Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Funding The Hunt for Aliens with a Lottery Bond

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Funding The Hunt for Aliens with a Lottery Bond

Funding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence with a Lottery Bond

By Jacob Haqq-Misra
Blue Marble Space Institute of Science


      I propose the establishment of a SETI Lottery Bond to provide a continued source of funding for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The SETI Lottery Bond is a fixed rate perpetual bond with a lottery at maturity, where maturity occurs only upon discovery and confirmation of extraterrestrial intelligent life. Investors in the SETI Lottery Bond purchase shares that yield a fixed rate of interest that continues indefinitely until SETI succeeds—at which point a random subset of shares will be awarded a prize from a lottery pool. SETI Lottery Bond shares also are transferable, so that investors can benefact their shares to kin or trade them in secondary markets. The total capital raised this way will provide a fund to be managed by a financial institution, with annual payments from this fund to support SETI research, pay investor interest, and contribute to the lottery fund. Such a plan could generate several to tens of millions of dollars for SETI research each year, which would help to revitalize and expand facilities such as the Allen Telescope Array. The SETI Lottery Bond is a savings
product that only can be offered by a financial institution with authorization to engage in banking and gaming activities. I therefore suggest that one or more banks offer a lottery-linked savings product in support of SETI research, with the added benefit of promoting personal savings and intergenerational wealth building among individuals.


Finding sources of funding for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) has proven to be almost elusive as ETI themselves, and the lack of adequate funding is perhaps the greatest obstacle to the SETI program’s success. Evidence of ETI in the galaxy could take the form of radio signals from other star systems [1], interstellar spacecraft sent to our Solar System [2, 3], or infrared excesses generated by space faring super-civilizations [4], but the limited number of searches for any such phenomenon so far has produced null results [5]. From Senator William Proxmire’s issuance of the “golden fleece award” for NASA’s sponsorship of SETI research in 1978, to the financial shortfall that put the Allen Telescope Array into hibernation in 2011, the SETI research community has suffered from lack of funding since its inception—and for the obvious reasons that SETI represents a game in which both risk and rewards are unknown.

Most funding for SETI research takes the form of grants and donations, often scant in supply and limited in duration. For SETI to succeed, astronomers must scan the sky in search of directed or accidental transmissions that indicate extraterrestrial intelligent life. To avoid missing any such signals, the SETI program ideally requires a total sky survey at all radio frequencies and at all times of day—a feat that could take anywhere from a few years to a few thousand or more. As a step toward this goal, Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen has donated over $30 million toward the construction of the Allen Telescope Array (ATA), a radio interferometer designed especially for SETI, but this flagship facility is only partially operational and still incomplete due to the lack of donors interested in funding its continual operation. Likewise, few federal and private granting agencies show interest in funding SETI research or supporting the ATA, while any grants that do succeed only last a few months to a few years. The SETI community has been relatively unsuccessful at attracting investment capital, due in part to the SETI program’s inability to promise a return on investment to prospective investors. The discovery of ETI could be one of the most philosophically provocative and socially stimulating discoveries of human history [6, 7, 8], yet this discovery itself will do little to refill the pockets of investors who provide long-term venture capital. As charitable research funding becomes increasingly limited, novel sources of financing are needed to ensure a sustainable future for the SETI program.

Here I propose to attract long-term investors in SETI research by creating a “SETI Lottery Bond” (SLB) savings product that reaches maturity only upon the first discovery and confirmation of ETI. . . .

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