Seth Shostak – ET, Call SETI

October 31, 2011

Dr. Seth Shostak is the Senior Astronomer at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI). Seth is the author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter: A Scientist’s Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, and is well known as one of the hosts of the popular radio show Big Picture Science. (Formerly known as Are We Alone?)

Seth is a science communicator who performs public outreach; especially to young people, about science in general, and astrobiology in particular. He has published hundreds of popular articles on science, and gives dozens of talks annually. He is also a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

In this Point of Inquiry interview with host Karen Stollznow, Seth discusses the “three-pronged effort” to find extraterrestrial life. He believes that while no one can be certain, there is a chance of success within one or two decades, and he explains how this prediction can be made. Seth then explains why, if we find that life, we would need to tread carefully.

Seth talks about SETI’s past and present projects, critics and the Fermi paradox, and whether the organization spends more time searching for funding than ETs. He discusses current findings in astronomy, and how these discoveries may affect the SETI search. Lastly, Seth talks about outreach and education, and tells us exactly what the public knows (and doesn’t know) about astronomy.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, October 30 1st, 2011. 

Welcome to a point of inquiry. Karen Stollznow point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and the grassroots. My guest this week is Dr. Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at City The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute. He’s well known as the host of the popular radio show. Big Picture Science. Formerly known as Are We Alone? Seth is also a science communicator who performs public outreach, especially to young people, about science in general and astrobiology in particular. He’s published hundreds of popular articles on science and gives dozens of talks annually. Seth is the editor of Explorer and author of Confessions of an Alien Hunter as scientists Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. He’s also a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 

Seth, welcome to Point of Inquiry. It’s a pleasure. 

Now, you’re the senior astronomer at City. And you said that space agencies and academics are engaged in a three pronged effort to find extraterrestrial life. Could you tell us a little bit about this three pronged effort? 

Yes, indeed. You might not recognize the fact that there’s kind of this triple effort to discover whether there’s any biology beyond the bounds of Earth. But in fact, if you get away from the headlines in the papers and what you’re reading on the Web and that sort of thing, and for a look at the big picture, then you recognize that, well, there are indeed three attempts in our three kinds of attempts. One is to simply find it nearby. Could we find life on Mars? Either life, it’s still there or like it was there maybe billions of years ago. So that’s one one possibility that we’ll just find some other life in our solar system much as Mars. But in fact, there are half dozen other worlds in our solar system, mostly moons of Jupiter and Saturn, where there might be life as well. So that’s one possibility. A second possibility is that we will find it by, as it were, sniffing the atmospheres of planets that are around other stars. And we have the technology to do that. We do this. We just haven’t built it yet. But there are projects such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder being designed by NASA. There’s no money for it now. But if they ever build it in the next, say, 20 years, then it could look at the light coming from a planet around. Another star maybe finds oxygen, in which case that would be proof of life there. So that’s a prong number two of this three pronged fork. The third way we might find life beyond Earth in the next couple of dozen years is with one of our setit experiments. We may pick up a signal that tells us there’s not only life out there, but it’s clever life. 

OK. Which of these is the most probable or possible, do you think? 

Well, I think that apriori it’s very difficult to say. I don’t think that we know which is the most probable. So I just give them all equal probabilities. That’s an admission of ignorance, really. But I don’t think that I do think that one of them might pay off within two dozen years. And I usually bet people that I talk to about this a cup of a cup of coffee, that we will find life one way or the other or the third way within the next few dozen years. Otherwise, they get a cup of coffee. It’s not a bad deal. 

Very high stakes. And you’ve said to you just said, yeah, within two decades of sorry, within two dozen years. I think you said yeah. And I’ve come across a quote where you’ve said, well, no one can be certain there’s a chance of success within one or two decades. So I was wondering, how can a prediction like this be made? 

Well, there is a prediction. That is my guess, really. That’s what it is. It’s a prediction. And, you know, like most predictions, it’s subject to error. It could be wrong. It may be. For example, in the extreme case, it could be the. That we are the only life in this part of the galaxy or maybe the only life in the entire galaxy, for that matter. There are some people who think that this is the only planet with life in the entire cosmos. I think that those people are. They believe in miracles because that would make us a miracle, wouldn’t it? But in fact, you know, it is my opinion. It is my belief. And that’s why I bet people a cup of coffee and nothing more. 

