SetiQuest Project Could Bring The Goodness of Open Source to Our Search for Alien Life


SETI or Search for Extra Terrestrial Life is a project that started some 50 years ago. SETI is one of those science projects that had caught the public's imagination like no other. But with the escalating costs and dwindling manpower, SETI needs a new vision. And if things happened during SETIcon, a weekend conference organized by the SETI Institute to honor SETI’s 50th anniversary, are any indication, the new vision could just be 'Open Source'.


SETI in its 50th Year - The Background
"All of the concerted SETI efforts for the past 50 years are equivalent to scooping a single glass of water from the oceans and no one would decide that the ocean was without fish on the basis of that one glass of water". That is an oversimplified way of describing the magnitude of problem SETI is facing. The "glass" needs to be much bigger than that. TED Prize winning talk by Jill Tarter, director of the Center for SETI Research.


SETI and Open Source
With the projects and algorithms becoming more complex and the need for further funding keeps rising, SETI desperately needs an alternative. An efficient and cost-effective alternative to search for intelligent life 'out there'. As Jill Tarter herself puts it, "The number of people in the world actively involved in SETI could fit into a phone booth."

The Open Source model best known for developing the Linux operating system and thousands of other applications widely used today. At SETICon Tarter announced a new project, called setiQuest, designed to open up the code and algorithms used by SETI to the public, in the hopes that people will use and build upon them, providing a new source of innovation for SETI efforts.

The basic idea behind setiQuest is to provide access of existing code and algorithms, cloud computing resources for developing new algorithms, and even raw data sets to literally everyone. The idea is to go Open Source. SETI hopes to attract people from all around the world with a fascination for astronomy towards this project.

They also hopes to make inroads into those who may not be interested in the concept but are looking for specific routines, such as in digital signal processing, who would use the SETI code in their own projects, make improvements, and submit that changed code for potential use in SETI projects.

Open Source Could Just be The Answer
These are still early stages to speculate anything, but Open Source could just be the answer to SETI's woes. And in my opinion, setiQuest is definitely a step in the right direction.
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