Breakthrough Prizes. We need a mission

The winners of the 2023 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences, Mathematics, and Fundamental Physics were announced on Sept. 22:

  • Three Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences were awarded to: Clifford P. Brangwynne and Anthony A. Hyman for discovering a new mechanism of cellular organization (video); Demis Hassabis and John Jumper for developing AlphaFold, which accurately predicts the structure of proteins (video); and to Emmanuel Mignot and Masashi Yanagisawa for discovering the causes of narcolepsy (video).
  • The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics went to Daniel A. Spielman, for multiple discoveries in theoretical computer science and mathematics (video).
  • The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics is shared by Charles H. Bennett, Gilles Brassard, David Deutsch and Peter Shor for their foundational work in quantum information (video).

Each of these five main prizes is $3 million. In addition, 6 New Horizons Prizes, each of $100,000, were distributed between 11 early-career scientists and mathematicians who have already made a substantial impact on their fields; plus 3 Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes, of $50,000 each, awarded to women mathematicians who have recently completed their PhDs and produced important results, for a total amount of $15.75 million. (details)

I am happy to see recognized people whom I admire, I’ve been following for years and have inspired several of my science fiction speculations. In the case of Demis Hassabis within the limits of what I can yet barely manage to understand (deep learning and artificial intelligence). In the case of David Deutsch (also Peter Shor), just beyond my comprehension (I remain by the side of Richard Feynman regarding quantum comprehension ;))

The Breakthrough Prizes were founded in 2012 by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Anne Wojcickia, and their promoters Julia and Yuri Milner. They are today the world’s largest science awards.

Yuri Milner is an Israeli physicist, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. In July 2015, he also launched Breakthrough Initiatives, a suite of space science programs to investigate the fundamental questions of life in the Universe: Are we alone? Are there habitable worlds in our galactic neighbourhood? Can we make the great leap to the stars? And can we think and act together – as one world in the cosmos?

Yuri is the author of the EUREKA MANIFESTO, which you can find in the Breakthrough Prize Website and download here.

This book crystallized around an idea that first formed in my childhood, when I read Iosif Shklovsky and Carl Sagan’s Intelligent Life in the Universe. I was fascinated by the possibility that intelligent beings are out there – but also by the thought that they are right here. They are us.

The year I was born, Sagan and the astronomer Frank Drake(1) held the first scientific conference on how our civilization might communicate with others. Later, they used the giant Arecibo radio telescope to search for interstellar messages. In the sixty years since, no such message has arrived. But a few years ago, gazing up at Arecibo alongside Frank, it occurred to me that even while the receiver remained silent, I could at least communicate with one intelligent civilization. Our own.

This manifesto is my message. It calls on us to look beyond the horizon, to see the extraordinary cosmic story that we are part of, and there to find our Mission.

Yuri is very likely an alienimagina.

What could I add? WE NEED A MISSION, and I find Yuri’s mission and manifesto a lot more “exciting” —yes, that word—, that those of the all too frequent monsters which populate today’s world.


(1) My admiration and recognition also for Francis Drake, who has just left us to meet with Carl Sagan.

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