Friday, May 05, 2006

The Single Best Way to Solve a Problem

The Longitude Prize was set at £20,000 in 1714, the Orteig Prize was set at $25,000 in 1912 and the X-Prize was set at $10,000,000 in 1996. They were awards set to motivate great leaps forward in technology.

The Longitude Prize was set by the British government to solve the problem of how to accurately measure longitude when navigating, something that had always eluded mariners and which cost Britain unimaginable amounts through naval accidents. The prize inspired the invention of a very accurate maritime clock which solved the problem for good.

The Orteig Prize was offered for the first non-stop aircraft flight between New York and Paris. It was won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927.

The X-prize was offered for the first non-government organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks. It was won in 2004.

As philanthropy goes this is a wonderful way to pledge your money because;
-you get to choose the very ambitious goal
-you only have to pay out if it is accomplished satisfactorily so not a penny is wasted and the price is fixed
-you get amazing value for money because it is highly leveraged by the amounts invested by others in order to win the prestigious and valuable prize

What can be learned from such examples? An urban myth describes how NASA spent millions developing an anti-gravity pen while the Russians used a pencil, the myth is actually a myth but it is believable but it roughly described the waste NASA indulged in. In NASA's hands the $10m X-prize probably wouldn’t have gone much further than a paint job for a space shuttle and yet it in the right hands it revolutionised the civilian space industry. Setting prizes like those I mentioned is probably the most cost effective way to achieve ambitious goals when what only matters is innovation and accomplishment.

The Methuselah Mouse Prize was set in 2003 to reward researchers who extend the lifespan of a mouse to unprecedented lengths. The prize is named after Methuselah, a patriarch in the Bible said to have reached 969 years of age. It is designed to combat ageing. (If you have not read the story of the Dragon READ IT NOW)

Does anyone know of any such prizes intended to combat Malaria or AIDS or similar diseases that devastate the poorest, those who can’t themselves reward innovation in such a way as to make it attractive enough to concentrate some of the brightest minds?
The easy part should be formulating a goal – say developing a product or initiative that eradicates malaria in a third world country. Another easy part should be getting micro donations over the internet to increase the prize over time. The hard part would probably attracting a reputable institution to coordinate the project and award the prize.

NASA has learned from the X-prize and has set the Centennial Challenges
shouldn’t we the public, the blogoshere, whoever, set one up to achieve something a lot less frivolous?


Blogger aisha said...

Subaru Legacy Turbo
Hat’s off. Well done, as we know that “hard work always pays off”, after a long struggle with sincere effort it’s done.

11:50 a.m.  

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