Qualcomm Cofounder Leaves $200 Million Gift to SETI Institute in His Will

The gift highlights the fact that the search for extraterrestrial life is increasingly being funded by prominent tech founders.
Qualcomm Cofounder Leaves $200 Million Gift to SETI Institute in His Will
Image: SETI Institute

Qualcomm cofounder Franklin Antonio left a $200 million gift to the SETI Institute (Searching for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) upon his death last year, the institute and his estate announced Wednesday.

The gift is a huge injection of cash to one of the most serious and well-respected organizations searching for intelligent aliens. It also highlights the fact that the search for intelligent life is increasingly being funded by tech billionaires and Silicon Valley founders. The search for extraterrestrial life is no longer just in the purview of NASA, universities, and, on the fringes, conspiracy theorists. Well-funded private and nonprofit projects, as well as citizen scientists who have begun using sensors, cameras, and surveillance equipment that is cheaper than ever to obtain, have begun to look for signs of extraterrestrial life in a systemic, decentralized way.

Antonio was the seventh employee of the chipmaking giant Qualcomm and was a longtime supporter of SETI during his life and career. 

“Guided by our core mission and Franklin Antonio’s vision, we now have the opportunity to elevate and expedite our research and make new discoveries to benefit all humanity for generations to come,” SETI Institutes President & CEO Bill Diamond said in a statement. “In his memory, the SETI Institute will continue its pursuit of one of the biggest and most profound questions in all of science, a question as old as humanity itself – are we alone in the universe?”

The institute said that Franklin helped finance the Allen Telescope Array, the first radio telescope array designed specifically for SETI, which became operational in 2007. His gift will “support the development of innovative observational technologies and analytical instruments.” 

Over the last few years, we have seen increasingly sophisticated projects funded by tech founders who are throwing their money at projects dedicated to finding alien life. For example, a nonprofit called UAPx was founded by a series of Silicon Valley VCs, former military officers, and university professors. A startup called Hypergiant Industries, which has military contracts and was founded by serial entrepreneur Ben Lamm, devised a plan to launch satellites that would look down at Earth to look for UFOs from space (it has since put this project on hold). And real estate magnate Brandon Fugal purchased Skinwalker Ranch, a hotbed of supposed paranormal activity in Utah, and upgraded it with a series of sensors and surveillance equipment in hopes of providing scientific legitimacy to the ranch’s reputation. 

“This gift will impact all research domains of the SETI Institute,” Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Research, said in a press release. “It will provide our teams the freedom to pursue their own science priorities, and to examine the technological, philosophical and societal impact of their research on our daily lives here on Earth.”