Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking’s $100m extraterrestrial search boosted by massive open source opportunity Reuters

Breakthrough Listen, the $100m initiative to run a massive extraterrestrial search for signs of alien life forms across the uncharted space, will create a huge crowdsourced programme harnessing the computing resources of perhaps millions of smartphones and PCs.

The massive data to be recorded on the two telescopes -- the towering 100-metre (328 foot) Green bank telescope in West Virginia and the 64-metre (209 foot) Parkes telescope in New South Wales, Australia -- would require massive computing resources, as scientists listen for signals transmitted from millions of stars close to Earth.

It is estimated that the 10-year search could extend far beyond thousands of hours each year, unlike the traditional search methods that barely last 36 hours each year.

"In searches such as this, the more eyes you can get on the prize the better," Todd Thibodeaux, president at tech industry association CompTIA, told Forbes in a recent interview.

"Harnessing the personal interests of possibly hundreds of thousands of people makes sense and couldn't be accomplished cost effectively any other way," adds Thibodeaux.

"Imagine if modern pharmaceuticals had been started the same way, with crowdsourced power and effort, instead of being driven by commercial interests," says IDC Research Director Alys Woodward.

"When there is a major human interest such as in these cases, the number of people who can help is immense."

The project will primarily use the collaborative processing platform, BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), and be supplemented by volunteer computing resources.

Interested volunteers and contributors can get a first-hand experience of the project by downloading the free BOINC app for Android phones and desktop computers. The app is unsupported on iPhones.

Millions of volunteers have reportedly offered to help in the search operation, offering their home PCs, as part of the SETI@home project led by Berkeley University.

Check out more details on the SETI@home project here and BOINC platform here.

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, in association with Russian billionaire and tech entrepreneur Yuri Milner are at the forefront of this programme.

A second initiative, Breakthrough Message, will fund an open international competition to determine the content of messages sent from humanity to alien civilizations, and the pool of prizes for the best messages will total $1 million, reports Space.

Will alien life-forms be a threat to mankind?

In his recent announcement pertaining to Breakthrough Initiatives, Hawking expressed his concerns that any alien life-forms trying to contact Earth would be "looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they could reach."

"If you look at history, contact between humans and less intelligent organisms have often been disastrous from their point of view, and encounters between civilisations with advanced versus primitive technologies have gone badly for the less advanced," he told reporters.

"A civilisation reading one of our messages could be billions of years ahead of us. If so, they will be vastly more powerful, and may not see us as any more valuable than we see bacteria."