Oh, I’ve heard of seismologists calculating that there’s going to be an earthquake in California, six point five or higher within the next 30 years. And so I just wondered if there was some kind of formula that you had for for working out those two decades. 

There is a formula in the case of Setit. You can save certain things, like if we can continue to do the experiment. You can look at the march of technology and see that, you know, in the next two dozen years or so, for example, we should be able to examine about a million star systems for signals. And personally, I think that that’s the right number to book success. But that’s just my opinion. Unlike the seismologists, we don’t have a body of data. You know, they have they have information on tens of thousands of earthquakes in the past. So that gives them, you know, the ability to do statistical analysis. So that’s a little different here than here because we haven’t detected any life beyond Earth. Not not one. So we don’t have any data there. 

And you’ve also said that if we do find life, even intelligent life, prison on other worlds, that there might be reason to tread carefully. So what would be some of the downsides to finding life beyond Earth? 

Well, I actually don’t subscribe to that. There have been warnings, most notably from Stephen Hawking, who garnered a lot of publicity more than a year ago now for saying that if we do pick up a signal, for example, from intelligent beings, we should be careful about responding right away and saying, how well were the earthlings? And we’d like to talk further because you don’t know what’s out there. It’s like shouting in the jungle to me. You just don’t know what’s out there. And why risk the entire planet to send your message? Now, I know that sounds very reasonable, but in fact, it’s not at all reasonable simply because we have been broadcasting ever since the Second World War inadvertently, of course, our radar transmissions, our television, our F.M. radio, all of that stuff has been going out into space. And in fact, any any society that could come here and do us harm would have the ability to pick up those signals. So, in fact, we’ve already rung that bell and it’s too late to stop it. You could, if you wanted, shut down all the television stations in the world, shut down all the radar sets at the local airports and do it forever and ever. That strikes me as completely bonkers. 

What do you think people like Hawking think could possibly happen? 

Well, I mean, they don’t know. See, the point is that clearly, you know, there are possibilities here that might be very inimical to our customer grabbing lifestyle. Right. The universe has been around three times as long as the earth. So, you know, there if there are other societies out there, they could be literally billions of years ahead of ours. So for us to speculate on what they might do if they were nasty is a bit like, you know, the Roman legions speculating on what the U.S. Air Force could do to them if they ever encountered it. 

Stuff of science fiction. 

Yes, it is. It is an end there. And as I say, I don’t think that it’s worth worrying about because, as I say, we’ve already been broadcasting and they’ll they’ll be able to pick that up if they have that kind of capability, if they have the, you know, the hardware that could bring them from wherever they are to Earth. They could easily have the hardware to detect these emissions. Once they get to them. 

Absolutely. So do you think there would be any downsides to finding life beyond Earth? 

No, I don’t think so. I think these actually. I once had to function in a debate as someone advocating that there was a downside. And the only thing I could think of is that there is some possible danger. If they send you information, you can understand it. For some reason, they have a grant to educate the Cosmopolis or at least educate this part of the galaxy. You know, you you might be getting very advanced information and that could be very disruptive. I mean, if you’re an academic at the local university and, you know, you’ve been studying, I don’t know, you know, string theory or work on string theory for the last 20 years. And they come in and say, oh, well, you know that we figured that out 50000 years ago. And what you’re doing is all wrong. But here is the right stuff. I mean, that, you know, that would put a damper on your on your ambitions. 

I think the possibilities are endless. There. 

Yes. I don’t take those very seriously, frankly, because it seems unlikely that we would ever understand anything they would send. But there is that kind of danger. I don’t think there’s any physical danger. The universe is arranged in a nice way in that we are widely separated from the other star systems. 

So you focus on looking rather than philosophies. 

I think that the the important consequence of finding a signal or finding some evidence of life elsewhere is that it calibrate us, which is like Copernicus. Right. If suddenly we recognize that, well, gosh, we’re not that special, that what’s happened here on Earth has happened in a lot of places. And you know that that’s interesting news. That’s sort of like as they say, when Copernicus said that the earth is really not the center of the cosmos, you can change your daily life very much. I’m sure you still want to work, but it ultimately changes our view of ourselves. 

Indeed. And we’ve had some recent troubles with funding and support at City. So what’s happening with City right now? 

