Challenge.gov in long tradition of giving prizes for solutions to tough problems
In a cryonics context, this would have several advantages. One, it would send the signal that cryonicists mean business in solving our technical problems. Two, it would defuse the cult-and-scam accusations about cryonics. Three, it would also counter the perception that cryonics' patrons subsidize their clients within cryonics organizations to engage in mostly useless amateur projects.In the flurry of activity at the end of the 111th Congress, the reauthorization of the "America Competes Act" went mostly unnoticed. But it is a little bill that Washington hopes will prove transformative. The law - its cringe-worthy official name is the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act - overhauls the way the federal government supports private-sector research and development, and one of the main ways the government hopes to support R&D is with prizes. Lots of prizes.
"Inducement prizes" (as opposed to "recognition prizes," like the Nobel or the MacArthur or the Pulitzer) make up a major part of the Obama administration's grand Strategy for American Innovation. Last year, outlining its vision for a more competitive America, the White House said the government "should take advantage of the expertise and insight of people both inside and outside" Washington by using "high-risk, high-reward policy tools such as prizes and challenges to solve tough problems." This fall, Challenge.gov, a portal featuring agencies' cash rewards for new ideas, debuted. And the America Competes Act, which passed in 2007, included a provision clarifying some legal issues around such contests.
There's good reason for the government to get in on it: Prizes work, and they have a surprisingly long pedigree. Most famously, in 1714, the British government offered 20,000 pounds to anyone who could devise a reliable way of measuring longitude at sea, a problem neither Newton nor Galileo could solve. (Clockmaker John Harrison won in 1773.) Napoleon offered a prize for innovations in food preservation for his army, leading to the development of modern canning. And the $25,000 Orteig Prize spurred Charles Lindbergh to make his transatlantic flight.
And four, of course, it would mobilize far more minds to work for us, using their own resources, than we could pay for ourselves directly. As the article points out:
The much-feted X Prize showed that prizes, properly constructed, can be cheaper and more effective than traditional R&D. They're a performance-based investment, one that pays for outcomes. They encourage unconventional thinkers from different fields to collaborate to solve a problem. And they include a prestige component, which costs the offerer nothing but can be highly valued by those pursuing the prize: The X Prize found that "competitors spent 10 to 40 times" the amount of the kitty.