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Space The Almighty Buck

Why Not Fund SETI With a Lottery Bond? 191

Posted by timothy
from the voluntary-incremental-fun dept.
KentuckyFC writes "The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence or SETI is one of the highest profile projects in science. And yet its biggest challenge is in generating the funds required to scour the skies for signs of intelligent life. Government funding agencies generally ignore SETI so most funding comes from wealthy patrons such as Paul Allen who has donated $30 million for the construction of a radio interferometer designed to scour the skies for signs of ET. But the lack of other donors means this facility is still incomplete and only partially operational. But one astrobiologist has a solution. Why not create a lottery bond that allows investors to buy shares that yield a fixed rate of interest but also generates enough cash to fund ongoing SETI projects? To add an element of spice, this bond is also a lottery: when the search finally succeeds, a subset of the shareholders will receive a payout from the kitty. This is a fund that is likely to have global appeal but will need a financial institution willing and capable of taking it on. Any suggestions?"
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Why Not Fund SETI With a Lottery Bond?

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  • Well (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:28AM (#45462935)
    SETI is a lottery already!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ddtmm (549094)
      Probably better odds of finding ET than winning the lottery
      • Re:Well (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FlyHelicopters (1540845) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:37AM (#45463031)
        I would disagree. The idea that aliens are nearby, using the same freq we are, are transmitting something we will picky, and that we are looking in the right place in the sky... The odds are so very long...

        I am reminded of an episode of ST Voyager when they found evidence of an older civilization and someone finally figured to check the RF bands, which hadn't been used for centuries.

        I would suggest that such aliens have something better than radio to use. Yes, they might have used it for a few hundred years, but that is a thin slice of time to catch it, without being ahead of or behind the transmissions in space.

        • Darn auto correct... That should be pickup, not picky. :)
        • SETI has always kind of baffled me. If they were to advance the technology they use in order to further their goals by widening the search they may have something to monetize.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            Why does everything need to have something to monetize?

            • Why does everything need to have something to monetize?

              Because _biology_ requires the use of resources and resources require energy.
              Humans are biological; global civilization is a biological process that depends on resource use.
              We have figured out ways to use 'money' to pay for moving resources around, but we haven't yet figured out ways to use resources for free.

              • by morgauxo (974071)

                Ants are biological.

                No, I'm not really advocating an ant-like society for humans, just trying to make the point that using biology as an answer to this question is silly. Out common, basic needs as biological entities do not require our society to use money. Our species specific human natures... maybe.

                • I agree, the example made no sense, but I'm not an ant, I'm human... Ants are happy with what they have, I am not, I need a bigger TV. :)
            • Everything doesn't but a project looking for money could become self sustaining if it had something to monetize and cut out the need to find private or government funding.

        • I would suggest that such aliens have something better than radio to use.

          I'm curious what can we imagine the aliens could use to communicate. I found this bit [physicsworld.com] on neutrino communication. It also mentions axions (which might not even exist). Gravitational waves are suggested in the comments. Are there any other potential communication technologies we can read about?

          • by Ost99 (101831)

            We've more or less stopped using detectable radio signals ourselves. Most communication is now carried in fiber optics, and the radio we use is either satellite or many small low power transmitters transmitting encrypted traffic.

            Give it another 20-30 years, and we would not be transmitting anything by radio that could be picked outside our solar system.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              "We've more or less stopped using detectable radio signals ourselves.

              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNHYTem01T0 [youtube.com]

              • by Ost99 (101831)

                Detectable in a SETI sense, that is detactable from 10s or 100s of lightyears away.

                Good luck picking up a satellite-TV or DAB radio transmission 100 light years away.
                Communication is moving away from high effect broadcast to point-to-point.

          • by TWiTfan (2887093)

            Are there any other potential communication technologies we can read about?

            Quantum entanglement used to be a popular possibility for FTL communication, but most physicists today dismiss it as a form of communication.

            • by geekoid (135745)

              What do you mean today? any experts has known it wouldn't be useful.

              Don't confuse pop culture headline and sci - fi fir actual experts.
              .

            • by Sockatume (732728)

              Quantum entanglement does not work that way.

          • by geekoid (135745)

            "Gravitational waves are suggested in the comments."
            becasue they would use something they would be incredible energy intensive for no gain over RF?