Well, there have been troubles in funding our Allen Telescope Array, which is the radio telescope that we use for our searches. And we have fortunately, we we appeal to the public and they contributed more than two hundred thousand dollars to get that telescope back on that connection. In addition to that, we’ve also signed a contract with the essentially the U.S. Air Force. And they use the antennas for their own purposes. Some fraction of the time, 20 percent or something like that. I don’t know the exact percentage. I don’t think that’s actually been worked out. But that helps to cover the cost of operating the array. So that funding problem is, at least for the moment, gone away a little bit. I hope it stays away and I hope that we find funding that will last for the years that it’s going to take to do the project and, you know, expand the instruments so that everything can be done much faster. 

I hope so. And it seems sometimes like you spend more time searching for funding than searching for extraterrestrials. 

Well, I think that that is a general lament for scientists. In fact, the majority of our scientists, of course, are doing what’s called astrobiology, which means that they’re looking for life on Mars or something like that. And they have to write the funding proposals as well, usually to NASA or to the National Science Foundation. And they spent a lot of their time doing that. So they to spend a fair fraction of their time looking for money. Other countries fund science differently. And, you know, maybe that’s something that the United States ought to look at. 

Oh, can you give any examples at all? 

Well, I lived in Europe for a long time. And there, you know, funding was for basic research was largely provided by the government. And, you know, if if your group was given moneys, it was given money for a fairly long time, not just for one year or less. There’s that difference. NASA is NASA’s budget is looked at every year by the U.S. Congress. You have Congress who’s not a great repository of science, knowledge, in fact. So there’s a problem right there. But beyond that, however, you know, your contract runs for a year and then NASA’s no has to go back and say, well, this project actually will take five. Because we’ve got to build this device or whatever, we’ve got a rocket to Mars and stuff like that. And yet every year they’d have to get funding. And that’s that’s a very short timescale for some science project. So I think that that’s faulty. 

No, I would agree with you there. It is definitely the bane of most scientists, our careers. So they’ve also been a lot of criticisms that have been made by various scientists of the city project. Can you tell us about some of those? 

Well, I don’t actually hear too many of those, to be really honest, I, I get frequently asked, can you suggest someone who could, for example, debate you about the merits of doing this? Somebody who thinks that it’s a waste of time and time. And there’s one guy I know I’ve known him a long time. He’s a professor down at a university in Southern California. And he thinks that said, he doesn’t have a chance because the aliens aren’t out there, because if they had been, they would have visited us by now. That’s kind of his argument. It’s you know, he makes it in a sophisticated way. And but he’s the only one I can routinely think of that actually criticizes. Most scientists will say that they think that it, in fact, virtually all of them, that this is a thing that’s worth trying. Because it would be so interesting to know that there’s somebody out there that even if the chances of success are very small, much smaller than I suggested at the beginning of this conversation, even even then, it’s worth doing because the payoff is big. 

I came across a nice quote, I think it was from Phillip Morrison. The probability of success is difficult to estimate, but if we never search, the chance of success is zero. 

Well, yeah, I don’t actually agree with that entirely, in fact, but that more than three could be decided by people that be in the city business. 

I think that indeed you greatly increase your chances by searching. But it’s also true that in science, anybody who knows the history of science knows that there’s a lot of serendipitous discovery as well, that we often find things even though we’re not looking for them. I can think of some of the great discoveries, penicillin or radiation or, you know, many, many things that were discovered actually by accident. The same is true of quasars and pulsars and so forth. So there is some precedent for finding things even when you’re not looking for them, but usually do better if you make a concerted effort. 

And you’re talking about one of the criticisms. A little earlier is this the Fermi paradox that I’ve heard about? 

Well, that’s sometimes wielded as an argument against Setit. And all it is, is an argument to the effect that, look, if there are advanced societies out there, they’ve had plenty of time to come to Earth and colonized, for that matter, the entire galaxy. Turns out that you can make a quick estimate of how long it takes to colonize the galaxy. If you’re really serious about it and you know, it takes a few tens of millions of years, which sounds like a long project. But in fact, compared to the age of the galaxy, it’s very short. So, you know, the argument is, look, if they were out there by now, you would see evidence of them everywhere. And this was recognized by Enrico Fermi, the Italian American physicist, back in 1950. 

