APL Colloquium

September 17, 2021

Colloquium Topic: AI and ETI: The Breakthrough Listen search for intelligent life

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) was launched sixty years ago, when astronomer Frank Drake turned the radio telescope at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia toward two nearby Sun-like stars to search for transmissions from intelligent extra-terrestrial societies. While there is yet to be a detection of life beyond Earth, our technological capabilities have improved exponentially. We also now know that temperate exoplanets are found around most stars, and that the chemical building blocks for life are ubiquitous. This motivates renewed efforts toward technosignature detection. The 10-year, US$100M Breakthrough Listen project – launched in 2015 – has reinvigorated SETI efforts via comprehensive observing campaigns with modern telescopes, hardware and algorithms. In this talk, I will give an overview of the Breakthrough Listen program, and will report on observations and analysis to date. I will discuss our intriguing candidate signal, 'BLC1', which was first reported by The Guardian in December 2020 (before our data analysis was complete). I will conclude with a quick overview of how artificial intelligence may offer a new pathway to discover extraterrestrial intelligence.

Colloquium Speaker: Danny Price

Dr. Danny Price is a Senior Postdoctoral Fellow at the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), in Perth, Western Australia. Danny read his DPhil (PhD) in astrophysics at Oxford University, where he developed an interest in digital signal processing for radio astronomy. In 2013, Danny moved to Cambridge Massachusetts for a postdoctoral position at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, before moving to UC Berkeley in 2016 to join the Breakthrough Listen team as a founding member of the largest-ever scientific program to search for intelligent life beyond Earth. In 2018, Danny returned home to Australia, and began working at Swinburne University in Melbourne, before moving to ICRAR in 2020. Danny is Project Scientist for Breakthrough Listen in Australia, and leads SETI activities for the group with the Parkes and Murchison Widefield Array radio telescopes.