Airdate: Apr 14, 2000
Scientist: Kent Cullers
Listening to the Universe: Computers and Ears
Computers and human ears share the tasks of listening for signs of intelligent life in outer space.
We're listening to electromagnetic signals from outer space that have been picked up by radio telescope and translated into frequencies that we can hear. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by DuPont. The cornucopia of signals in space includes bursts of energy from distant stars and planets mixed together with signals from our own planet, such as radio waves and radar. Well, trying to make sense of it all involves an increasing interdependence between humans and computers.
"We don't actually listen to the cosmos with earphones. The reason is that the computers are much better at detecting weak signals than we are. They do it the same way that the human ear does it, but their quote senses unquote, their senses are much better."
Kent Cullers is a physicist with the SETI Institute. SETI stands for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
"So the computers do the analysis. We listen to the radio equipment because it tells us whether in general the systems are behaving well. And from time to time we enhance what the computers do to make sure that in the end, what is supposed to correlate with our senses actually does. You need a direct perceptual link with the science that you do or in fact, you never quite believe it. The data is too abstract. So, yes, sound is useful for reality contact, but computers make billions of tests per second. No human being can possibly do that. I design the equipment that look for weak signals from the stars and I design the methods for weeding out the rather stronger signals that come from the earth. Within a century we will have searched the galaxy. But the only way that is possible is through the power of the growth of the computers."
Pulse of the Planet is presented by DuPont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.