SETI Explorer App Finally Gives your Phone a Purpose

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Finally, your phone can do something more important than check email, browse the internet or help misguided birds channel their aggression against their pig overlords: The SETI Institute has launched a private beta test for SetiQuest Explorer, an app that will allow users to search for intelligent life in space.

The new app – currently only available for Android 2.2, but with iOS versions being worked on – runs parallel to the UC Bekeley SETI@Home program that uses unused computer processing power to analyze data from space, but instead relies upon people for its processing. Users will have access to images from the Allen Telescope Array in California to try and recognize patterns within the “fuzzy noise” and radio signals surrounding them. According to SETI’s director, Jill Tarter, the human computer known as the brain is just better at this kind of thing than automated systems:

We are looking for anomalies, patterns that aren’t recognizable. We know there [is] data we are missing. There are so many signals in the narrowband, our automated code has to skip over it. We want people to help us find things we don’t expect. A computer doesn’t do random pattern matching. A computer is not very good at serendipitous detection, and humans are.

The app is the creation of Francis Potter, a San Francisco-based programmer inspired by Tarter’s TED talk where she called for “citizen scientists” to help SETI’s quest for ET life (Potter calls the app “the kind of thing to do when you have a few minutes to kill when you are waiting in line at a movie or at the doctor’s office”), and Adobe’s Experience Design Group, who provided funding for the project. Those interested in joining the Beta test, you can find out more here.

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