SETI Phone Home: Harnessing AI in Search of Aliens
We’ve all read the science fiction, we’ve wondered about suspicious objects in the sky, and we’ve even speculated over mysterious crop circles. But we still don’t know what’s out there.
Gerry Zhang, a graduate researcher at the Berkeley SETI Research Center, at the University of California, Berkeley, is working to detect signs of extraterrestrials through radio frequencies using AI.
“The idea is that if there are advanced civilizations out there, they could be sending us signals, either intentionally or unintentionally. And we could try to detect them,” said Zhang in a conversation with AI Podcast host Noah Kravitz.
The Berkeley SETI team collaborates with the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, a Breakthrough Initiatives program dedicated to searching for evidence of intelligent life across over 1 million stars and 100 galaxies. SETI stands for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Taking data from radio telescopes, Zhang and his team create spectrograms, which are visual representations of a spectrum of frequencies in a sound or signal as it varies with time. According to Zhang, radio frequency data is ideal for interstellar communication as it’s transparent with a range of frequencies.
“[SETI] is an idea that other civilizations might have developed similar technology as ours. But in reality, we obviously don’t know for sure, right? So, one idea is to search for anomalous signals that looks different from anything on Earth. AI can certainly help with that.”
AI helps sort through the data collected from radio frequency transmissions, separating signals from the noise.
“On Earth, we make a lot of transmissions in radio frequency and … [we can’t] immediately identify [the signals] to an unknown source,” said Zhang. “Part of the job that AI can do is help us sort through the signals and try to characterize them.”
Zhang also held a session at the 2019 GPU Technology Conference in San Jose, Calif., discussing Berkeley SETI and Breakthrough Listen’s work with AI. A recording of the talk will be available here starting May 1.
When asked about his career journey, Zhang credits “the universality of artificial intelligence” as the driving force behind his passion and work ethic.
“The same [AI] technique can be applied from camera images to generating voice to writing music to finding aliens.”
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Featured image credit: NASA
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