Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Is SETI Worth It?

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week about how SETI@Home has been an exercise of futility. SETI@Home is the online grid computing project that harvests idle CPU cycles from thousands of volunteers around the world and uses the computing power to search for that elusive "WOW" signal from aliens.

According to the author, Lee Gomes, SETI@Home has crowded out other grid computing projects that are more feasible and useful to humanity, projects such as Climate Prediction and Protein Folding Project that aims to find cures for diseases such as HIV and cancer.

There have been plenty of debate regarding Gomes' article. For me, I am now volunteering my CPU cycles to the Einstein@Home project - I think that illustrates fairly my views on the matter. While I won't discourage anyone from joining SETI@Home - as I also see it as a notable scientific exercise - I'd say that there are also plenty of other worthwhile projects around waiting for your idle CPU cycles.


Dan Ciruli said...

I think the most valuable thing that SETI@Home did was convince the world that massively parallel, distributed computing is possible. Whether they found anything (and even whether the search itself was even worthwhile), SETI has done more than any other project to forward the ideas of grid computing.

I don't think that most grid computing that will happen will be SETI-like (that is, it won't involve millions of private computers), but it is SETI that has made people realize that grid computing can work on a massive scale.

Anonymous said...

I agree. SETI@Home is a fine experiment, and whatever the outcome is - that still has value to the scientific community. Dan pointed it correctly that it was SETI@Home that made distributed computing feasible.