And it’s now known as the Fermi Paradox. If there’s all that life out there, then why are they here? Why aren’t they everywhere? Why don’t we see evidence of this empire? I find it actually not a very strong argument, although some people disagree with me on that because it’s making a big you know, you’re jumping to a big conclusion based on a very local observation. You’re looking around here. You know where we are. You don’t see any evidence of some sort of colonization effort. And then you conclude that, well, they’re not out there. I mean, you could you could have been, you know, somewhere in this. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, you could have been somewhere in southern Tunisia two thousand years ago and you looked around, see a lot of rocks and some local villagers and, you know, your buddies and your relatives and, you know, concluded that there was no empire trying to conquer most of the land bordering the Mediterranean where you would be wrong. I mean, that was the Robert M. Price. You’re just not part of it. You know, they missed you. 

So a lot of it’s about being in the right place at the right time. 

Well, exactly. There are vast areas of, for example, Australia where you won’t see any signs of civilization, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no civilization in Australia. 

Yeah, especially in Sydney. You have people in New Zealand maintain that it’s true. 

Oh, yeah. I’m a little for her for free there. So how do you do have any difficulties in maintaining your interest and passion in City, given that there is a possibility that you might not find anything? 

Yes, there is that possibility. But on the other hand, the equipment keeps getting better. That is to say, it keeps getting faster doing what it’s doing. So the speed of the search keeps increasing. And that’s enough to keep going. The other thing that keeps you going is the are the various discoveries by astronomers, for example, that, you know, we now know that planets are very, very common. We didn’t know that 50 years ago. They know whether planet planets around other stars were commonplace or were extremely rare. Now we know they’re commonplace. Probably most stars have planets. And what we’re learning from the Kepler telescope is, in fact, is that planets that could support life are probably going to turn out to be common as well. It will be the data are still coming in. So the jury is still out, but it looks like the fraction of stars that would have a planet that could support life is probably in the range of a few percent. And if that’s the case, then that means there are literally billions of star systems in the Milky Way galaxy in our own galaxy. Billions with a b. That could support life. That’s good news today. 

Yes. Laughs I’ve been reading about the findings of the new XO planets. And how do you think these discoveries are going to affect the search? 

Well, they affect the search in a very direct way in that if you find star systems that have worlds that could support life, obviously those are star systems that you look at right away of, you know, for wind up with your radio telescope or any other telescope, for that matter. So, you know, it gives you a bunch of targets. But you could have looked at the Earth for, you know, four billion years and not found any radio emissions coming off it because the dinosaurs never built radio transmitters. So, you know, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t find it. But it might turn out that the stars that have planets like the Earth, they may have some other characteristic that allows you to identify them even when you don’t know whether they have planets or not. In other words, what it does is it might sharpen your search, it might improve where you’re looking for signals. So in that sense, it’s good news. 

And so you were alluding to this earlier with funny things by accident while you’ve been searching for extraterrestrials. What are some of the other discoveries that cities made along the way? 

Well, actually, he said he’s made very few discoveries along the way, which is a bit of a surprise, actually, because our instruments allow you to examine the universe in a way that that’s that’s never been done before. In other words, to point a radio telescope at the sky is nothing novel that’s been done since the well actually was first done in the 1930s. But we have receivers that can see very narrowband signals. That’s kind of a technical thing. But no other radio telescopes in the world do that. And I was fairly confident that that would turn up at these some natural phenomena that might be, you know, previously unknown to us. It has not done that so far. So that’s a that’s a bit of a surprise to me. But look, this is like Chris Columbus sailing across sailing west across the Atlantic. You know, for three months he doesn’t find anything, just water, which was not a major discovery. And then suddenly he makes a major discovery. 

What is the. Well signal that I’ve heard a lot about? 

But while Signal was picked up in 1977 at the Ohio State Radio Observatory in Ohio near Columbus, Ohio, and it it was a signal seen only once. But the gentleman who came in in the morning and looked at the computer printout and found the signal there wrote Wow next to it. So it has the benefit of a very nifty name. Keep in mind that many hundreds of signals were found in those days because there was no way to check them out. Once you found them, except to go back a day or two later. So this one is remembered by the public because it has a neat name. All the others were just, you know, signal number 14, 22 or something. The wow signal was actually automatically observed by that telescope about a minute after it was found and it was gone. So probably it was interference. I mean, you know, we probably will never know if it has been looked at many times. Many people have turned many telescopes in the direction of the wow signal since then. Better telescopes and never, never seen it again. So if he can’t see it again, all you can say is, well, we don’t know what it was. You can never claim that it was somehow a scientific discovery. 

