate that a technical civilization would only stick with radio for approximately 100-200 years before moving to something better -- and something that we probably don't even know how to listen to. When measured against just the age of our local group, that's very narrow odds.

Be better to spend the money actually GOING to the stars than just listening to them, in my opinion. :)

As I understand it one of the big markers that they look for is repetition, so ideally you want a signal of some kind that sends out the same stream of date repeatedly. I can't think of an earthly analogue right off the top of my head, perhaps like an alien commercial or something.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#40536175)

Unless you know how the digital is encoded/modulated/carried, all you're going to hear is random noise.

Is that really true? Maybe if it's all encrypted with no headers.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (4, Insightful)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about 2 years ago | (#40536223)

The question is not will all alien species use radio, neither is it a question about the relative benefits of going to the stars vs listening to them, the cost of going to the stars is currently around infinity, which means if we could afford to go to the stars we could afford to finance the seti project and still have enough money go to the stars.

The question is this: is it worthwhile spending 2 million per year listening for radio signals from other stars. I think it is, as 2 million is such an insignificant amount of money in terms of humanity's resources. We probably spend that each day on cocktail umbrellas.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1)

fgodfrey (116175) | about 2 years ago | (#40536343)

> Unless you know how the digital is encoded/modulated/carried, all you're going to hear is random noise.

Only if you look at it from the perspective of digital 1's and 0's. If you look at it from the perspective of analog signals, you'll see square waves or sine waves on a frequency. That doesn't really occur in nature (except from pulsars). So maybe we'd never figure out what the aliens are *saying*, but we would be clear that a signal existed on a given frequency. That said, I don't really believe that we'll find anything "out there", at least not in my lifetime.

Re:Random Noise (2)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 2 years ago | (#40536397)

Nah, I trust a couple geniuses among us are pretty good at pointing at something and saying "That's Not Right". (The rest of the decoding is a different problem.)

I think it's just the crappy distance problem. As a Civilization transmitting waves, we basically have only some 125 years. For the LightSpeed Distance problem, that's a pretty narrow window. Just because *now* we're ready, is the problem. "We want it all, and we want it now." It's our bad luck (for example) a civilization held together for 1000 years but at the time we were doing the Ancient Greece - Egyptian deal.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (4, Insightful)

farble1670 (803356) | about 2 years ago | (#40536569)

Unless you know how the digital is encoded/modulated/carried, all you're going to hear is random noise. And who says aliens use anything like we do?

you miss the point entirely.

it's not that we expect to overhear their personal or broadcast communications so much, but rather it's about listening for "hello, here we are" broadcasts or even directed transmissions. we can now locate habitable planets. such messages obviously wouldn't be encrypted, and would necessarily be something very simple that would have a high chance of being understood by completely alien species with different thought patterns, senses, and levels of technology.

for inspiration, check out the pioneer plaque,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pioneer_plaque [wikipedia.org]

that attempts to describe our location in the galaxy. or, the voyager golden record,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_Golden_Record [wikipedia.org]

showing mathematical and physical quantities, the solar system and its planets, DNA, and human anatomy and reproduction.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (3, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 years ago | (#40536669)

Be better to spend the money actually GOING to the stars than just listening to them, in my opinion. :)

The Mars rovers including all mission extensions have cost almost a billion dollars and lasted less than ten years, so say $100 million/year. Shutting down SETI would then give you 2% of a Mars rover, want to make a guess at how infinitesimally small it'd be of an interstellar space ship? Not that we have the foggiest idea on how to build one... Space is absurdly big, Voyager 1 is 35 years out but less than 1/1000th of the way to the nearest star. Unless somebody is about to invent the warp drive, the only realistic chance of discovering alien life in the next 100 years - possibly next 1000 years - is to build huge, huge optical and radio telescopes, find earth-like exoplanets and ping them.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1)

pipatron (966506) | about 2 years ago | (#40535975)

They are probably not looking for direct communication signals. Activity by "intelligent" life forms will most surely create a lot of regular and odd patterns at various high and low frequencies as a side effect, and this is what SETI is/should look for.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1)

ThePeices (635180) | about 2 years ago | (#40536613)

Or maybe they're not using radio at all. I mean, it's kind of an inefficient slow form of communication over long distances, if you think about it.

