The search for intelligent life cut short

The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence at Home (SETI@home) project is the most commonly cited proof-of-concept for distributed computing.

Users install a piece of software on their PC that allows a centralised system to use its processor when otherwise not in use. That system analyses radio waves from space, looking for broadcasts from aliens.

So when Brad Niesluchowski, IT director of an Arizona schools district, allegedly installed the SETI@home software on all 5,000 of the district’s computers – almost ten years ago – he may have imagined he was furthering the cause of human understanding.

However, Niesluchowski resigned in November 2009 after his superiors finally caught wind of the program. A spokesperson for the Higley Unified School District claimed that not only had the installation impaired performance of the district’s PCs, but that it had also cost $1 million in unnecessary support and maintenance fees.

“We support educational research and certainly would have supported cancer research,” said Higley superintendent Denise Birdwell, according to reports. “However, as an educational institution we do not support the search for E.T.”

Niesluchowski denies that he misused district property.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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