Billionaire investor Yuri Milner had huge success betting on Internet giants from Facebook and Twitter, to Snapchat and Spotify, but when he looks to the future, he says there won't be much opportunity in Internet-only companies, such as these. In an exclusive interview on CNBC, he said now he's looking to invest in companies that bridge the online and offline world—like AirBNB, one of his investments, or Uber, a company he says he wishes he'd invested in.
Milner says the potential for technology to improve the offline experience is why he's so bullish on e-commerce. He's backed Alibaba in China and Flipkart in India. He's also backing a number of Uber competitors: Taxi hailing firm Didi Kuaidi in China, and Ola in India. And he's looking for other companies that will change the way people buy and sell things.
"E-commerce opportunities continue to be, uh, very interesting. The market in China overall is growing 50 percent a year. It's really interesting that e-commerce market in U.S. is growing only 15 percent a year and Chinese penetration overtaken U.S. penetration," Milner says. "But I think the opportunities are still open for e-commerce companies to show what they can do. "
Milner likes to think about topics far bigger than investing and the next "unicorn." He's been pondering whether we're alone in the universe and is putting some money to work to find an answer to that question. In July he announced he's committing $100 million over 10 years to look for alien civilization. He says the time is right: "It's very presumptuous and aggressive to think that that we are alone in the universe with so many possibilities. And this is just in our galaxy, there are 200 galaxies like Milky Way. So the numbers and the odds are overwhelming for life to exist and even intelligent life. So if that is the case then I'm saying, let's find out."
And Milner says the process of trying to find that life will be valuable, no matter what it finds: "Let's do a scientific experiment instead of having these debates, let's just do a rigorous experiment and let's find out," says Milner. "Now it is very possible for us to attack this question with given with the technology that we have. We only need to take the existing radio telescopes and connect them to the largest computers that we have and we can process data thousand times faster than any previous search."
Another topic that Milner is eager to bet on: Artificial Intelligence. He thinks that it'll be a game changer for companies, not the threat that Elon Musk thinks it'll be. "I think it's not going to play out the way [Musk] thinks it's going to play out. What we have seen in the last few years is that it's collaborative engagement between human minds and computers. If you look at Google, Google is a combination of a lot of servers and a lot of human minds. Who is entering all this data into Google? Who is feeding the machine? This is human brains so there are few million people that are feeding the machine, and then the machine is processing the information and making us smarter."
That combination of technology and humans is one reason he's so bullish on Facebook: "It's a billion people voluntarily entering information, computers have a chance to process this data, and makes us more efficient. So I think if the histories of any lesson to be drawn for the future, the future belongs to a combination of human brains and computers and I don't think it's a threat. I think it's it's an opportunity."