Ummm, ignoring the possibility that you said that statement to be funny, but do you not realize that radio waves travel at the speed of light in a vacuum, and that it is physically impossible to communicate information faster than lightspeed?

How exactly is that a "slow" form of communication when it is actually the fastest possible?

Other reason for not finding ET signals (1)

spineboy (22918) | about 2 years ago | (#40536661)

What if we are the first? The first civilization because our planet and solar system is fairly old as compared to many other place in the galaxy.

Maybe we need to broadcast radio waves, in a grand gesture that some unknown culture in the future will hear us. Am I worried about bug eyed monsters invading us, because we are transmitting a "We are here signal."? - No.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about 2 years ago | (#40535651)

Continuing to fund a search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

It calls into question the claims that terrestrial intelligence does exist, itself.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 2 years ago | (#40535777)

Continuing to fund a search for extraterrestrial intelligence?

It calls into question the claims that terrestrial intelligence does exist, itself.

Judging by our elected leaders in the US, I'm starting to wonder.

Re:I Want to Believe. (not) (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#40536617)

I believe Eric Idle said it best:

"Our universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
    in all of the directions it can whiz;
As fast as it can go, that's the speed of light, you know,
    twelve million miles a minute and that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you're feeling very small and insecure,
    how amazingly unlikely is your birth;
And pray that there's intelligent life somewhere out in space,
    'cause there's bugger all down here on Earth!"

-- Monty Python, Meaning of Life

--
So, can we have your liver, then?

worthless waste of time (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535555)

yeah pay $2 million for some dumb sky watcher to look at the sky.
waste of money. SETI needs to be disbanded. its a joke.

Not now (5, Insightful)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#40535579)

It's quite sad that this happens now, when with the recent discoveries in exoplanets SETI could have actual targets for the first time instead of trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Make Paul Allen fund it (5, Interesting)

rockout (1039072) | about 2 years ago | (#40535591)

He started it, he could donate 40 years' worth of new budget and never even feel it.

Re:Make Paul Allen fund it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536051)

Make someone else do it. Always the solution, eh?

Re:Make Paul Allen fund it (3, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#40536439)

Make someone else do it. Always the solution, eh?

Few have the resources to donate $2M to a project, so pretty much any solution anyone comes up with on here is going to rely on other people for the bulk of the funding.

However, Paul Allen's net worth is $14B. So, comparing him to an above average person with a $500K net worth, if Paul Allen donated $2M to the cause, it would be equivalent to the $500K net worth guy donating $71.

If someone told me that I could fund the project for a year by kicking in $75, I'd do it. If they told me that me and 26,000 of my friends had to come up with $75 each, well, I'd be a less likely to donate.

Re:Make Paul Allen fund it (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536667)

If somebody told me I could fund the project for a year by kicking in $75, I'd ask: "And what's the benefit of funding this project?"

Unfortunately, SETI doesn't have a compelling answer for that: "We might, someday, find evidence of possible intelligent alien life, maybe. If we're lucky. And we happen to have our stuff pointed the right way at exactly the right time. But chances are we won't find anything."

If Paul Allen's going to donate $2m dollars, I'd much rather see him donate the money to solving real problems here on earth - fund a cancer researcher, or a renewable energy researcher, or an environmental researcher. Actual research into real problems, here and now = investment. Throwing money at a program that has to get stupidly lucky to produce any results whatsoever = gambling.

There's a difference, and you should learn it.

Pointless (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535595)

Most people believe SETI to be pointless at this stage. We have a better grasp of the probabilities involved, and the odds are very high that SETI will never find anything, even if there are 100 other equivalent civilizations to ours within 100 light years.

Re:Pointless (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535921)

Yeah... I actually feel embarrased now that back in the late 90s, I actualy signed up for and used SETI@Home for a brief period of time. As the years have gone by, the service has just begun to seem like more and more of a joke. I don't even remember what year it was I came to the conclusion that it *was* pretty much a joke... maybe 2004-2008? Of course, I haven't touched SETI@Home since the late 90s, though, but the more I hear about it the worse it sounds. Over the years, I have also gone from wondering "does any other intelligent lifeform exist" to a more skeptical viewpoint, that it's all bullshit and made up by morons who have nothing better to do that spout bullshit.

Good riddance SETI.