          • I'm curious what can we imagine the aliens could use to communicate.

            Subspace FTL communication?

            Ok, so that is fiction, but ask someone 200 years ago what they would have used and they wouldn't have been able to tell you either.

            If you had tried to explain radio to someone 200 years ago, they would have looked at you like you were insane.

            The real answer is, "We have no idea". But I'd suggest that whatever it is they use, we haven't found it yet and have no idea what it is. I just don't think we're likely to find ET using smoke signals, radio, or two cans and a string

        • by gravis777 (123605)

          So let's fund SETI to research and develop a subspace radio array. The payoff from that would be substantial! :-)

        • Agreed! (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          I would suggest that such aliens have something better than radio to use. Yes, they might have used it for a few hundred years, but that is a thin slice of time to catch it

          You nailed it. Not many people stop to consider this. It might be in the back of their minds, but they ignore it because the goal of SETI is just so exciting.

          1. If the alien civilization is advanced enough to truly travel the galaxy (exceeding the speed of light), you can bet your house they already know about us -- and that they've decid

          • I personally think this is something that has to be stumbled upon, rather than sought out.

            Most of your post was quite wise, but I'd just like to make a point here.

            Imagine trying to fly without the internal combustion engine... The Wright Brothers figured out that power was their problem. Nothing a human can do will enable us to fly using just our own power, we're too heavy and the flying machines are too heavy, we need engines.

            Once engines of light enough weight and great enough power came out, we had airplanes all over the place.

            Could you build an airplane out of a steam engine? Perha

        • by guttentag (313541)

          I would suggest that such aliens have something better than radio to use.

          Like the Internet. Or call centers. Possibly call centers which are connected to the Internet for cost-efficiency. Next time you're talking to "Bob" while trying to troubleshoot your cable modem, ask him if he's an alien, and tell him you'll keep his secret in exchange for some small compensation, such as a couple of Higgs bosons (one to lose and the other to not show to Stephen Hawking [theguardian.com])... or the secret to consistent and reliable cold fusion.

        • by Sockatume (732728)

          Unfortunately we don't have anything better than radio and optical to listen with. Maybe LIGO.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by xetovss (17621)

          That was in the "The '37's" episode of the 2nd season of Voyager if I am not mistaken. What they found was evidence of rust in space (which by ST logic should not exist) and when they tracked it down they came across an old 1930's Ford pickup truck floating in space. After they pull the truck onto the ship they start messing around with it, get it started (though I doubt it wold have started the gas would have long evaporated through the fuel system especially in the vacuum of space, or if it was somehow he

        • I would disagree. The idea that aliens are nearby, using the same freq we are, are transmitting something we will picky, and that we are looking in the right place in the sky... The odds are so very long...

          So it's good that that's not what SETI is looking for. They are not expecting to find alien I Love Lucy reruns. It's any EM pattern that is not otherwise explainable. Many such patterns have been discovered, but were later explained away by the astrophysicists as spinning neutron stars, etc. Natural phenomenon. Likely signs of life would be something like EM leakage from artificial generators, not necessarily some form of communication broadcast.

          • Likely signs of life would be something like EM leakage from artificial generators, not necessarily some form of communication broadcast.

            I fully understand that...

            But my point remains that the odds of finding that make looking for a needle in a haystack child's play.

            It isn't impossible (few things really are), but it is so remote that I'd suggest the resources would be better spent on another area of space development.

        • by hairyfeet (841228)

          Actually its pretty much impossible, if our solar system is similar to your average alien civilization.

          For those that may have missed it a few years back when the Voyager probe hit the heliopause what they found was the heliopause works like a giant radio backwash, it just trashes any radio waves in this big giant white noise that made it pretty damned difficult to communicate with the probe. I remember reading at the time that researchers looked at the amount of interference they were getting and crunched

        • by morgauxo (974071)

          MAYBE more advanced aliens do have something better than radio. But... we have no reason to believe that. Sci Fi commonly uses better than radio communication as a plot device because it enables better stories. It's not because we have much evidence that with more technological development such a thing is possible. I think a lot of people discount the possiblities of RF Seti because thay have watched too many Sci Fi shows.

          Don't get me wrong. As far as I know it is possible that there is something beyond r

        • There is still a lot of other factors too...

