Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner announce $100 million toward the search for extraterrestrial life

By now you’ve probably seen the news that Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner will be contributing $100,000,000 toward Breakthrough Listen, a new effort to aid in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (or SETI). In a news conference yesterday with the one and only Stephen Hawking, Milner tempered expectations about finding signs of intelligence but added, “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.”

The announcement breathes new life into the search and reminds me of the SETI@home project. Based out of UC Berkeley, SETI@home uses the personal computers of volunteers to crunch the massive amount of data that’s received from the telescopes involved in the search. When the computers are idle, the program downloads, analyzes, and uploads the results of a small segment of data. By repeating this process on the computers of over 100,000 active users, the SETI@home team can process a great deal more than they’d be able to otherwise.

I’ve always been fascinated by the potential existence of extraterrestrial life (I’ll save my stories about my Extraterrestrial Life Debate class at Notre Dame for another day). The last time I participated in the SETI@home project (it’s been a long time), the client looked something like this:

The SETI@home client —

The SETI@home client —

Admittedly I haven’t done a very good job of keeping up with the program, though I’m guessing had we found anything I probably would have seen it. With this latest investment however, it might be time to see if they have a SETI@home client for my Mac. (Spoiler: they do).