Spotted a UFO? There’s an App for That

The tech startup Enigma Labs wants to turn UFO sightings into data science.

In the past, people who saw strange lights in the sky could do nothing but tell their friends – or call intelligence agencies. Soon anyone with a smartphone will be able to report an unexplained event via an app as it’s happening.

The Enigma Labs mobile app was released today, initially on an invitation-only basis while they worked out the bugs, although they plan to release it to a wider public. For now, it’s free to download and use, although the company might charge for additional features later. Not only will the company collect new data — it’s already gobbled up data on around 300,000 global sightings over the past century and incorporated it into its system — and while its dataset will be available to the public, its algorithms used to score it won’t.

“At our core, we are a data science company. We are building the first data and community platform dedicated solely to the study of unidentified anomalous phenomena,” said Mark Douglas, Chief Operating Officer of the New York-based company.

Courtesy of Enigma Labs

Part of their goal is to reduce the stigma of reporting something inexplicable — even if the viewer doesn’t actually believe they’re visiting aliens. (For the record, some government agencies and companies like Enigma Labs are now using the term UAPs instead of UFOs: unidentified anomalous phenomena, rather than unidentified flying objects. The change is meant to encompass a wide range of objects that may not have extraterrestrial origin, and um to make the terminology sound less pejorative.)

Identifying an unknown and distant object or explaining a phenomenon that has never been seen before is a unique challenge. Nevertheless, the app asks users structured questions, such as when and where in the sky the user saw something and what shape the object had. It also gives them space to tell their sighting story and provide more details, and they can upload a photo or video. It’s a bit like citizen science projects where volunteers help classify telescope images of galaxies, but in this case the images are submitted by volunteers and most of the classification is done by an algorithm.

However, the company wants to do more than just ingest lots of data: they want to apply their proprietary models to rule out things that aren’t UAPs, such as: B. by determining if there is lightning or unclassified aircraft nearby. And they also want to filter the credibility of the data sources, distinguishing and seeing between “very credible military pilots, trained observers with confirmation from multiple sensors, and then on the other end of the spectrum … a single witness who might have had a few too many drinks.” a point of light in the sky,” says Douglas.

“The core problem in the investigation was a data problem: ‘What is credible, what is not, who is credible, who is not?'” he argues. “What we’re trying to do is have a level of standardization and rigor.”

Of course, the challenge is to apply scientific standardization to something that may not be scientific at all. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable, and people interpret what they see based on factors such as current events and their scientific, political, and cultural background. “The data you get is socially constructed,” says University of Pennsylvania historian Kate Dorsch, who specializes in scientific knowledge production.

Courtesy of Enigma Labs

UFO sightings began as an American obsession after World War II and the Roswell Incident in 1947, when people in New Mexico found mysterious debris that may (or may not) have come from a downed military balloon. Sightings quickly spread across most of the world, Dorsch says, and interest in Roswell, as well as the nascent US and USSR space programs, may have encouraged people to view lights in the sky as extraterrestrial technology. But, she continues, there were fewer UFO sightings after the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite in 1957 — when people saw something strange in the sky, they chalked it up as a man-made spacecraft. And the geopolitics of where you live also plays a role. Today, she says, when Germans observe strange phenomena, they often attribute them to Russian and American craftsmanship. “If you’re looking for something specific, that’s what you’ll see,” she says.

Government agencies have always been interested in reports of UFOs for reasons of national security, since flying saucer sightings could actually be sightings of a rival’s secret plane. (Or, if the ship was indeed the nation’s secret project, descriptions of the sighting could show how it appears to others.) Spotted a UFO? There’s an App for That

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