As a young boy growing up, Yuri Milner became fascinated with the idea of alien life. After beginning his career as a physicist, he ultimately made billions as a Silicon Valley tech investor and business leader.
Committed to giving back to society, Yuri Milner has engaged in several ambitious philanthropic efforts. He took these efforts to a whole new level in 2012 when he and his wife Julia joined the Giving Pledge: a philanthropic program developed by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Melinda French Gates.
The Giving Pledge asks the world’s richest people to make a substantial financial promise. By signing the pledge, participants agree to commit at least half of their wealth to valuable nonprofit initiatives, either during their lifetime or after their death.
When considering areas in which his private funding could have a large and lasting impact, Yuri Milner was inspired by his childhood curiosity about the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth. Looking into the current state of affairs in the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) field, he was dismayed to find it severely underfunded.
This put Yuri Milner on the road to creating Breakthrough Listen: a scientific research program that strives to find evidence of alien civilizations beyond Earth. To establish Breakthrough Listen, he partnered with legendary astrophysicist and visionary thinker Stephen Hawking.
Working together, Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking established Breakthrough Listen in 2015 at the Royal Society in London, one of the most important institutions in the history of science. The very next year, they inaugurated the organization’s unprecedented interstellar space probe project.
Over a short time, Breakthrough Listen became the largest and most influential organization of its kind in the world. It has played an integral role in the transformation of SETI into a rigorous, fertile, and respected scientific field.
Over the years, Breakthrough Listen has vastly expanded the search space for SETI experiments, employing AI machine learning and other innovations to make the detection of extraterrestrial signals significantly more efficient and sophisticated.
Among its other achievements, Breakthrough Listen has made insightful observations of Oumuamua (an interstellar object with unusual properties briefly observed in 2017) and Boyajian’s Star (a mysterious star with light fluctuations that some have tied to alien interference).
Breakthrough Listen has also detected more than 15 FRBs (fast radio bursts) that are believed to be of natural (non-alien) origin and conducted in-depth surveys of the 1,000,000 stars closest to Earth. In 2019, the organization identified a radio signal of interest that seemed to emanate from Alpha Centauri (the star system nearest to our own). After further analysis, however, the Breakthrough Listen team determined that this signal was likely caused by terrestrial interference.
Breakthrough Listen continues to use the most powerful instruments available to comb the Milky Way and the galaxies that surround it for data of all kinds that might suggest the presence of extraterrestrial intelligence. The first stage of the Breakthrough Listen initiative will span 10 years and cost $100 million.
Yuri Milner puts all of this into perspective in his book “Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilization.” Described by the author as “a book about humanity’s place in the universe and our role in its future,” the Eureka Manifesto begins with a serious problem: the lack of a unified mission that is shared by all members of human civilization.
Without a common goal, Yuri Milner argues, human beings are unlikely to thrive or even survive. He goes on to suggest a unique solution to this problem: a quest to understand our world and the universe beyond it.