Allen Tough, longtime proponent of the search for autonomous robotic probes in our Solar System, threw down the gauntlet last year by predicting that the first confirmed and accepted evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence would be found within our Solar System, rather than across the interstellar gulf. He invited his colleagues to post odds in support of the alternative hypothesis, and two SETI supporters have taken up the challenge. H. Paul Shuch and Louis Scheffer have gone on record as predicting that an interstellar detection will occur first, and have put up money on the question.
At stake in the pooled bet is the modest sum of $1000 US. In the event that Tough's prediction proves true, that amount will accrue to the nonprofit SETI League. Should Scheffer's and Shuch's prediction pan out, a like sum will be donated to -- the nonprofit SETI League! "This is a no-lose bet as far as our grassroots effort is concerned," states Shuch, who serves as The SETI League's executive director. "We all agree that ETI will ultimately be discovered. The only open question is where it might first rear its lovely head."
The SETI bet is being brokered by LongBets.org, a nonprofit organization which deals solely with long-range questions having societal significance and measurable outcomes. All funds collected by LongBets ultimately benefit recognized charities, though it might take some time to conclusively answer the questions they raise. This is the first time that parties to a LongBet have all selected the same beneficiary, win or lose.
"If it is at least a hundred years ahead of us," argues Prof. Tough, "a civilization will have the capacity to explore the galaxy with small super-smart interstellar probes. It will be motivated by the desire for an up-close look at other civilizations and by the benefits of rapid two-way communication between the super-smart probe and each civilization. Surely it will be easier for us to make contact with a near-Earth probe than to find a distant needle-in-a-haystack signal!"
"It's all a matter of instrumentation," counters Dr. Shuch. "Right now, we know how to detect radio emissions from the stars, and have developed some powerful instruments for doing so. Although I don't dispute the probable existence of interstellar probes, the fact is we don't yet have the technology to reliably detect them. So I'm betting on interstellar radio contact, the traditional technology of contemporary SETI."
SETI scientists use a variety of scientific approaches to determine whether humankind is alone in the universe. Since Congress terminated NASA's SETI funding in 1993, The SETI League and other scientific groups have been attempting to privatize the research. Experimenters interested in participating in the search for intelligent alien life, or citizens wishing to help support it, should email to join_at_setileague_dot_org, check the SETI League Web site at http://www.setileague.org/, send a fax to +1 (201) 641-1771, or contact The SETI League, Inc. membership hotline at +1 (800) TAU-SETI. Be sure to provide us with a postal address to which we will mail further information. The SETI League, Inc. is a membership-supported, non-profit [501(c)(3)], educational and scientific corporation dedicated to the systematic Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.
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this page last updated 22 November 2003
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