When you have billions upon billions of dollars, what do you spend it on? Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen answered that $11.5 million dollar question by donating a chunk of money to the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) team at Berkeley. In addition to Allenis contribution, Microsoft chief technology officer Nathan P. Myhrvold will also put $1 million dollars toward the project. The donations are to be spread out over a three year time period.
According to a story at Nando, Allenis $11.5 million will help the SETI team build "...hundreds of receivers to search for radio waves from distant planets." It is long thought that trying to identify and register radio signals would be the easiest way to prove the existence of other intelligent life forms.
According to Berkeley, the telescope will be the largest and most powerful of its kind in the world. "Announced last year under a working title that described its 10,000-square-meter collecting area - the One Hectare Telescope - the project will be renamed the Allen Telescope Array. "
The SETI project got a boost from the 1997 move, "Contact," and the interest in searching for extra terrestrial life has been gaining steam and mind share since then. Perhaps one of the most important happenings to come out of the SETI fervor is the creation of the wildly successful SETI@Home program. SETI@Home uses the notion of distributed computing, and takes advantage of wasted or unused processor cycles on personal computers throughout the world. This idea of distributed computing has relevant SETI data broken down in chunks, analyzed using the SETI@Home client, and then uploaded back to the main SETI computers.
It is important to note that the SETI@Home program is also run out of Berkeley.
You can find more information at the UC Berkeley web site.