The SETI Permanent Committee sponsors this lecture each year to honor Dr. John Billingham. He chaired this committee (when it was called simply the IAA SETI Committee) for many years and established a visible credible international presence for the SETI field.
Despite his heavy workload, Dr. Billingham graciously mentored newcomers to the field. During my first meeting with him, I recall that he encouraged and inspired me to present a paper at the 1987 IAA meeting in Brighton. In subsequent years, he often helped me frame my ideas to make them better understood.
Traditionally there are two SETI sessions each year at the International Astronautical Congress, the first one technical and the second one devoted to social sciences and interdisciplinary studies. Each year, the Billingham Cutting-Edge lecture is presented at the opening of this second session. The SPSG will choose a speaker to present a cutting-edge idea and its potential implications for the scientific search for extraterrestrial intelligence. To help with travel expenses and/or as a small honorarium, the speaker will be paid $4000 US. My family and I have pledged to sponsor the lecture until at least 2010.
Our hope is to provide an exceptionally stimulating lecture each year. Eventually the breakthrough thinking from one of these lectures may lead to contact with another civilization in the universe.