Re:Pointless (5, Interesting)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about 2 years ago | (#40536281)

Yeah... I actually feel embarrased now that back in the late 90s, I actualy signed up for and used SETI@Home for a brief period of time. As the years have gone by, the service has just begun to seem like more and more of a joke. I don't even remember what year it was I came to the conclusion that it *was* pretty much a joke... maybe 2004-2008? Of course, I haven't touched SETI@Home since the late 90s, though, but the more I hear about it the worse it sounds. Over the years, I have also gone from wondering "does any other intelligent lifeform exist" to a more skeptical viewpoint, that it's all bullshit and made up by morons who have nothing better to do that spout bullshit.

Good riddance SETI.

I did roughly the same, and agree with your conclusion. Folks should just let the dying dog die. There are (many) vastly superior space related projects underway that might actually have interesting or useful results someday. Moreover, it's a project that encourages people to consume as much electricity as their computers are capable of. At scale, I bet SETI produces more carbon output than most coal power plants.

Good riddance, SETI.

Re:Pointless (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about 2 years ago | (#40536589)

Just to support what I'm talking about, SETI reports they are consuming 588Teraflops per second! Source: http://boincstats.com/en/stats/0/project/detail [boincstats.com]

I know it's not equal (I'm guessing roadrunner is more efficient in terms of flops/watt than the old computers that often are used for seti@home) but Roadrunner produces 1026 terraflops and uses 2.5 million watts.. So using that as a basis for comparison, seti@home is consuming 1,432,500 watts per second. Based on data provided by the EPA (http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/refs.html ) which reports carbon output as 6.8956 x 10-4 metric tons CO2 / kWh, seti is producing 3,556 metric tons of CO2 per second!

Re:Pointless (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | about 2 years ago | (#40536633)

ehrm. 3,556 per hour, not second.

Tough times (3, Insightful)

addie (470476) | about 2 years ago | (#40535605)

I'm a supporter of SETI in principle, though I can't say I've ever supported it materially (other than a brief run at SETI@home when I was in university). Unfortunately I think it's simply a matter of priorities during economic downturn.

Up here in Canada, we have a program that also costs $2 million a year - the Experimental Lakes Area research station - and it's getting its funding cut [www.cbc.ca] by the federal government. It's upsetting to me, as I see valid science being disregarded in the name of fiscal responsibility.

That aside, the SETI program is likely to run, in one form or another, for the entirety of human existence. It may get shut down periodically, but this is not a question that's going to go away. Ever. Perhaps when our collective economies rejig themselves to be less focused on growth and more on sustainability, we can find room for a relatively cheap, pure science initiative. Until then, either donate directly to those initiatives you find appealing, or take whatever action you can at the ballot box. Or both, if you're feeling less apathetic than most of us!

Re:Tough times (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535667)

I don't think the cutting of the Experimental Lakes Area research station has anything to do with fiscal responsibility but more to do with not fitting in with Harper's ideology.

Re:Tough times (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536381)

as I see valid science being disregarded in the name of fiscal responsibility.

You know, if you had half a brain, you'd understand that "funding something you have no way of paying for" (i.e., being 'fiscally responsible') means that the government will be solvent in the longer term, and thus able to fund additional science programs in the long term. In other words, more science will be funded through sensible budgeting than profligate spending RIGHT NOW in a blaze of fiscal irresponsibility.

If the government goes bankrupt because it overextends itself, then guess what? NO more government funded science at all! Should they cut health care funding to fund your personal science fair? Should they cut education so your 2 million pet project gets funded? And if YOUR pet project deserves funding, why doesn't everybody else's 2 million dollar project?

Budgeting is an exercise in prioritization. NOT EVERYTHING can be "ULTRA MEGA SUPER HIGH PRIORITY MUST BE FUNDED." In this case, they decided that research such as "phosphates in detergents cause algae blooms in water! ZOMG!" wasn't as important as, you know, "My mum needs surgery for her lung cancer." Seriously, can we get a Search for TERRESTRIAL Intelligence program going? I swear to god you people are missing a key piece of brain anatomy.

Re:Tough times (2)

addie (470476) | about 2 years ago | (#40536535)

Thanks so much for the respectful and constructive reply. I'd try to type up a coherent response about long-term economic risks associated with short-term cuts to environmental research, but that might be too much of a strain on my less than half a brain.

Re:Tough times (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536611)

So what you're saying is you're incapable of responding coherently because all you're doing is reacting with a knee-jerk emotional response about some pet project of yours being defunded?