So and we were talking about criticisms from mainstream science and fortunately, there’ve been few of them. But what about pseudo scientists? Do you find that you have run ins with thought people from Tufano or other organizations? 

Well, I mean, I don’t have that much contact with Newfane. I mean, you find members occasionally at talks that I give and so forth. Move is an organization that’s designed to sort of investigate UFO sightings. And I think somebody should do that. Actually, I think that’s a good thing to do that. But I get every day I get, you know, five or 10 e-mails and phone calls from people who are who are claiming to be in touch with the extraterrestrials, are being bothered by the extraterrestrials or have information that will help us find the extraterrestrials. Not virtually all of this is, you know, just it’s not a hoax. These people almost never run across anyone who whom I thought was who I thought was perpetrating a hoax. But I’ve also never heard from anyone where I thought, gosh, this is information that really should be looked at carefully, because it is usually quite clear that these people have other problem besides the aliens. 

So there’s that. 

And I get a lot of photographs. You know, people say, look at this. Here’s who, you know, clearly a UFO. Well, it’s a UFO. All right. Nobody’s quite sure what it is, although most of them I can figure out it’s photographic effects or aircraft. But, you know, there’s some or you just see a white dot or something and you’re not quite sure what it is. But, you know, that’s never gonna pass the test of rigorous science because that could be so many different things, most of which have nothing to do with aliens. 

Yeah, I’m sure you could spend a lot of your research time dealing with the public. 

You could. And I do. 

Mm hmm. In a good way as well. 

Well, that’s right. I mean, the public in the end is essential to our search in many ways. And that’s wrong. You know, what the heck? When I was a member of the public, I wanted to know these things, too. 

And some other new conspiracy theories surrounding city. I’ve heard of a couple in the past with, um, people like Steven Greer and. 

Yeah. Yeah, well, that’s right. Steven Greer has gone on the radio many times saying that some of our staff, three of our scientists, our city scientists had talked to him about detection that we had made and that we weren’t releasing to the public, but somehow we were releasing it to Steven Greer, which is a kind of bizarre puzzle. But, of course, there are only three, 30 scientists here, and I’m one of them. And so three of them were involved and I would have been one of them. I’ve talked. And obviously, I wasn’t. And the other two I’ve talked to and they’ve never even heard of Steven Greer. 

So they haven’t either. 

But, you know, and I actually tried calling up his organization to find out if he would give any information about this. Like, for example, when did this take place and where did it take place? Anything that would allow us to, you know, just chill that, you know, I don’t know, we were on a picnic that day or something. 

I thought we could possibly have done that. He had, of course, would not talk to us. He just makes things up. 

And do you think that this topic seems to attract a lot of fringe believers and interesting people? 

Well, I think, you know, if you consider the two in one category, it’s it’s it’s certainly true that the idea that we’re being visited is not a fringe belief, at least statistically. It’s not. One third of the American public believes that we’re being visited by little great guys or whatever or sailing aliens. So that’s not a small percentage. I mean, it’s nearly half right. So that’s a very common belief. And they figure that the government is keeping this quiet. So it’s a little unclear why they they would think that. But usually they say it’s because otherwise the public would go nuts and there’d be rioting in the streets. But, of course, that sort of explanation requires that every government in the world is keeping this quiet unless you think that the aliens are only interested. Visiting the United States for some reason, maybe the fast food. Unclear. But so, you know, a lot of people have this sort of vague feeling that, yes, there is good evidence for, you know, aliens having crashed in Roswell in 1947 or whatever, but it was their favorite incident. And so, yeah, that that’s very common. And the conspiracy angle to that is that some of them will seriously say that those of us who work in Setit are part of the cover up, that we know this is true, but we’re keeping that from the public. 

Well, doggone it, you know, our funding problems would go away in a microsecond if we could show evidence that we are being visited. So, you know, they did. They just don’t have this right. It’s like the same sorts of arguments, conspiracy arguments that NASA is covering up evidence of life on Mars. You know, advance life on Mars, cities, pyramids, faces, whatever, that, you know, NASA has good evidence that all this is pointing to advanced life on Mars and it’s keeping it from the public. Well, NASA could do itself the greatest favor in the world by simply saying, hey, look, there was life on Mars. Their budget would go up by a factor 10 overnight. 

