While there would be some complications in implementing the system, Haqq-Misra said that the payback would be a funding model that, unlike much of science funding, is geared toward long-term success. If it takes several generations to find life, the bond holders could pass them down to their children or grandchildren. If individual bonds prove expensive, Haqq-Misra proposes that some of the money could be raised by crowdfunding.
The drawback, however, is that the United States does not have financial institutes that are authorized to engage in gaming and banking, which would force SETI to look at options such as offshore investment groups.
“There is evidence that lottery bonds are popular in some parts of the world, and further evidence that there is demand for such a product in the US,” Haqq-Misra added. “A SETI Lottery Bond is a further step toward long-term savings, and it could be a novel way to increase participation in science as well as financial savings.”
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Haqq-Misra acknowledges that SETI is doing better for funding than a few years ago, mostly thanks to Russian billionaire Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Listen initiative. The project is spending $100 million over a decade for the first all-sky search, which involves the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Telescope in Australia.
While the SETI Institute has had trouble supporting its own flagship observatory, the Allen Telescope Array, the institute recently partnered with a private company to share time on the array.
“It's a nice deal,” Haqq-Misra said, “because the company pays for all operation costs and taxes, while the SETI Institute gets to use the facility essentially for free 50 percent of the time.”
That should ease the burden while financial minds ponder the merit of funding the search with the promise of a big payday.
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