Chapter 5. SETI@home

David Anderson, SETI@home

It was January 1986, and I was sitting in a cafe on Berkeley, California’s Telegraph Avenue. Looking up, I recognized a student in the graduate course I was teaching that semester at the university. We talked. His name was David Gedye, and he had just arrived from Australia. Our conversation revealed many common interests, both within and outside of computer science. This chance meeting led, twelve years later, to a project that may revolutionize computing and science: SETI@home.

Gedye and I became running partners. Our long forays into the hills above the Berkeley campus occasioned many far-ranging discussions about the universe and our imperfect understanding of it. I enjoyed these times. But all good things must end, and in 1989 Gedye left Berkeley with a master’s degree. He worked in Silicon Valley for a few years, then moved to Seattle and started a family. I also left academia, but remained in the Bay Area.

In 1995 Gedye visited me in Berkeley, and we returned to the hills, this time for a leisurely walk. He was bursting with excitement about a new idea. It sounded crazy at first: He proposed using the computing power of home PCs to search for radio signals from extraterrestrial civilizations. But Gedye was serious. He had contacted Woody Sullivan, an astronomy professor at the University of Washington and an expert in the theory behind SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Woody had steered him to Dan Werthimer, a ...

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