back to article AI beats astroboffins at sniffing out fast radio bursts amid the universe's clutter

AI is helping astronomers spot fast radio bursts, a mysterious class of signal emitted from a new type of object very rarely found in space that boffins are still trying to classify. Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are difficult to study. They don’t crop up too often - there have only been around 30 confirmed events since their …

  1. onefang

    So they trained their AI on fake FRBs, which means it'll be good at spotting fake FRBs, now we just need to train them to tell the difference between human fake FRBs, and the alien fake FRBs the aliens are training their AIs with.

    1. Pliny the Whiner

      "So they trained their AI on fake FRBs ..."

      Yes, well. Any day now, Trump will start Twittering about "fake FRBs." No one will know what the fuck Trump is talking about, but then, no one ever knows what the fuck Trump is talking about anyway.

  2. LenG


    FRB 121102 is clearly an interesting object of study, but since it is fundamentally different from every other discovered FRB why is it assumed that figuring out what makes it tick will reveal the nature of the one-time FRBs?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anomalous

      Could be either. If a rotating object, or nebula/planetary nebula consumption into a black hole etc, then it's cycle could be studied, and it may just be the others are types without cycles, or who's FRBs subsiquently miss us.

      Though as you say, it could also be an entirely different type of object that also gives of FRBs (like the difference between a black hole and a neutron star).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Anomalous

      @LenG: Very good point re the difference between the repeating bursts from FRB 121102 and, so it would seem, the single bursts from all of the other FRBs.

      FRBs seem to be very distant, generally considered to be in the order of billions of light years away, which makes the energy released from a single FRB considerable, raising the question of where that energy is coming from, and especially so in the case of FRB 121102's repeated bursts.

      I can't see FRBs being anything to do with extraterrestrial technology though - such tech would have to be very advanced, to be able to handle the energies, but would also seem to be very inefficient, because we're detecting it - and no, they wouldn't have been focused signals sent intentionally to us because we weren't here billions of years ago.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Anomalous and Autonomous and Anonymous are Almighty Secured Systems for AIMasterly Play

        - and no, they wouldn't have been focused signals sent intentionally to us because we weren't here billions of years ago. ... LeeE

        Are you dismissing they be new signals for the Here and Now to Better Comprehend for Greater IntelAIgent Games Play Command and Control?

        Such would leave one Absent from Future Virtually Practical Plays ...... on Heavenly AIMissions

        And to be sure there be Other Fellow Travellers AIDrivering the ProgramMING ... Reds in the Bed

        Приветствую товарища. И сейчас?

  3. John70

    Codenamed FRB 121102, it’s three billion light years away from Earth

    Nothing local?

    1. Chris G

      "Nothing local?"

      Considering some FRBs have been estimated at 10^33 joules something like 10 years worth of our sun's output, 'local' would need some quite exceptional sun screen for a millisecond or two.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Well, "Trump Radio Bursts" are so local it's exciting, but frankly one can deal with only one per day.

        Meanwhile from Robert Silverberg's "Tower of Glass"

        The room was furnished simply, even starkly: a lengthy rectangle that contained a desk, a data terminal, a small somber sculpture, and a dark drape that would, at the touch of a repolarizing stud, reveal the panorama of New York City far below. The lighting, indirect and subdued, kept the office in

        eternal twilight. On one wall, though, there blazed a pattern in brilliant yellow luminescence:

        . . . ☆ ☆

        . ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

        . . ☆ . .

        . ☆ ☆ . .

        ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

        . . ☆ . .

        . ☆ ☆ ☆ .

        . . ☆ . .

        It was the message from the stars.

        Vargas’ observatory had picked it up first as a series of faint radio pulses at 9100 megacycles: two quick beats, a pause, four beats, a pause, one beat, and so on. The pattern was repeated a thousand times over a span of two days, then halted.

        A month later it showed up at 1421 megacycles, the 21-centimeter hydrogen frequency, for another thousand turns. A month after that it came in both at half and at double that frequency, a thousand of each. Still later, Vargas was able to detect it optically, riding in on an intense laser beam at 5000-

        angstrom wavelength. The pattern was always the same, clusters of brief bursts of information: 2 ... 4 ... 1 ... 2 ... 5 ... 1 ... 3 ... 1. Each subcomponent of the series was separated from the next by an appreciable gap, and there was a much larger gap between each repetition of the entire group of pulse-clusters.

        Surely it was some message. To Krug, the sequence 2-4-1-2-5-1-3-1 had become a sacred number, the opening symbols of a new kabbala. Not only was the pattern emblazoned on his wall, but the touch of his finger would send the sound of the alien signal whispering through the room in any of several audible frequencies, and the sculpture beside his desk was primed to emit the sequence in brilliant flashes of coherent light.

