Lonely Billionaire Throws $100 Million at SETI
Yuri Milner gathered the SETI believers and gave them a pile of money to find aliens.
Billionaire particle physicist Yuri Milner has linked up with Stephen Hawking, Frank Drake and other believers in space aliens. He is giving them $100 million in a “Breakthrough Initiative” to spend the next ten years looking for extraterrestrial intelligence. The story is reported by Astrobiology Magazine, Live Science and a press release from the Breakthrough Initiatives organization.
They want to “dramatically accelerate” the search by linking up some of the world’s most powerful radio telescopes and outsourcing or “crowdsourcing” the work to volunteers, who will pore through masses of data with the SETI@home program.
A second part of the initiative is a contest open to the public. $1 million in prizes will be awarded to contestants who write a winning “Breakthrough Message” from earth for the aliens. The idea is to compose “digital messages that represent humanity and planet earth.” There is no commitment to broadcast the winning messages. “It’s a way to learn about the potential languages of interstellar communication and to spur global discussion on the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding communication with intelligent life beyond Earth.”
It’s a message to ourselves, in other words.
Update 7/23/15: Some other news sources picked up the story.
- Space.com published a curious headline, “Stephen Hawking: Intelligent Aliens Could Destroy Humanity, But Let’s Search Anyway.” Who gives him the choice? Don’t the billions of people who stand to be wiped out have a say in the matter?
- Follow the money: PhysOrg entered in with, “The hunt for ET will boost Australian astronomy.” Is that the only way to do it? Could SETI distract science from really worthwhile endeavors having greater chances for success?
- Nature reported on the initiative, but it’s first sentence is: “You could say the silence has been deafening.“
- Duncan Forgan at The Conversation thinks, “If we are to find life beyond Earth, we need to be explorers, not hunters.” He likes this unconventional scientific method: “Perhaps the best strategy is to have no strategy – except to simply explore.”
- PhysOrg gives a short history of SETI. Notable is the repeating phrase after each phase of the search, “Again, nothing was heard.“
Update 7/24/15: On The Conversation, astrophysics prof Andrew Norton gives his reasons why the $100 million alien listening project may be “a huge waste of time.” Drawing on the Fermi Paradox, he asks: “if intelligent life really is common, the likelihood is that it evolved elsewhere to our stage of intelligence several billion years ago, giving it plenty of time to colonise the galaxy. So where is everybody?” He considers various responses to the paradox. Norton believes life is common, but intelligent life is rare, “although I would love to be proved wrong.” Finding slime on a rock on another planet, he feels would be sufficient to “truly transform our view of the universe, and ourselves.”
There are a lot of worthy causes that could use that money on earth. Milner is throwing it away on a project with an infinitesimally small chance of success. It’s his money; he can waste it as he pleases. But to put $100 million in perspective, that’s 1/5 of what the federal government gives of taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood each year—despite the most recent scandal of their involvement in selling body parts of aborted babies (see FRC and 7/18/15 entry).
Regarding the second initiative (the write-a-message-to-our-alien-friends contest), this is the typical leftist mentality: feel good about doing something certain demagogues feel is worthwhile, even if it accomplishes nothing. It’s like saying “Visualize world peace” or holding hands across a country as an expression of unity. It won’t get any aliens to communicate or listen to us. It will just “raise consciousness” and “spur discussion” about things nobody knows anything about.
Regarding the first initiative, good luck. Fifty years has turned up nothing. The Fermi Paradox is still problematic.
Intelligent design advocates can make hay of this exercise by pointing out that it demonstrates the validity of intelligent design detection. To their chagrin, SETI researchers are proving that it is possible to differentiate intelligent causes from natural causes. In a BBC article, Stephen Hawking said, “To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.” Minds can design things, like messages, that natural laws would never produce.
Bible believers might see in this the world getting set up for the “strong delusion” of the last days that will cause a great falling away, as millions around the world believe the lie (II Thessalonians ch. 2). Satan’s minions may be trying out their impressions for the final act. “We’re aliens from a planet far, far away. We have evolved to become like gods, controlling our own evolution. We are here to help you become like us.”