Billionaire Yuri Milner made his fortune founding one of the world’s leading internet technology investment companies, DST Global. Though he became a successful investor, Milner started his career as a theoretical physicist. He never lost his passion for science and is now a prolific philanthropist in the science and tech space.
In 2021, Milner published a short book about science, humanity, and the Universe. Eureka Manifesto offers insights about the billionaire’s philanthropic beliefs and goals.
Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto Mission
Eureka Manifesto proposes that humanity needs a shared mission to prosper in the long term. According to Milner, any organisation that is serious about achieving a significant outcome has a mission. From Doctors Without Borders to NASA and Netflix, organisations use mission statements to coordinate huge groups of people and deliver ambitious projects.
A shared human mission could help the people, nations, and cultures of Earth put aside their self-imposed differences and work together for a common goal. But what mission could unite the global population?
Milner says the answer lies beyond Earth. He cites the significance of humanity’s place in the cosmos as sentient beings. To have minds formed from matter, minds that can question and comprehend the Universal Story we are part of, suggests our fundamental mission is “to explore and understand our Universe.”
This mission, Milner emphasises, is “not invented but discovered, like a law of nature.” Moreover, we all have a stake in it, not just the scientists who make great leaps in disciplines like physics and maths. Why? Because the fruits of exploration and understanding — including innovative technologies — will benefit everyone.
Milner proposes a plan of action to advance the mission. It includes celebrating scientists as cultural heroes and investing heavily in fundamental science and space exploration. The plan also involves driving scientific progress with artificial intelligence and focusing education on the Universal Story so children feel motivated to contribute to the mission.
Milner also calls upon each of us to help build a society that values rational argument and critical thinking. He explains that scientific discoveries are more likely to flourish in an intellectually open society than in one that doesn’t value science-based knowledge.
How Yuri Milner Is Advancing the Mission
Milner is actively advancing his Eureka Manifesto mission through substantial philanthropic efforts. He invests in projects that:
- Celebrate scientists as heroes.
- Conduct fundamental research.
- Promote scientific ideas amongst the next generation.
- Leverage technology to address the global refugee crisis.
The Breakthrough Prize
In 2012, Milner and his wife Julia launched the Breakthrough Prize with Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg, and Anne Wojcicki.
The Breakthrough Prize recognises groundbreaking, primarily recent, achievements by mathematicians, physicists, and researchers in the life sciences. Each year, the Breakthrough Prize awards a minimum of five prizes worth $3 million each to individuals or teams who have made breakthroughs in their fields.
Besides the main Breakthrough Prizes, there are also New Horizons Prizes for early-career physicists and mathematicians worth $100,000. Meanwhile, Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes (worth $50,000) reward exceptional women mathematicians who have recently completed their PhDs.
The Breakthrough Prize hands out awards at an annual gala ceremony. A-list celebrities attend these events and present prizes to laureates. For example, the 2023 ceremony welcomed stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pine, and Gal Gadot.
The Breakthrough Prize organisers broadcast the ceremony internationally to inspire viewers worldwide. By celebrating scientists as cultural heroes on a level with Hollywood actors, we can all help advance the mission Milner proposes in Eureka Manifesto.
The Breakthrough Initiatives
Milner is also advancing our shared mission by investing in programmes that investigate the fundamental questions of life in the Universe.
The Breakthrough Initiatives are a set of research programmes centred on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) and space exploration.
Milner and Stephen Hawking launched the first Breakthrough Initiative in 2015. The $100 million Breakthrough Listen project has reinvigorated the SETI field. Most recently, Listen has partnered with physicists at Oxford University. Together, the teams are advancing the search for radio signals that could prove alien technology exists.
In 2016, Milner, Hawking, and Mark Zuckerberg launched Breakthrough Starshot. The $100 million research and engineering project is developing technology for interstellar travel.
The other Breakthrough Initiatives are Watch, Discuss, and Message:
- Watch uses state-of-the-art instruments to detect planets that could host alien life.
- Discuss is an annual conference that brings together academics to consider SETI research and new ideas for space exploration.
- Message is a competition that encourages debate about how we might communicate with aliens.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge
Milner created the Breakthrough Junior Challenge in 2015 to get more young people engaging with scientific ideas. Entrants make creative, original videos that explain and illuminate a complex theory or principle in the life sciences, maths, or physics. The 2023 finalists’ videos explore big ideas like antimatter, neutrinos, and neurotransmitters.
The competition for teenagers takes place annually and offers a major prize to the winner: a $250,000 post-secondary scholarship. The Challenge champion also secures a new science lab for their school and $50,000 for their teacher.
The Breakthrough Junior Challenge recognises that students are often good at explaining ideas to their peers. Many of the videos entrants create become a valuable learning resource for other young people globally.
Tech For Refugees
In 2022, the Milners launched Tech For Refugees. The non-profit seeks to address the world’s unprecedented refugee crisis through technological solutions.
Tech For Refugees works with partner organisations and companies like Airbnb.org, Spotify, Flexport.org, Uber, and UNICEF USA. These partners use their technological expertise, networks, and services to improve the lives of refugees everywhere.
Most recently, Tech For Refugees expanded its partnership with Uber to support the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Also a Tech For Refugees partner, the IRC helps displaced people and those whose lives have been upended by conflict and disaster survive, recover, and rebuild.
Yuri Milner’s Global Philanthropy: Empowering Science and Humanity
In addition to his programmes, Milner has made financial contributions to several other scientific and humanitarian initiatives. In response to the emergency in Ukraine, he committed $6 million to support Ukrainian science and scientists, including:
- A $1 million donation to a U.S. National Academy of Sciences programme that helps displaced Ukrainian researchers relocate and continue their work.
- A $3 million donation to an international coordinating group of scientific organisations, committed to taking tangible steps in support of Ukraine’s scientists and research community. The group includes the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences Ukraine, and the UK’s Royal Society.
- A $1.5 million donation to the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA). ALLEA has distributed this donation through European academic institutions to scientists impacted by the war in Ukraine.
In 2023, Milner made a commitment of $2.5 million to CERN Science Gateway. The new outreach centre will engage the public with the science and technology of CERN and the big questions of fundamental physics.
Through his philanthropic efforts, Milner continues to contribute to a shared global culture that values knowledge, open discussion, collaboration, and scientific achievement. These are the conditions in which scientists can make major discoveries and accelerate our mission: to explore and understand our Universe.
About Yuri Milner
Yuri Milner is a philanthropist and investor. He established the Breakthrough Foundation to follow through on his Giving Pledge and donate to chiefly scientific causes.
The Breakthrough Foundation provides funding to various initiatives, including Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives, Breakthrough Prize, Breakthrough Junior Challenge, and Tech For Refugees.
Stephen Hawking has called Milner “something of a visionary,” who sees that “our chances of thriving as a species depend on tending and feeding the precious flame of knowledge.”
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