Yeah, that's pretty much what I said originally.

"Beggars Belief"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535611)

After 35 years with absolutely no results to show for the SETI effort, is it really that surprising that people have lost interest? In today's world immediate gratification is king, and asking people to put money into a project whose results they probably won't see in their lifetime seems like a losing proposition.

Re:"Beggars Belief"? (5, Insightful)

Nutria (679911) | about 2 years ago | (#40535875)

I can put my hard-earned money towards:
a) Fusion research, which might work in 30 years, or
b) SETI, which will NEVER find ET.

Guess where I'm putting my money.

Re:"Beggars Belief"? (1)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about 2 years ago | (#40536361)

In the bank?

Re:"Beggars Belief"? (2)

sqrt(2) (786011) | about 2 years ago | (#40536545)

How can you make such a definitive statement like "b"? Do you have some secret knowledge the rest of the scientific community doesn't?

Re:"Beggars Belief"? (1, Insightful)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#40535893)

And since Nixon declared a war on cancer, we haven't cured all cancer yet either. Think of the Cathedrals - built over generations as monuments to nonsense. Can't we take a long term view for a project that actually has a chance to help us become part of a larger community?

Re:"Beggars Belief"? (1)

vux984 (928602) | about 2 years ago | (#40536117)

. Think of the Cathedrals - built over generations as monuments to nonsense.

Think of Facebook... a monument to nonsense built in under a decade.

At least we're making progress.

Short term (1)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about 2 years ago | (#40536349)

Only 35 years? That is such a small amount of time on an astronomical timescale that it barely even has an existence. The odds of seti finding anything in 35 years is about the same as getting hit by lightning 150 times in 5 minutes on a cloudless day, and this has been known by the scientists involved for quite some time. You are wildly impatient. If we develop faster than light interstellar travel and it still hasn't found us any potential destinations I will concede that it was a failure. So talk to me in 200+ years.

Seti in its current form is a joke... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535629)

Seti has no where large enough receiving equipment to capture anything useful.

Right now it's a waste of time and money. Either get them significantly better gear, preferably fully time access to said gear. Or just get rid of it entirely.

Well, if they DO find intelligent life . . . (3, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#40535633)

. . . the intelligent life will probably NOT want anything to do with us anyway.

They'll just avoid us, like tourists not stopping in a bad neighborhood.

Article is a non-sequitur (1)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 2 years ago | (#40535641)

What does "Getting on board a spacecraft" have to do with SETI? Are we going to nip on over to recently discovered exoplanets and yell "any intelligent lifeforms down there???"

Re:Article is a non-sequitur (2)

pushing-robot (1037830) | about 2 years ago | (#40536147)

Sorry, misunderstood the article on the first read. Still seems a rather silly comparison, as far fewer people are willing to fork over the cash for space tourism than donate to SETI.

SETI just doesn't seem that useful thanks to the inverse square law. Even with an antenna the size of Earth we couldn't pick up on background radio transmissions from neighboring star systems. For SETI to detect anything, all the following would have to happen:

* A reasonably advanced alien civilization would have to concurrently exist in our neighborhood.
* They would have to consider radio to be the most practical form of interstellar communication.
* They would have to construct a dish or array equivalent to Arecibo capable of sending a collimated multi-terawatt-equivalent radio beam into space.
* They would have to assemble a signal complex enough for us to distinguish it from natural sources, but not so complex we can't recognize it.
* They would have to transmit directly at Earth at the exact time (adjusting for travel delays) we are listening for signals from that precise direction on that specific frequency band.

I'll leave the odds on all that as an exercise to the reader.

Market to the Rescue! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535659)

Make the first alien race discovered the property of the biggest corporate sponsor!

no aliens. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535663)

SETI is an absolute waste of money. kill it.

There is no life anywhere else and there never will be.

Re:no aliens. (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 2 years ago | (#40535879)

Not to mention waste of power and limited natural resources for the many thousands of plebs running seti@home

Maybe it has to do with results? (5, Interesting)

joeflies (529536) | about 2 years ago | (#40535681)

The money spent on space programs produce measurable, visible results. It also has milestones to show whether a project is on track, off track, or slipping.

For someone to support SETI, on the other hand, has to have faith that maybe tomorrow will lead to results and all those years spent waiting for something to happen wasn't lost opportunity cost.