          We are looking for Radio waves. We as a society had radio waves for a little more then a century. Earth has been around for 5 billion year, Humans only 2 Million Years, complex human society for like 20,000 years. And we will probably use radio for an other hundred years (As we try to move towards more secure, and have a better optical infrastructure, yaddy yaddy yaddy). That alone is 0.000004%
          Now we can factor in things like general static of space, degrading th

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by TWiTfan (2887093)

      I do kind of like the idea of supporting the search for intelligent life out there by exploiting unintelligent life here. There's a poetic beauty in that, methinks.

    • The odds of winning an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament > odds of winning lottery > odds of getting approval for lottery > odds of finding ETI
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:39AM (#45463045) Journal

    Why not just a SETI lottery?

    I'm absolutely serious - I've bought precisely ONE lottery ticket my whole life (knowing statistically that my likelihood of winning is the maximum at that point*). So I'm not really a "lottery player".

    But I'd cheerfully buy SETI lottery tickets - one-third of the gross goes to a the pot-winner, 2/3 goes to SETI funding. Hell, it's better return-odds than many Kickstarters.

    *I didn't win.

    • Private lotteries are illegal in (almost?) all US states.
    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:43AM (#45463101) Journal

      I've bought precisely ONE lottery ticket my whole life (knowing statistically that my likelihood of winning is the maximum at that point*).

      How do you figure? Each ticket has the same chance of winning, the more you buy the more likely you are to win. But the odds are such that the expected return over the long run is less than what you would pay in.

      • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:54AM (#45463237) Journal

        How do you figure? Each ticket has the same chance of winning, the more you buy the more likely you are to win. But the odds are such that the expected return over the long run is less than what you would pay in.

        That's why smart gamblers buy multiple tickets. Buy two tickets - double your chances? Buy ten tickets and you're ten times more likely to win! How could you lose?

        • by geekoid (135745)

          IF you buy all the ticket, you will win, 100% of the time.
          Will you profit? depends on the lottery and the lottery amount.

      • Each ticket has the same chance of winning

        Depending on the lottery, this may or may not be true. Some lotteries let people pick the numbers, so sequences like "1 2 3 4 5 6" will be selected by many people and the pot will be split. The same applies for sequences that could represent a date, such as a birthday or anniversary. More "random" sequences will have a higher payout per ticket.

      • by grimJester (890090) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @12:22PM (#45464129)

        I've bought precisely ONE lottery ticket my whole life (knowing statistically that my likelihood of winning is the maximum at that point*).

        How do you figure? Each ticket has the same chance of winning, the more you buy the more likely you are to win. But the odds are such that the expected return over the long run is less than what you would pay in.

        I find it pretty funny that people who never gamble are completely clueless when it comes to statistics and probabilities, while those who waste loads of money gambling know exactly what they're doing.

    • Why not just donate?

      I'm pretty sure the people who might be interested in the overly complex bond lottery are the same people who would just donate money to seti. A Donation gives seti all your money with very little overhead compared to a bond or lottery.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      your likelyhood for winning goes down if you buy just one ticket. however, your statistical ROI on it was better before you bought that first ticket, sucker.

      unless you got fun out of it, which has a value. not something you can calculate easily, but still.

      so.. seti could start an offshore casino somewhere where it is legal. too bad they might have to build the array somewhere else than usa after that..

    • by Bourdain (683477)
      I would too :)
  • by ZeroPly (881915) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:39AM (#45463053)
    ... is the phrase "WHEN the search finally succeeds" (emphasis added). There is not a single good explanation of why it has not succeeded already, which is a red flag that we are missing something fundamental about the nature of extraterrestrial intelligence.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      " There is not a single good explanation of why it has not succeeded already, "
      actually, there are two:
      The universe is Really, Really Big.
      The universe is Very, Very Old.

      There are several smaller reason, antenna size and location for example.
      Also Data processing. We may have evidence on tape somewhere.

      Did you know, if we would built an array if micro antenna in space the size of Rhode Island (1,212 sq miles) we would be able to detect any radio coming from within 100LY with the power of a TV broadcast.

      • by ZeroPly (881915)
        The math does not work out in your argument. The universe being old should make the search easier - there are planets much older than Earth, so why would we be the first in the galaxy to become intelligent? And our radio telescopes are already reaching out across a sphere billions of light years in diameter - out of all that space, why is there not one single clear signal? SETI has been searching for 46 years now, with nothing to show.

