Sponsoring Prizes

Wouldn’t it be fun to endow a prize like the X-Prize or the space elevator prize I discussed yesterday? I’m surprised that more rich people don’t do this. Of course, we have the Nobel and similar prizes but these are awarded for general achievement in the past and as such are unlikely to exert a significant incentive effect. Foundations can last a long time but there is a history of foundations, for example the Ford and Carnegie Foundation, spending money in ways that their founders would not approve. If you fund a prize, however, you can specify the conditions for success reasonably precisely and for that reason the money is more likely to be allocated in a way close to what you would have wished. Furthermore, if you set the prize up so that the seed money is invested in the market until it is won you can almost be guaranteed that one day the prize will be won and you will be thanked for your contribution to humanity.

As noted, I like the space elevator idea but I think that if I had a few million to spare I’d endow a cryonics prize. This is the sort of research which seems doable, has a big payoff but for which there is virtually no serious funding. I’d endow the prize with a series of staggered awards, so much for succesfully reviving a rat after 1 week, so much for a rabbit after 2 months, so much for a pig after 5 years. The Grand Prize? That would be for reviving me.