Donating to SETI is perhaps more closely modeled on charity for religion rather than vis a vis to other space programs.

Re:Maybe it has to do with results? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535823)

The "results" are spinoffs, such as trailblazing the use of distributed computing in research (SETI@home). Maybe that's how SETI needs to sell itself to funding bodies? Sell itself as a computing or sensing research project (for example), that just happens to be looking of extraterrestrial life as a way of testing its results.

Re:Maybe it has to do with results? (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | about 2 years ago | (#40535929)

There wasn't much real trailblazing done by SETI@Home. The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GIMPS [wikipedia.org] was a distributed computing system two years before SETI@Home. It is however, true that SETI@Home did popularize distributed contributing in general a lot more than prior projects had done, and was a major cause for the creation of BOINC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkeley_Open_Infrastructure_for_Network_Computing [wikipedia.org] which is now used for many distributed computing projects. But trailblazing seems like an overstatement.

Re:Maybe it has to do with results? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536607)

That's why I wrote "trailblazing the use of distributed computing in research", and not "trailblazing distributed computing." They

Re:Maybe it has to do with results? (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#40536141)

A negative result is also a result.

Make space tourism more affordable? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535751)

Um, reality is calling, we're running out of cheap energy... The delusional daydreams of the cheap energy Cold War sci-fi juvenile paperbacks is just that, delusional.

SETI doesn't make sense (2)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 2 years ago | (#40535797)

When I think SETI, I think of searching for radio signals. If that's changed, they need to put some effort into telling people what new methods they're using. Because their website still talks about signal processing and detecting alien technology. We now know that untargetted radio signals are not going to bridge the gaps between stars. The distance is just too great. We'll never pick up the Alpha Centauri version of I Love Lucy. So why is SETI still focused on trying to pick up alien radio signals?

Re:SETI doesn't make sense (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535941)

They should claim they are searching the 'heavens' for god (like those monks in futurama).

None at all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535803)

There isn't a single celebrity, business mogul, or otherwise uber-rich person who can keep this afloat? What the hell happened to peoples' imaginations??

Re:None at all? (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#40536059)

How about Tom Cruise? His calendar has recently cleared some space (for space, for a space cadet).

I'd much rather fund nasa (3, Insightful)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 2 years ago | (#40535815)

The seti project was always a bit silly.

ROI (2)

Sepultura (150245) | about 2 years ago | (#40535825)

Why should I, or anyone else, donate money to the SETI institute? What tangible returns can I expect for my money?

It's nice that you feel they're involved in "the greatest quest of all," but I expect that most people would not agree. Besides not having much of a chance in succeeding any time soon, even if they did find evidence of extra terrestrial intelligence it would make almost no difference to people's daily lives. And the way things are going even if we did find ETI we'll be extinct as a species long before we could ever even communicate with them, let alone actually contact/meet them.

Besides, SETI Institute =/= SETI

Re:ROI (1)

gajop (1285284) | about 2 years ago | (#40536555)

Well, even though I don't care how you Americans spend money, I can agree that it's unlikely to bear any fruit any time soon.

However, if it did somehow manage to detect and decipher alien communication, it would be huge.
It would change beliefs, and in case of a technologically advanced civilization, it would even make discovery and understanding of alien tech nearly as important if not more than an actual direct pursuit of science - why do it yourself if you can see how someone else did it, as most of the fundamental science would probably be the same.

There are better ways to spend our science dollars (2)

ngc3242 (1039950) | about 2 years ago | (#40535859)

What else could we be spending our money on? Projects like the James Webb Space Telescope or sending to humans to Mars would have certain benefits to humanity while spending money on SETI is likely to be a waste of money. If there were plenty of money to go around then I would have no problem spending the relatively meager 2 million USD on it. However, with things like they are, let's shelve SETI and direct our resources elsewhere.

Is there life on other planets in the galaxy? Probably.
Is there intelligent life on other planets in the galaxy? Maybe. There will be a lot more planets with only bacteria than there are planets with sentient beings.
Will we be able to detect planets with intelligent life? Even less likely.
If we find intelligent life then what? Presumably we're going to try to engage in a dialog. Is that really a good idea at this point in human development?

Re:There are better ways to spend our science doll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535901)

SETI isn't science... science is hot chicks in high heels. The EU just put out an informative video on the subject.

