Friday, May 6, 2011

Searching for Aliens, SETI Needs Your Help

SETI has been temporarily shut down due to lack of government funding but they expect to be operational by the summer of 2011. In the meantime they have collected a ton of data that they are asking the public to examine. In essence they need your help to find aliens and to make it fun the are enlisting the help of Gamify. See below for details! 
The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has launched a contest with Gamify to get the general public involved in the search for alien signals. SETI, best known for the giant radio dishes and telescopes that provide it interstellar data that could be from an extraterrestrial source, needs help analyzing the signal data coming from the Allen Telescope Array (ATA) and other sources. The ATA is in hibernation, but it's expected to be operational again sometime this summer, and it has already collected a massive amount of data that needs to be analyzed.

SETI needs your help locating aliens
The competition enlists the public's help in searching through the signal data. SETI wants to make sure that it isn't missing important radio signals and that radio frequency interference (RFI) isn't fooling its signal analysis algorithms. To do that, it needs eyeballs to examine the signal data, looking for new kinds of signals that SETI's software (SETIQuest Explorer) hasn't detected yet. This will help SETI train its software to find these types of signals for potential analysis.
Sifting through waterfall plots (the method SETI's software uses to visually represent signal data for humans) is dull and tedious work on its own. So to get people involved, SETI has enlisted the help of Gamify, adding game play mechanics to make searching for hidden signals more fun and engaging.
"We have a big challenge that involves a large amount of data," SETI senior software engineer Jon Richards told Mashable. "To properly address our challenge we need to enlist the eyeballs and brains of a lot of people. Gamification will be necessary to deliver the data in a way that will engage the gaming community with enough entertainment value to get people hooked."

The contest is simple. SETI and Gamify are asking users to answer one question: "How would you gamify SETI?" Each person is allowed to answer the question up to three times on Gamify's website. The community will then vote up the answers they like best, though SETI will get the final call on who is the ultimate winner of the contest.
The winner and 10 runners-up will get a prize package (including a SETI-branded Astro A30 Audio System for the winner). And of course the winner also could earn the potential legacy of being part of the solution that eventually found alien life.
Searching for extraterrestrial signals has been romanticized by books and films like Contact, but in reality, a small group of scientists can't possibly go through all the data. That's why SETI is hoping game mechanics (like the ones you see in SCVNGR or Foursquare) will get more people involved.
“We’re huge fans of SETI and are super psyched to be working with them on solving such an epic problem," Gamify CEO Nathan Lands told Mashable. "This is a great experiment for us, because we believe if you can gamify the search for ET. 
Sourcecan gamify almost anything."
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