        At this point in the search, it makes more sense to assume that there is
  • by Latent Heat (558884) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:40AM (#45463055)
    My plan is to buy lottery chances for a mega Powerball drawing.

    In the off chance that I win, my first phone call will be to Gilbert Levin, the Principal Investigator on the Viking Labeled Release (LR) experiment that gave ambiguous results.

    LR was developed by Levin as a way to assay sewage treatment plant effluent without having to wait days for streaked culture plates to show anything. By using a radioactive tracer, organisms can be detected at exceedingly low levels and very quickly by the radio-traced metabolism products.

    Levin has been claiming that the Viking LR indeed detected life on Mars, and he has been pleading and scheming to get a "Chiral LR" life-sciences payload onto the surface of Mars to follow up. With NASA, it is nothing doing on this score since the Viking controversy -- they simply don't want to touch another life detection experiment for some reason. I thought the largely British Polar Lander was supposed to have a Levin experiment on it, but it crashed.

    On the off chance that I win at Powerball, on the chance that this is enough money to fund a Mars mission, especially after the gummint gets its tax payments, and the chance the rocket works and the payload lands softly on Mars and everything else, and maybe on the remote chance that there is life on Mars and that Gil Levin's improved Labeled LR convinces people, Gilbert Levin will be awarded a Nobel Prize and become and immortal historical figure.

    As for me, maybe I will go down in history as the chump who gave up his Powerball winnings?

    • Sorry, but you'll need billions for a Mars lander. Powerball might get you an orbiter from India.
  • by barlevg (2111272) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:40AM (#45463067)
    What, would we stop after finding just one sign of intelligent life?
  • 1. That planets with intelligent life are RF emitters.

    2. That planets with intelligent life will remain planets with intelligent life,

    3. That as tech advances, intelligent life will continue to emit sufficient RF to be detectable at interstellar distances.

    We don't have real numbers for ANY of those values, making any calculation of odds unworkable. Me. . . I'll play the PowerBall: at least those odds are calculatable. . . (grin)

    • by geekoid (135745)

      That planets with intelligent life are RF emitters.

      if they get to the point where electronics are invented, then it's a very safe assumption.

      "That planets with intelligent life will remain planets with intelligent life,"
      they make no such assumption. They are well aware they could find a signal where the originating species doesn't exist anymore.
      The life the broadcast the signal doesn't need to exist anymore for there to be a world impact.

      "That as tech advances, intelligent life will continue to emit suffic

  • Bad idea, I think (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Weaselmancer (533834) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @10:42AM (#45463081)

    If you make a payout if SETI finds alien life, you suddenly give a financial motive to finding it. It could taint the results. Next Wow Signal [wikipedia.org] we find and suddenly you'll have people who paid into it saying it's proof, and scientists saying it isn't. Lawyers will become involved.

    Too messy if you ask me.

    • by jafiwam (310805)

      If you make a payout if SETI finds alien life, you suddenly give a financial motive to finding it. It could taint the results. Next Wow Signal [wikipedia.org] we find and suddenly you'll have people who paid into it saying it's proof, and scientists saying it isn't. Lawyers will become involved.

      Too messy if you ask me.

      OR, more likely, the guy in the government who won't leak stuff for political reasons will leak that aliens have been here for half a century or more already and that our government covered it up.

      • Or they'll just cover up the discovered aliens to keep their cushy jobs looking for evidence.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        There is no logical reason the Government wouldn't tell us. IT would get more money to various organization and dramatically increase are global prestige.
        You don't think people like MacArthy wouldn't use it as a reason to create fear and an even larger military budget?

        Lets talk agencies:
        NASA: Budget would increase. No reason to hide info
        DOD: Money for alien defense
        And so on. Every Agency ah a interest in NOT hiding anything like that.

        Plus have alien evidence would have been a great piece of leverage over th

  • Only if the pesky aliens will text me the winning lottery number.
    • by rossdee (243626)

      "Only if the pesky aliens will text me the winning lottery number."

      The winning number is Pi

      I hope you have an unlimited text plan

  • Your base premise that it's high profile science might be a bit off. It takes some astounding leaps of faith to believe we will catch aliens in that period of high power but simple RF emissions. Or that they would be sending some form of beacon.