Re:There are better ways to spend our science doll (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about 2 years ago | (#40536345)

If we find intelligent life then what? Presumably we're going to try to engage in a dialog. Is that really a good idea at this point in human development?

Whether a dialog is a good idea or not won't really matter to you since you will likely die of old age before we could exchange the first message.

But if incontrovertible proof of life on other planets is found, even if you can't talk to them, can you think of a more profound scientific discovery?

On theory is that the aliens will encode plans in their communications stream that teaches us how to build a spaceship that will let us reach their "planet". Of course, skeptics will claim that the spaceship is a fraud and any stories the "astronaut" comes back with will be dismissed as a dream. .

they keep asking me for money (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#40535887)

I stopped participating (and donating) when they switched to BOINC after having some bad experiences on a few machines. Every once in awhile I get a plea from Seti to return, and each time I respond "bring back the original screen saver and I'd love to".

Re:they keep asking me for money (1)

Darth_brooks (180756) | about 2 years ago | (#40536351)

The old screen saver became a breeding ground for people gaming the system in the name of cranking up their work unit totals. Their scientific vision suffered. The pretty screen saver was replaced by a framework that has been adopted by dozens of other projects that didn't have the wherewithal to create such a process on their own.

In terms of the ever famous slashdot-brand car analogy; You won't buy another Ford until they bring back the Pinto.

Re:they keep asking me for money (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about 2 years ago | (#40536593)

The old screen saver became a breeding ground for people gaming the system in the name of cranking up their work unit totals. Their scientific vision suffered. The pretty screen saver was replaced by a framework that has been adopted by dozens of other projects that didn't have the wherewithal to create such a process on their own.

In terms of the ever famous slashdot-brand car analogy; You won't buy another Ford until they bring back the Pinto.

I won't argue that the original screen saver was a Pinto. It was reliable for me, and the replacements weren't, for me. As always, your mileage may vary, and it's just not that important an issue to argue terminology.

So, it's more like, I had to get rid of the Pinto (if you will), and so I bought five new Ford Escalades and they all exploded. When I mention that, I'm told "have you driven a Ford lately?" to which I have to answer truthfully, no, I haven't. But I really have no inclination to do so. First impressions are important, and my time is not unlimited.

I think that's stretching a car analogy pretty much as far as one can.

Even when it wasn't BSOD-ing or hanging my computers, early BOINC seemed to have a very liberal definition of "unused cycles", and I often had to kill it to get real work done. (I'm not a gamer, but I do a lot of CPU and memory intensive things.) What seti@home lost when they switched to BOINC was user control of exactly when the program could use the computer. When it was a screen saver, I knew with certainty that seti@home would only run when the screen saver was active, which was, by definition, when I was not making interactive use of the computer. I know BOINC is supposed to make intelligent load balancing decisions and you are not supposed to notice it running, but actual results were not consistent with that. I brought this up in the seti newsgroup, and got a lot of various things to try, by people with much more time than I (evidently) but after wrestling with it for awhile, I set it aside, and haven't touched it since. Life is too short. Besides, the new seti screen saver was ugly.

"Needing only $2m a year" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40535897)

Presumably you mean "getting only $2 million a year". Plainly, the existence of this story shows that it needs more than that.

Good news! (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | about 2 years ago | (#40535949)

Jodie Foster should be getting plans for an interstellar transport streamed to her any day now.

Re:Good news! (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | about 2 years ago | (#40536407)

...but I bet she still won't be impressed.

instead of searching we should be seeding (2)

cathector (972646) | about 2 years ago | (#40536003)

we humans may wipe ourselves out,
which from one point of view is just fine because we can't wipe out all terrestrial life.
however, it is quite conceivable that an extinction event could make us the last space-faring species this planet will ever see.
and if you accept the principle that 'life is a good thing',
then this implies that we have a moral imperative to get life itself off-planet and into the galaxy asap.
we should be building little bio-bombs full of spores, pollen, algae and other primary producers which are capable of handling
a few hundred years or millenia in interstellar space, and launching swarms of them to the top 200 closest planet-bearing stars.

somebody point me to kickstarter.

