ET Phone Customers

ET Phone Customers

SETI today suspended their search for extraterrestrial life.  They will no longer point satellite dishes toward space and try to catch glimpses of radio transmissions.  Finally.  I have been arguing in smaller circles for a long time that this is an absolutely ridiculous use of time and technology.  The key mistake is one that a whole bunch of tech companies make; we have assumed that aliens will use the same technologies in the same way we do.  What if they use hard wires instead?  Microwaves?  A series of NFC or RFID signals? Anything that we haven’t thought of?

In business, the aliens are customers.  We produce amazing technologies that we, as technologists, would use ALL THE TIME and then find out that our customers don’t even touch them.  First we blame insufficient marketing budgets, then we blame people for being stupid but at the end of the day its our own fault.  You see, unlike aliens customers are around to talk to or demo to.  Why don’t you find one today and see if she likes your product or what she’d do to improve.

  • John Hammer


    I have been running the SETI screen saver on various home & business computers since 1999, so I am biased. That said:

    1) What is going on hold is the Allen Array Telescope in Northern California (as in Paul Allen). The Telescope Array, which went live in 2007, has multiple uses, as described here:

    While the SETI component is part of the mission, it is not the only mission of that array.

    2) Most if not all of the SETI data that has been analyzed since the start of the SETI Project comes from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico (on my laptops, the screensaver says “Arecibo” for every piece of data it analyzes). According to Wikipedia, Arecibo is supposed to shut down this year. However, I am still seeing active projects on this site:

    3) You wrote:

    “What if they (the aliens) use hard wires instead? Sound waves? Anything that we haven’t thought of?”

    The shot of the SETI Screen Saver above is analyzing sound waves. The Arecibo telescope and all deep-space telescopes are radio telescopes, not optical. Since there are dozens (if not hundreds) of radio telescopes around the world all listening to various locations across the sky every day, we are collecting mountains of radio data. The telescopes are involved in various aspects of astronomical research, the radio background noise is useless for the primary purposes of the research being conducted.

    Most SETI volunteers (like myself) are using the screen saver tool to analyze that “useless” data that is being collected along with the primary research.

    While there is a real chance that listening to radio waves will not lead to finding ET, the fact is that every astronomical object and event causes disruption along many parts of the radio spectrum. Given the amount of radio noise in space, and the relatively low cost of collecting and analyzing the data on millions of screen savers, why not do it?

  • John Hammer

    One more thing, and I admit not realizing this until I did a search, but apparently the folks that do the screen saver aren’t the same people that run the Allen Array:

    • If we can do the same thing on the cheap (very cheap) I’m ok with it. I just don’t think we should be spending a bunch of time and money looking for radio waves.

      I also corrected my comment on “sound” waves, I suppose that the radio waves are sound waves.

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