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Posted: July 22, 2011

Eight grand challenges for humanity: Part 2

Our need to compete can drive innovation

Thomas Frey

(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part 1.)

The Hamilton Project, an effort spearheaded by the Brookings Institute, endorses the use of prizes to stimulate technological innovation. It states that technology prizes are "an old idea whose time has come again.

he project went on to state, "Prizes can also generate public excitement and enthusiasm for science and technology, and encourage more young people to pursue careers in science, engineering, or technology-based entrepreneurship."

Our Need to Compete

The most famous prizes in the world today are the Nobel Prizes. However, those are backward-looking prizes intended to reward some of the world's best and brightest for past accomplishments.

Incentive prizes are different. They serve a vastly different purpose, to incentive people for future accomplishments. Our need to compete is something that has been instilled in us at an early age. We compete with people physically in athletic competitions, and intellectually in academic competitions. But when it comes to science and math, the fundamental building blocks needed to advance civilization; we have very few finish lines.

Eight Grand Challenges

The Eight Grand Challenges have been framed around incredibly difficult fetes and at stake will be a combination of national pride, personal legacies, and laying claim to unprecedented achievements in science and industry.

Here is an overview of the "Eight Grand Challenges":

1. Race to the Core: First team to build a probe that makes it all the way to the center of the earth with a communication system capable of sending real-time sensory data to the surface.

2. Viewing the Past: Create a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened no less than 20 years earlier in actual-size, in holographic form.

3. Disassembling Matter: First team to reduce a solid block of granite (2' cube) to particles no larger than molecules in less than 10 seconds, using less than 500 watts of power without causing an explosion or physical damage to objects more than 10 feet away.

4. The Gravity Challenge: Demonstrate gravitational control over an object weighing no less than 2,000 lbs. by doubling the force of gravity to 4,000 lbs., reducing the force of gravity by 50 percent to 1,000 lbs., and creating negative gravity by lifting the object 1,000 feet and returning it back to the original position with no explosions and in less than 10 minutes.

5. The Ultimate Small Storage Particle: Create an electron-based data storage system no larger than 10 millimeters cubed that can be manufactured for less than $1 per 100 terabytes and is capable of uploading, storing, and retrieving a volume of information equal to the U.S. Library of Congress in less than 10 minutes using less than 1 watt per TB/month.

6. Travel at the speed of light: Create a scientific probe capable of traveling at the speed of light for a distance no less than the Earth to Saturn with information sensors to capture stresses, impacts, and details along the way.

7. Swarm-Bots: Create a swarm of 10,000 synchronized micro drones no larger than 10 millimeters across (height, width, and depth) capable of lifting a 250-pound person to a height of 100 feet and gently returning him/her to the ground.

8. The 10-Second Interface: Create a direct-to-the-mind interface that will allow 25 average people to answer a series of questions within 10 seconds with no harmful side effects to the user.

Teams

Unique to these competitions, only countries will be allowed to enter teams, and each country will be limited to no more than two teams. All teams will be required to maintain accurate records of their personnel, research data, and stages of progress.

The Prize

Similar to the Olympics, members of the winning team will each receive a gold medal. However, the true value will come from the accomplishment. Each has the potential to unlock vast new industries.

More importantly, the team that wins will have carved out their own legacy with a permanent place in the next generation of history books.

Entrance Fee

The cost of managing competitions of this nature will be significant. For this reason the entrance fee for each team has been set at $1 million USD per team. The money will be used to fund an endowment to insure the long-term viability of each competition.

As the competitions ramp up, an entirely new organization will be created. The resulting organization will require a highly skilled management team and staff members who possess extraordinary technical expertise. The management team will need to be in place for many years, perhaps even decades.

The entrance fee represents a tiny fraction of one percent of the amount each team will need to budget for their efforts. Team budgets for each competition will likely be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Governing Bodies

Each competition will also require its own governing body. Since each will be a venture into the unknown, pushing the limits of science and technology, there will need to be an international governing body responsible for oversight and dealing with unforeseeable circumstances.

The exact makeup and responsibilities of the governing bodies will be determined over the coming months. But minimally they will include one representative per team from the countries they represent.
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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

A ray gun that disassembles matter? There's no way that something like that could be worse than H-Bombs, right? Maybe the swarm-bots could each have one. And we worry about nuclear proliferation. Bah! I guess I'm a Luddite after all. By David Ess(EveryoneHasABoss) on 2011 07 22

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