Re:instead of searching we should be seeding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536261)

Enjoying and permitting the enjoyment of existing life is a necessarily good thing. Perpetuating life in and of itself has no objective value. What concerns me is how well those who exist are fairing. It makes no difference to me if no more children are born(caveat on how that effects existing people as imagined in Children of Men or in the simple case of wanting to have children for example). Potential life isn't life. Any action aiming at perpetuating life through means that harms people in the here and now cannot be justified rationally. So if some people wish to enjoy themselves by building and funding generation ships, great. Just so long as those who do not are given the same treatment and respect.

Re:instead of searching we should be seeding (1)

cathector (972646) | about 2 years ago | (#40536605)

> Perpetuating life in and of itself has no objective value.

sure, which is why i include "if you accept the principle that life is a good thing".
you may not, and that's fine.

i'm not proposing generation ships or any other sort of ship capable of transporting humans or anything more complex than extremely primitive organisms.
i'm talking about filling a basketball with primary producers like lichen, bacteria, and algae, and launching a few thousand of them into the galaxy.
guidance systems would be nice, too.

the cost of this would be a fraction of what we spend on say bailing out banks.

Re:instead of searching we should be seeding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536505)

What a stupid plan. Seriously. This is dumb.

Why?

1) How do we know the planet we're firing a pod at can support life, in the first place? If it's a barren rock, we've wasted a lot of time and money sending something there, with zero useful knowledge or benefit from having done so.
2) How do we know that the planet we're firing a pod at does not ALREADY support life? Firing off our little gene-bombs seems rather blithely genocidal of you. What makes EARTH life more valuable than the life that evolved on another planet natively? How would you justify killing off other species just so some subset of earth bacteria, algae, and perhaps protozoans can survive?
3) How do we know that, on the off chance that a planet CAN support life, but HASN'T evolved life at this point, the "seeding" was successful? Perhaps its atmosphere is poisonous to most earth life due to differences in atmospheric composition. Perhaps its environment is exceptionally harsh and will only allow a small number of organisms to get a foothold and survive. So great... we've seeded Proxima Centauri with slime molds... NOW what? Wait for the slime molds to evolve and phone home?

This idea is so poorly conceived, and so naively half-baked that I have to ask: are you really 10 years old, or did you just stop thinking the first time you read a science fiction book?

It's about time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536009)

Hopefully they will forced to stop throwing (other people's) good money after bad results.

If these people were to get a grip and deal with reality on *this* planet, they could make a difference that will actually help people!
Buy some water, food, clothes, shelter. Even a box of Ho Hos® handed out on the boulevard would accomplish more in one felt swoop than all the hoo-ha that has been created over "possible extraterrestrials out there".

It's time for people to grow up and use some common sense.

Seti is a antiquated larf anyway. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536015)

In reality seti is a waste because its all based on the "Well maybe tomorow we could find something!" idea. When their is hard evidence and belief something can be achieved but not have a real firm idea of how long sometimes endeavors are worth the time and energy and effort but seti is just a money sink because there is no proof they could ever do something worthwhile in a day or 43 years. Its all just a hunch.

SETI has always struck me as a bunch of nerds who are doing it for fun and have a job kind of like the myth busters guys where they get paid to just goof off and have fun, only seti unlike myth busters isnt informative or entertaining to anyone. They are funded to just fuck off and not actually be constructive.

kickstart the program (1)

itchybrain (2538928) | about 2 years ago | (#40536119)

I wonder if SETI could benefit from Kickstarter [kickstarter.com] the same way some other folks have been successful.

I thought they did a good job to farm out little bits of data for people to run on their computers. This is the very same reason why I think it might be possible for SETI to get funding by way of kickstarter.

I am sure there are still dreamers in this blue earth that could give SETI a hand, provided the objectives and level of outsider participation (like myself) are meaningful.

ps: otherwise, just do it the archaic way: sell t-shirts, dammit. I'll buy one.

crowdsourcing? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#40536195)

So uh, is it useful if we all dig up all the old Satellite dishes we can find and hook up software-defined radios to them, and share them via the internet? Or would that just be a jerkoff waste of time?

Re:crowdsourcing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536561)

Considering SETI itself is a jerkoff waste of time, I'd say your suggestion would be pretty well suited for adaptation by the SETI team!

But then who will step up... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536203)

...to continue providing nothing of value?!

