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SETI Institute Code Challenge: Machine Learning for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

SETI Institute

Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 7:00 PM - Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM (PDT)

SETI Institute Code Challenge: Machine Learning for...

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RSVP Jul 31, 2017 Free  

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Event Details

The SETI Institute is hosting a global, online code challenge to find a robust signal classification algorithm for use in our mission to find E.T. radio communication.

The Data Set

Each night, the SETI Institute observes signals across the radio frequency spectrum using the Allen Telescope Array (ATA). The signal detection system at the ATA searches for narrow-band radio signals coming directly from particular targets in the sky.

However, there are many other types of signals that are neither narrow-band nor necessarily radio-frequency interference.

The SETI Institute wishes to classify these other types of signals to improve our observation decision making programs, thereby increasing the efficiency of the nightly observations, and open new possibilities for E.T. signal detection.

We are constructing a large data set of classified, simulated signals that includes the many types of signals we observe. Besides narrow-band signals, we see signals that have small and large frequency drift rates, variable drift rates, amplitude modulation, and other characteristics. From this labeled simulated data set, which will be used by participants as training and test data sets, we are looking for machine-learning based algorithms and models that can accurate classify events in real time.


The Code Challenge

The challenge is to build a machine-learning based signal classifier that can be used for observations made in real time at the ATA. The winning classifier of the code challenge will be implemented at the ATA and become part of the data analysis pipeline.  

The challenge will last from June 1 to July 31st. Submitted entries will be judged based on their classification accuracy, accuracy for low-amplitude signals, and speed of single event classification. More details will be provided later about how to submit your work.

Signing up for the code challenge via this Eventbrite will let us know how to send to you all the necessary information that you'll need to access the data, get started on analysis, and connect you with teammates and fellow participants! 


The Hackathon

In addition to the code challenge, an associated hackathon is planned. The hackathon is a weekend-long event, also aimed at building signal classifiers using the labeled simulated data set. 

At the hackathon you’ll work directly with top SETI researchers and form teams with other citizen scientists. Our own Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Gerry Harp will present research being done at the SETI Institute. Also, Dr. Danny Price of UC Berkeley will present the latest results from the Breakthrough Listen project and how to get involved.



The hackathon in San Francisco is a kick-off event for the code challenge (See below for info on the separate prizes being awarded for each event.)

You may participate:


Awards & Prizes

There will be separate awards at the hackathon and at the end of the code challenge. 


Code Challenge

The algorithm developed by the winning team at the end of the code challenge will be installed as part of the real time data anlaysis pipeline at the Allen Telescope Array! Additionally, the winning team will get 

  • Co-authorship with SETI Institute researchers on a paper to be submitted in a peer-reviewed scientific journal
  • Assistance presenting their work at a SETI conference or meetup (assistance with slides, abstract submission or introduction to meetup organizers)

The top 3 teams, will also receive an invitation to write a "white paper" that describes their work. IBM has generously agreed to host these papers online. 


Judging will be based on an objective measure of the algorithm/model's classification accuracy and speed of classifying single events. These exact details will be defined before the beginning of the challenge. 



At the hackathon only, we will give out prizes for the following awards:

  • Most Accurate Classifier
    • Winning team (up to 6 people) will be given a tour of the Allen Telescope Array, led by SETI Institute researchers. The date of the tour will be negotiated.
  • Most Interesting / Surprising Approach

Teams will present their analysis at the end of the second day and a judging panel will make the selections.

There will be trophies!

Hackathon Trophy

A team may win both the hackathon and code challenge.  

We are looking to add other awards as well. We'll update these lists as they materialize.




More details can be found here:



We are primarily looking for experienced data scientists and fast learners. We are open to data scientists of all levels of skill to join us, team up with others, bring fresh ideas and learn advanced data analysis. However beginner data scientists should plan to team up with more experienced participants. 



There is no cost associated with the code challenge.


Academic Participants




Please check your local and national laws to ensure you are legally allowed to participate. Also, if you are a government employee, please ensure that your participation is allowed.



IBM skymind

Have questions about SETI Institute Code Challenge: Machine Learning for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence? Contact SETI Institute

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Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 7:00 PM - Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM (PDT)

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SETI Institute

Our mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe – and to share it with the world.


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SETI Institute Code Challenge: Machine Learning for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
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