    Granted if I were able to direct all basic science R&D budget it would be toward dirt cheap safe industrial scale fusion power generation.

  • I recommend you post a faux question to slashdot, and reveal your plan to collect contributions in what will appear to be a casual aside.
  • Where will the money come from to make interest payments to the bondholders? Where will the money come from to return the principal to the bondholders at maturity?

    If this is an example of the brilliance of the people at the Blue Marble Institute for Space Science in Seattle, they should not be funded for anything. Nothing. Nohow.

  • by Marrow (195242) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @11:10AM (#45463395)

    We use radio telescopes to listen for stars and other celestial objects. One would assume these produce massive rf emissions. Has anyone done the math and determined if the transmitters currently used on this planet could be heard in other solar systems? Would our equipment detect them if installed there? Are our transmissions able to overcome the radio interference that would be common out there? Is there even a point to SETI?
    Are we expecting alien races to use transmitters as powerful or more powerful than our own? And what subset of known space is actually a viable source at the power levels we use for communication?

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Artificial transmissions are assumed to be structured in some way that presently-known celestial emissions aren't - some sort of time structure, having a narrow bandwidth, etc. etc. - which will make them stand out. Our own certainly are. This led to a memorable false alarm in the case of pulsars but the gist is that if you see something very structured, it's going to be worth investigating whatever it turns out to be.

  • Unfortunately, most states have a monopoly on lotteries. Otherwise, there would be many uses for lotteries. For example, savings can be encouraged with a lottery (prize-linked savings):

    http://www.trendhunter.com/trends/lottery-savings-accounts [trendhunter.com]

    http://freakonomics.com/2012/04/26/lottery-loopholes-and-deadly-doctors-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/ [freakonomics.com]

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Tuesday November 19, 2013 @11:18AM (#45463477)

    Did they forget the part where they have to pay out those interest payments, and the principal, and the stupid lottery at the end too?

    What revenue are they planning to pay those payments with? More bonds? Do they think they are the US government or Madoff?

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Lottery-based bonds are an uncontroversial and well-established savings instrument (e.g. the UK's "Premium Bonds") so I don't see what your problem is. The money is invested, and the gains are used to pay the interest, principal, and lottery prizes.

      Maybe it's you who doesn't know what a bond is?

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        The lottery part is irrelevant, how interest is allocated to holders makes exactly zero difference to what a bond is.

        Or perhaps you don't understand what "fund SETI" means?. Where is this money to invest coming from (the money from the bonds is going to fund SETI after all so it can't be it)? And why don't they just use that to fund SETI instead of adding the pointless bonds middle man?

        A bond is simply a loan. The bond issuer gets a bunch of money up front and then has to pay it back in the future. That is

  • If I buy a ticket and SETI discovers aliens, do I win?
    Or lose?
    • If the discovered Signal Translation is "EX-TERM-IN-ATE! EX-TERM-IN-ATE! EX-TERM-IN-ATE!" then you lose. Unless the next signal detected comes from The Doctor.

  • Let's use the Search for Terrestrial Intelligence to fund the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence! Only seems fair.
  • Between radio SETI and optical SETI, new technology is inevitable, technology that can be patented or sold. Isolating data from a planet orbiting a star is going to require variable interferometry of a sort we don't yet have. New algorithms will be needed, as you can't sift through billions of channels for information content efficiently with what we have.

    This means you can have a well-defined ROI even if nothing is ever found. And that means you can value SETI in terms of that ROI, which means you can floa

  • I've been running this screen saver on various machines for years. Last night, I took look at it running data from 2009, and I've been wondering? Are they recycling old data? And more to the point since there are other Bionic projects out there, is there a more fruitful use for my computer's spare cycles? Something that might actually have an expectation of positive return to humanity. At the very least, seti is going to have to start sharing time with other more relevant Bionic projects. I'm still t
    • Folding@Home [171.67.216.23]
      Since our IT Managers demanded all systems stay up during the night for maintenance, updates, etc. and they draw their transformers draw the same power regardless of load anyway, I installed this on all the workstations as screensavers before I left their employ. I'm told he was mad at first, but everyone loves it -- somehow raised morale slightly.

      There are other distributed computing projects. I'm just too lazy to look them up in the Internet Yellow Pages for you. If only there were some way

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"

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