Re:But then who will step up... (1)

Teresita (982888) | about 2 years ago | (#40536307)

Defunding SETI would be a successful search result for intelligent life down here.

no propaganda or pork-barrel value (1)

bcrowell (177657) | about 2 years ago | (#40536253)

The article makes an analogy with physical exploration of outer space, but that doesn't quite work. The "space race" happened because both sides in the Cold War wanted a propaganda victory. After the Cold War ended, projects like the ISS and the shuttle continued because of pork-barrel politics.

SETI is qualitatively different. If the Allen Telescope Array manages to keep going and then succeeds, it won't be a propaganda victory for any national government, and it won't put any aerospace company on the federal gravy train. From the point of view of politicians and industrialists, there's no motivation for SETI.

There's also no obvious reason why a success for SETI in 2020 AD is any better or worse for humanity than a success in 2120 or 3020. The ATA is designed to survey a sphere a thousand light-years in radius. If we detect a signal from a civilization 1000 l.y. away, there's no possibility of a two-way conversation. It's like discovering the first dinosaur fossil. Sure, it would be cool to be the one to dig it up, but there's no hurry to dig it up. It was there for millions of years and wasn't going anywhere if we didn't dig it up. If there are radio beacons in our galaxy transmitting "I am here" signals, then statistically such signals have probably existed for millions of years and will continue to exist for millions of years into the future. You can make up scenarios where a successful SETI gives some kind of moral or spiritual lift to H. sapiens right when we needed it. You can also make up science fiction stories where it has no big effect on us, or even a negative effect (e.g., we receive a signal modulated with super-duper scientific knowledge, which helps us to blow up the world or something).

Re:no propaganda or pork-barrel value (1)

farble1670 (803356) | about 2 years ago | (#40536659)

your problem is that your imagination is limited to the technology you understand.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536293)

It's a waste of time and money anyway.

The search for... (2)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#40536385)

Perhaps they can get extra funding by searching for this Higgs Boson thingy I keep hearing about.
There's got to be one out there some where...

easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536399)

Phone Home for some more money.

It SHOULDN'T Be funded (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40536441)

At least not right now, we don't even have the equipment to detect any signal from another civilization. Heck, right now we'd have to be pointing at exactly the right star, with the biggest radio telescope that we have, at exactly the right time, which is when some other civilization decided to hook up a much, much larger radio transmitter to enough power to warrant its own fusion reactor. Then maybe, IF they were close enough, we could actually receive that signal.

The point is, SETI has been nigh a joke since its inception. It's the equivalent of claiming you're searching for signs of extra terrestrial life on Mars with your backyard telescope.

They are Looking for the Wrong type of Signature (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | about 2 years ago | (#40536531)

As a race becomes more advanced their communications technology will move from being a high powered shotgun to a low powered shotgun or highly targeted rifle. This will make them very difficult to detect. However, what we will be able to detect will be the gamma ray bursts of nuclear weapons used in their space battles. This is what we should be looking for because those races that have not developed and does not practice this type of space warfare, this is is a peaceful race, is just going to be someone else's 'food' and die out or be conquered.

Re:They are Looking for the Wrong type of Signatur (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | about 2 years ago | (#40536645)

Uhh...no. Warfare is a negative-sum game. Both parties in a war usually lose far more than they gain. A successful race will have the technological and military tools needed to make sure that any potential foes face a serious deterrent against attacking, but said race will not initiate an attack themselves unless it is one of the rare scenarios where fighting yields more benefits than trading.

Probably because SETI is a waste of time (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | about 2 years ago | (#40536627)

Everything we know now about technology and technological progress says that SETI is a total waste of time. Unless our understanding of the universe is fundamentally flawed, there is nothing we will be able to find. This is why :

1. As radio technology advances, the signals become closer and closer to noise. Already, most digital radios today would be totally indistinguishable from noise when observed from lightyears away. Also, as the radios get better, the signals become more and more directional. It is reasonable to expect that in 50 years, all the radios used in most applications will use frequency hopping, very low power, ultra wide band, and will steer their signals to the locations of other nodes in a mesh network. 50 years is probably a pessimistic estimate for this.

2. If our theories about the Singularity are true, by the time our light reaches other stars, within another 1000 years or so we'll be roaring in on starships, running self replicating machinery that systematically converts all matter into more useful products. The presence of post-singularity humanity will be completely impossible to miss. Thus, the reason we cannot see other civilizations doing the same thing is because we are the first one in our region of space.

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