Bengaluru's IT spark to help light up ET dreams

Bengaluru's IT spark to help light up ET dreams

Bengaluru's IT spark to help light up ET dreams

 Bengaluru’s thriving IT industry may play a major role in one of the world’s most ambitious projects in search of extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), the Breakthrough Initiative, funded by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner.

On July 20, Milner had famously announced the project with an investment of $100 million. Cosmologist Stephen Hawking,  astrophysicist Frank Drake and several other world renowned scientists are part of the project.

Chairman, Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC), Peter Worden delivered a lecture at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA) here on Wednesday. “We want huge public involvement in the project and much of the key technology is going to be the IT and computer technology. The two places in the world where the most advanced IT is happening is here and in the Silicon Valley. So, we would like the people to get excited,” Worden told Deccan Herald after delivering the lecture titled “The Search for Life in the Universe.” However, when asked if he and his team had any plans to talk to IT companies and scientists in the City soon as part of this plan, he said it would “eventually happen” but not during the ongoing trip. “We are also having talks with people in China and England,” he said.

The project will begin by exploring the nearest million stars, the Milky Way plane and the hundred nearest galaxies. “The key thing and this is one of the main areas I want to emphasise... the final factor that has made all this possible is the development of advanced IT technology and one reason we are here is to get interest in IT technology.

The Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley-type areas like India are developing the technology to look into huge amount of data,” said Worden. He said open softwares will be used and data will be available to the common public through SETI@home, a public computing project hosted on the Internet based in the University of California, Berkeley, to analyse any signs of extraterrestrial life like radio wave. “At present, five million personal computers are used and their equivalent power is equal to the world’s largest supercomputer. By making this data open source, we can enlist millions of people,” he said.

The Breakthrough Initiative

The Breakthrough Initiative mainly involves two things: Breakthrough Listen that will search for signs of ETs by trying to find radio or laser transmission and secondly and most importantly the Breakthrough Message that will be in the form of a international contest that will involve $1 million in prizes.

The contest has two parts - firstly designing message that will represent a cultural and creative effort. This could be in the form of an imagery and even three-dimensio­nal imagery, said Worden. “This initiative will begin in a few months,” he added. The second part of the contest will invol­ve coding. “This will be a separate competition involving more technical questions of coding and decoding,” Worden said.