Cutie patootie physicist Stephen Hawking and Russian tycoon Yuri Milner held a news conference in London yesterday to announce their new project: a 10-year, $100 million dollar project aimed at finding extraterrestrial life, called Breakthrough Initiatives, which will be “more efficient and more sensitive than any project before.”
“We believe that life arose spontaneously on Earth,” Hawking said at Monday’s news conference, “So in an infinite universe, there must be other occurrences of life.”
Says the Washington Post:
Milner, best known for investing in technology companies like Facebook and Alibaba, is footing the entire bill for the project. It’s the latest endeavor of his Breakthrough Prize Foundation, a Silicon Valley funded group that currently gives the biggest prize — $3 million per laureate — of any scientific award. The prize is funded by investors including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergey Brin, but Breakthrough Listen will start with a $100 million, 10-year budget from Milner’s own pocket.
According to Milner and the scientists joining him, the project will allow scientists to collect as much data in a day as [scientists] now do in a year. The data will be made available to the public, so anyone can help search for the radio signals that could be used to track down alien civilizations. Meanwhile, others at Breakthrough Listen will be working to improve our own signaling techniques, brainstorming the best way to send a message out into the cosmos.
“I’ve been thinking about this since I was a child, reading Carl Sagan‘s book Intelligent Life in the Universe,” Milner told The Post. “The year that I was born, 1961, that was a big year in science — the first man was launched into space, and I was named for him. And Kennedy made his famous speech about putting man on the moon. We owe it to ourselves to try to answer the question of whether or not humanity is alone. I don’t have high expectations, but the search itself will teach us quite a bit. We could find something we’re not even looking for.”
And while his expectations aren’t high, he says he has a gut feeling we’re not alone.
“I think it’s a low probability but high impact event,” he said. “Irrespective of what the answer is, it’s a powerful answer. At any given time, we should apply the best technology and use the best instruments available to search for that answer.”
Watch the Breakthrough Initiatives video and Stephen Hawking’s speech below: