Russian billionaire Yuri Milner who has launched a global search mission for aliens in collaboration with London-based physicist Stephen Hawking sought to raise funds for the program from Indians, especially from tech capital Bangalore on Thursday.
Speaking at an event hosted by him, Milner, who is himself a physicist, said making public all data related to alien research far cry and SETI was wound up due to resource crunch, making it imperative for the venture capitalists and futuristic investors to come forward to put in money in his “Breakthrough Listen” project, to which he has committed $100 million already.
“All data will be open to the public and users can access it through a distributed platform. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology,” he reasoned out in his passionate speech.
The event also saw the the screening of a documentary film “Are We Alone? Alien Planets Revealed” followed by a panel discussion including Milner, Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Listen project and ex-director of NASA, and Sujan SenGupta of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
Milner said: “If we don’t find any signal ourselves, some computer, someone in Bengaluru can go through the same set of data and find something that we weren’t looking for.”
Milner, who has made billions from his venture capital funds in companies like Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, Twitter, Alibaba, JD.com and Xiaomi, said more than governments, individusl investors are key to such futuristic projects, citing the closure of SETI by the US government in 1990s.
The event was attended by Flipkart founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, Quikr CEO Pranay Chulet, Freecharge CEO Kunal Shah, Commonfloor founder Sumit Gupta, MuSigma’s Ambiga Dhiraj, and Cleartax’s Archit Gupta, while VCs such as Meenakshi Sundaram and Karan Mohla of IDG Ventures, Prashanth Prakash of Accel Partners, Mohan Kumar of Norwest Ventures, Karthik Reddy and Sanjay Nath of Blume Ventures, Vani Kola of Kalaari Capital, and Sasha Mirchandani of Kae Capital.
The “Breakthrough Listen” program seeks to look for and decode radio signals of alien life, scanning thousands of planets daily. Also there is a $1 million prize for Breakthrough Message, a communication medium to be invented to interact with extra-terrestrials so it could avoid any possible conflict with aliens in the future.
The project will make use of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Csiro Parkes Telescope in New South Wales, Australia to listen to possible radio waves from the universe and the project took off after recent revelations by NASA researchers that some radio signals from the universe were received but still not decoded.
Otherwise, NASA’s SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) has been searching for alien signals but its telescopes are limited without backup from supercomputers to decode signals, if any and the current Breakthrough Listen program seeks to fill the gap to scan the universe 1,000 times more to identify radio signals.
“Telescopes can pick out planets across thousands of light years. The magic of Moore’s law lets our computers sift data orders of magnitude faster than older mainframes – and ever quicker each year,” Milner said in his “Call to Action”, a mail that was co-signed by Stephen Hawking, astronomer Martin Rees, chess champion Magnus Carlsen and writer Seth McFarlane, among others when he kicked off the project last month.
To decode signals from thousands of celestial bodies, about 9 million volunteer computers may be needed around the world and Milner has proposed creating an open-source platform of software engineers as the world’s major crowd-sourced project.