And we were talking little earlier about influencing the public in a positive way. And you perform a great deal of outreach and you make many contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy. And I was wondering, what’s the current state of the public’s education of astronomy? It’s not the sort of thing that’s really taught in schools like chemistry or physics. 

Well, certainly not at the lower levels. You know, not in high school and often even in college. You know, students will get through without taking an astronomy class. But on the other hand, I have to say that astronomy is one of the two sciences that the public finds most interesting, astronomy and biology. So, you know, there you go. So, you know, some some kids will take college, students will take an introductory astronomy class, and they are quite competent. Nonetheless, the public doesn’t seem to know very much about astronomy in general. I mean, if you just sort of gauge it on the basis of conversations you’ll have on the airplane or, you know, on the train a bit in the work or whatever, you know. And that’s very discouraging. The question is, is it worse than it used to be? And that’s really a difficult one to answer. I, of course, being somewhat older, figure that, yes, it’s worse than it used to be. But I think that every generation figures that the younger generation knows less than they did. So I think that that’s like saying that, you know, well, you’re popular. Music isn’t as good as ours either. You know, that that has nothing to do with the value of the popular music. It’s just your perception. So I don’t know. But but it is true that that in general, the public is very poor at ascertaining, you know, what makes sense from a point of view of science. They cannot distinguish between science and stories or opinion or things like witness testimony. Here some astronauts who say they saw UFOs. It must be the case that UFOs a real. That is to say, some are alien craft. Well, with this testimony, you know what wouldn’t send anybody to the electric chair? That’s not good enough. You need physical evidence. And it’s the same with science. 

Do you find a lot of people confuse astronomy and astrology? 

Well, some do. Yeah. Not not not yet. Usually they catch themselves and they say, so you’re an astrologer. And about six times out of ten they say, oh, I mean, astronomer. I think that they would prefer that I were an astrologer, actually, because then I could tell them something of personal use to them. 

Like your star sign, et cetera. 

Well, I, you know, sometimes go talk to them about how astrology actually doesn’t have much basis in real science, but that they they they consider that too much of a downer. The problem with being a skeptic sometimes is that, you know, that that’s bad news, whereas not being a skeptic is usually good news. 

Well, I think it says a lot that astrology is often the first word that people will come up with rather than astronomy. 

Often, often. 

So just in closing, are there any new or upcoming projects, a city that you’d like to tell us about? 

Well, I think that the probably the most interesting things we’re doing are to begin with getting the Allen telescope array going again. Of course, that’s for us a very important thing to do. And then we will look at some of these star systems that the Kepler telescope has found that are known to have planets that might be habitable. So, you know, those are higher quality targets. We’ll do that. That’s a very straightforward thing to do. The other thing that we’re doing, and I’m actually giving a talk about this in five days or seven days, I guess it’s eight days, whatever it is at a meeting in South Africa is is to consider other targets because we continue to look for life, intelligent life as we know it. In other words, you know, the product of a few billion years of biological evolution on a planet with water, oceans and, you know, the thick atmosphere and so forth, we continue to look for analogs of ourselves. But on the other hand, you know, the universe, again, is very old. And once you invent radio, if you’re some sort of biological intelligence, you invent radio. Very shortly thereafter, you invent computers. And shortly after that, you invent artificial intelligence. So probably the majority of the intelligence in the universe is not soft and squishy protoplasm, the biological intelligence, but some sort of machine intelligence. And so, you know, I think that we ought to spend at least a little bit of our time, five percent, 10 percent looking in places where, you know, biology would have a hard time, but a thinking machine would find it, you know, just the greatest place in the cosmos to be. And that might be places where there’s really a lot of energy neighborhoods and black holes are very bright stars or someplace other than, you know, the watery worlds that we continue to look at. 

And what about the City at Home project? You work directly with that organization as well? 

No, not really. That’s a different city project at the University of California at Berkeley. And they are the ones that run the city at home screensaver, which has been enormously successful. At least seven or eight million people have downloaded that screensaver and it helps them in processing some of their data. So it’s a great idea, but we don’t do that because we have a different setup when we observe. If we find a signal, we check it out within a few minutes. So we can’t wait for somebody at home to do it. But get it a it’s a great idea. 

Well, very exciting stuff. And Seth, thank you so much for speaking with me today. It’s been my pleasure. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. You can find out more about Seth Shostak at City Dot org to participate in the online conversation about this show. Please join a discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Whalan. Today Show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Karen Stollznow. 

Karen Stollznow