Reviewed by David Ocame, N1YVV, Argus Station FN31ng
email: David.Ocame @ Yale.edu
I first obtained this book as a door prize at the SETI League's recent SETICon'04 Technical Symposium. I thought this might be an excellent opportunity to write a review, which could be helpful to other researchers interested in building their SETI research reading lists. As it was first published in 2002, I felt it might also be well overdue.
The volume's thickness may seem daunting, at first. But, I would urge the reader not to let size be a cause for hesitation. From the start, the depth of vision and, to a lesser extent, the technical detail, drew me in. I was, however, overwhelmed by the, perhaps, extreme ambitiousness of the enormous projects suggested and planned for.
SETI 2020 is written as a directive for the future research of the SETI Institute. However, it may also serve as an excellent guide for researchers who are not attached to the Institute itself. Contained within its pages are outlines for very specific strategies that will, hopefully, lead to first contact. The so-called Allen Telescope Array (an important research instrument in its own right), meant as a proof of concept for the much larger, and international in scope, Square Kilometer Array, is only one part of the overall plan. Other research directions discussed include plans for Optical SETI, an Omni directional SETI System (OSS), and the possibility for funding seed money to fund small, original startup projects outside the Institute.
At this point, I think some clarification is needed. It is not that the book is lacking in technical detail overall. In fact, it is detail rich in many respects. It does seem to me to be unbalanced in favor of the many rigorous mathematical treatments of SETI search concepts. Not that this is bad thing, but I would have liked to see more detail on the actual hardware components themselves (which are described as annual costs), and further depth on the subject of digital signal processing routines used in software (which are described as capital expenses). This is perhaps understandable for three reasons:
First, detailed analysis of each of the physical hardware components would turn a book, already fairly sizeable, into a library of many such volumes. This is beyond the scope and intention described at the outset in the first chapter. Second, it would seem counterintuitive to provide exact details of components before the Institute itself has the chance to deploy them. The last reason, stated in the book, is many of the technologies described have yet to be developed! Heavy reliance on the continued trend of Moore's law in computer processing power (which is that computer processors will double in speed and power about every 18 months) is stressed throughout. The caution here is that Moore's law has a limit that is quickly being approached unless a technological breakthrough occurs that will allow that barrier to be overcome.
Finally, I need to touch upon one last item before this review comes to an end. That is the SETI Institute's seeming over-ambitious, perhaps over-optimistic plans for the future. Throughout, attempts are made to estimate the costs that will be incurred in bringing these projects to fruition. The amounts are, needless to say, staggering! However, it is well known that the SETI Institute has access to an enormous amount of funding. I thought, too, that if commercial applications can be realized for many of the technologies under development, that this might serve to offset the initial outlay in capital expense. But, it seems to me that the Institute could possibly fall victim to the same sort of government over-spending that helped to doom NASA's SETI program. Rather the reverse of what the SETILeague, Inc has been trying to accomplish!
My final opinion is that due to the intellectual concepts involved, as well as the mathematical treatments used throughout, I would place this book in the intermediate to advanced range of reader. It is not for the casual reader, nor the beginning SETI enthusiast. Although this is not an exhaustive review, to be sure, the volume is important for it's insight into the future direction of research activities at the SETI Institute. I would say that it is a must read for any serious SETI researcher, whether professional or amateur. The ideas presented within make it an important addition to any SETI library.
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this page last updated 11 September 2004
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