The Future of Life Award

Celebrating the Unsung Heroes of our Time

The Future of Life Award is a $50,000 prize given to an individual who, without receiving much recognition at the time, has helped make today dramatically better than it may otherwise have been. We are confident that there are many unsung heroes out there, who have done incredible work to ensure a beneficial future of life on Earth. We need your help to ensure they get the recognition and honor they deserve.

Stanislav Petrov and Vasili Arkhipov, our first two recipients, were relatively unknown Soviet officers who single-handedly prevented nuclear war by trusting their gut instincts. Petrov and Arkhipov are by no means household names, but they may be two of the most important people to have ever existed. They each may have saved the planet from an all-out nuclear war between the United States and Russia, which would have destroyed life as we know it. We owe everything to these heroes, yet both of them died in relative anonymity. Similarly, while Dr. Meselson is still alive, very few people appreciate how his actions prevented some of the most horrific weaponry imaginable from becoming widespread.

With the Future of Life Award and the Unsung Hero Search, we at the Future of Life Institute hope to ensure that this fate doesn’t befall anyone else. We only know about Petrov and Arkhipov thanks to the tireless work of a few journalists to bring their stories to light. But there are undeniably other heroes who have gone unnoticed by the rest of humanity, and we need your help to find them.

Past Winners

2019 Winner

Matthew Meselson

Dr. Meselson was a driving force behind the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, an international ban that has prevented one of the most inhumane forms of warfare known to humanity. April 9th marked the eve of the Convention’s anniversary. Meselson’s long career is studded with highlights: proving Watson and Crick’s hypothesis on DNA structure, solving the Sverdlovsk Anthrax mystery, ending the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. But it is above all his work on biological weapons that makes him an international hero.

The 2019 Future of Life Award to Dr. Matthew Meselson was covered in Vox, and you can see a video about Meselson’s life below.

2018 Winner

Stanislav Petrov

One of the closest calls occurred thirty-five years ago, on September 26, 1983, when Stanislav Petrov chose to ignore the Soviet early-warning detection system that had erroneously indicated five incoming American nuclear missiles. With his decision to ignore algorithms and instead follow his gut instinct, Petrov helped prevent an all-out US-Russian nuclear war, as detailed in the documentary film “The Man Who Saved the World”.

The 2018 Future of Life Award to Stanislav Petrov was covered in VoxDaily Mail, and The Daily Star.

2017 Winner

Vasili Arkhipov

Vasili Arkhipov single-handedly prevented nuclear war during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Arkhipov’s submarine captain, thinking their sub was under attack by American forces, wanted to launch a nuclear weapon at the ships above. Arkhipov, with the power of veto, said no, thus averting nuclear war.

The 2017 Future of Life Award to Vasili Arkhipov was covered in The TimesThe GuardianThe Independent, and The Atlantic.

Featured Content

Help Us Find Our Next Unsung Hero

In the form below, please explain how your candidate has helped (indirectly or directly) save thousands or millions of lives, or helped make today dramatically better than it may otherwise have been. Please add links and evidence where possible.

If we decide to give the award to your nominee, you will receive a $3,000 prize from FLI for your contribution!

If you have documentation that you can’t upload in the form below, or if you are a researcher who would like to apply for a grant to research a candidate, please email dnicholson@post.harvard.edu.

If you don’t know of any candidates, we encourage you to share this page on social media and websites like Reddit, so we can reach as many people as possible in our quest to find humanity’s unsung heroes. If, by sharing this, you directly lead someone else to submit a winning candidate, we will give you credit in the nominations page.