Want to contribute to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? SETI@home lets you (well your computer actually) get into the act. Why, you could even be out having lunch, while your computer running a special screensaver, is contributing useful bits of data to the study. Launched in May of 1999, the program takes advantage of what is called "distributed-computing," which makes use of many separate computers each processing small "work units" which are then sent back to the SETI@home lab at UC Berkeley.
The program is parceling out data gleaned from the huge radio telescope at Arecibo, with the overall intention of detecting signals from outer space that appear to be coming from an intelligent source. Many were skeptical of how useful this group collaboration would be when it first began. But as of May 2002 there were over 3,725,900 signed-up participants whose computers had analyzed a staggering 983,487 years of computer processing time. According to one project director, the contributors are analyzing the same amount of data that it would cost them $300 million of supercomputers to otherwise obtain. While Seti@home is clearly a groundbreaking success in the field of "distributed-computing" one would hope that it might eventually yield an alien radio jingle as well. For more info check out this article(1) by Kamil Z. Skawinski.