The X,Y, and Z Prizes

The founders of the X Prize are going to offer new prizes “to meet the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.” But they have not yet settled on exactly what fields or what accomplishments and they are soliciting public input. I’ve already given my suggestion you can give yours here.

The sponsors offer some valuable thoughts on how to choose appropriate fields and prizes:

The X PRIZE competition focused on jumpstarting a private space industry has re-proven the principle – strongly proven in the early years of the 20th century for the aviation industry – that innovation can indeed be catalyzed. ….

Although the idea of using the X PRIZE concept work in other areas is at first glance a simple and attractive one, a great deal of up-front thought needs to go into what challenges/opportunities would be selected. One could argue that there were certain qualities about the challenges and opportunities in both the aviation field and the space field that lent themselves extremely well to a private sector competition of the sorts which have occurred. Variables to be looked at might include:

The maturity (or lack thereof) of the technology around which the competition would be based?
The maturity (or lack thereof) of the related industries from which a new industry would be born
The number of potential “competitors” potentially able to meet the challenge or at least the depth of the pool from which potential competitors could be drawn
The level of the specificity of the challenge
The financial resources potentially available to finance the potential competitors
The financial resources potentially available to finance the Prize itself
How potentially compelling and exciting is the field around which the challenge would be based
The amenability of the target area to a threshold change in public expectation
The replicability of the challenge to other areas?
The level of the presumed long-term benefit to business and society

The list of questions above is by no means exhaustive, but does give a sense of how the selection of a new challenge is not as first as simple as it may seem. It is absolutely key that the right challenges are selected – sufficiently exciting to compel hearts and minds, sufficiently ambitious to reach beyond what is already likely going to occur soon and to have a truly substantial impact, and sufficiently focused to have a good chance of succeeding within a reasonable timescale.


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