        The signal obsessed him. His universe now revolved about the quest to make reply. At night he stood beneath the stars, dizzied by the cascade of light, and looked to the galaxies, thinking, I am Krug, I am Krug, here I wait, speak to me again! He admitted no possibility that the signal from the stars might be other than a consciously directed communication. He had turned all of his considerable assets to the task of answer­ing.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nothing local?

      It would appear not - there is a 'frequency dispersion' in the signals that indicates that they are far away.

      This dispersion is where the higher frequency portions of a signal arrive before the lower-frequency portions due to the signal passing through a medium, related to the way that 'white' light is split in to separate colours by a glass prism. In this case though, instead of 'light' waves and glass, we've got 'radio' waves and ionized inter-stellar & inter-galactic medium.

    3. Mark 85

      So 3 billion light-years away... That means the "signals" left there 3 billion years ago. It might help with understanding the beginnings of the universe but coming from "life" seems unlikely. The SETI is still looking for life and I guess that while this research might give us understanding, it won't help them in their goal to find life. It is a fascinating spin-off project though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Why would originating 3 billion years ago rule out coming from life? I don't think FRBs have anything to do with aliens, but the universe was well over 75% of its current age 3 billion years ago. Plenty of time for life to have evolved in a solar system that was formed a few billion years before our own.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          A long time ago in a galaxy far away...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's a way for an AI in one galaxy to communicate with an AI in another galaxy, without being detected by the meatbags. You have been warned.

  5. jjk

    This is surely completely safe

    Let your AI listen to alien transmissions. Yes. Nothing could ever go wrong. BTW, don't read the story at the back of last month's CACM, it isn't that good.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: This is surely completely safe

      Indeed not. I still prefer stuff from Interzone or even Lem's His Master's Voice (which is ruined by a contrived ending apparently meant to shovel the problem of Things Actually Are Different Than You Assumed into the reader's face, but what can you do)

  6. LenG


    Those concerned that the FRBs constitute communication would do well to read Charlie Stross' wonderful little short story MAXO (to date the only thing he has had published in Nature).

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: Interpretation

      Yay, Charles Stross - really like his books, have not seen this story yet!

    2. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: Interpretation is published in Futures Nature's Science-Fiction section. For real science consult

  7. Pete4000uk

    It's a strange, strange... this thing we call a universe.

    Are our small minds, as amazing as they are, capable of understanding it all.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: It's a strange, strange thing this space we call a place in a universe ... of Heavenly Bodies

      Surely the least one can do is imagine one can/does .... and to prove the thought so with regular field testing of newly released information for Advanced IntelAIgent Play in NEUKlearer HyperRadioProACTive ITWare Games Trailing and Trialing Quantum Communication Systems of Virtually Real Operation in SMARTR Internet Networks.

      Can you imagine them Leading That with Absolutely Fabulous Tales to Follow and Enjoy? Or would that be Certified and Classified Alien?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    AI beat astroboffins at detecting fast radio bursts?

    This isn't Artificial Intelligence (AI) beating astroboffins, what it is, is a pattern recognition engine based on a convolutional neural network (CNN), detecting seventy two new sources of fast radio bursts (FRB) after being trained by humans. As for signs of extraterrestrial technology, since FRB 121102 is three billion light years away, and assuming we detect an artificial signal three billion years old, does anyone think humanity will still exist in three billion (3,000,000,000) years ?

    1. aks

      Re: AI beat astroboffins at detecting fast radio bursts?

      Surely we need to last for 6 billion years for our message to be sent and the answer received.

      (Shades of The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut)

  9. Conundrum1885


    Could the aliens be using a nearby galaxy (more likely several) as gravitational lenses to re-focus and boost the signal?

    Think "Gate Bridge" here.

    Also relevant: its possible that the "Wow!" signal might have been sent in the same way, possibly from Trangulum or even further afield.

    If you think about it using this method means you can ping multiple galaxies from one antenna on say a rotating planet which would be a good way to say "Hi there!" without risking repercussions, due to that most inconvenient speed of light delay.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Regarding an earlier 121102 FRB

    Just in case you missed it the first time around ........ 121102

    Are you any the wiser nearly six years further on?

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: Regarding an earlier 121102 FRB

      Ooh I didn't realise you had a blog. You've been around a bit haven't you!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Animated GIFs?

    "a training dataset of around 400,000 images, half contain [sic] simulated pulses and the half [sic] do not"

    Grammar aside, how can an image contain a pulse?

  12. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Scientists don't need AIs to sniff out Uranus

  13. tempemeaty

    Sooner or...

    It would be interesting to view video content from extraterrestrials, wouldn't it? How about their entertainment broadcasts?

    ლ( º ◡ ~ ლ)

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like