For a number of decades, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI) has been combing the stars for signs of a technologically advanced civilization lurking in their midst. And although no such signs have materialized so far, it’s worth considering that we have only been looking at a small speck of the cosmos — and for a fleeting amount of time.
Thus, a new philanthropic gift for the SETI Institute, to the tune of 200 million dollars, will ensure the SETI Institute’s efforts will continue long into the future, giving astronomers the best chance of answering one of the most intriguing scientific and philosophical questions our species grapples with — are we alone?
The large sum was donated by the estate of the late tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Qualcomm, Franklin Antonnio. Antonnio spent 12 years working with SETI before he passed away on May 13th, 2022.
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“Not only was Franklin the primary benefactor of SETI research at the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), but he was an integral part of the technical team. His extraordinary knowledge of communications technology was invaluable in upgrading the ATA to the world-class radio telescope instrument it is today,” Andrew Siemion, director of SETI Research at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.
The SETI Institute, founded in 1984, is a non-profit, multidisciplinary research and education organization that employs over 100 scientists across 173 separate programs. Research grants form the bulk of SETI’s federal funding, yet most projects the Institute carries out are dependent on philanthropic and private funding. SETI has an annual operating budget that usually falls between 25 and 30 million, which means the gift will quite greatly ensure the continued operations of the Institute for years to come.
The additional funding will also allow SETI to consolidate current projects which have sought to harness the power of data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies in their efforts to identify intelligent technology elsewhere in the universe.
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“This gift will impact all research domains of the SETI Institute,” Nathalie Cabrol, director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research, said in the statement.
“It will provide our teams the freedom to pursue their own science priorities, and to examine the technological, philosophical and societal impact of their research on our daily lives here on Earth,” she added.
Increasingly, researchers working in astronomy and astrobiology are taking seriously the idea that our first unambiguous detection of life elsewhere in the cosmos could come in the form of a technosignature — evidence that points to the use of alien technology.