Last year, however, after meeting with scientists who believe in the importance of SETI and after seeing a petition supporting the idea signed by 72 distinguished scientists from around the world (including seven Nobel laureates), [William Proxmire] withdrew his opposition. As a result, NASA's SETI program is now funded at a rate of $2 million a year, and is expected to continue at that level for at least a decade. This search, using receivers capable of monitoring millions of channels at once, could begin its test phase as soon as this fall, and will be in full operation in two to three years.
For one thing, the fundamental problem faced in SETI attempts is trying to extract faint, unknown signals from a barrage of background noise. SETI scientists, including Paul Horowitz of Harvard, creator of Project Sentinel, have devised multichannel spectrum analyzers to deal with that problem. Such devices are already beginning to find uses in radio communications here on Earth. And some companies are beginning to apply the same methods to industrial test equipment.
Bernard Oliver, director of the NASA's SETI project and former vice president of Hewlett-Packard Corp., predicts that SETI-derived computerized signal processors could be applied even to such things as interpreting electro-encephalograms that are used to detect brain disease. "It may allow people to detect patterns in those messy brain-wave scans," Oliver says.