The PRIZE is Right

9/24/07

Hello World, come on down… You’re the next contestant on the PRIZE is Right. That’s right, play the game, solve the challenge…and we ALL win.

Competitions and prizes are nothing new, but the era of high-profile, world-changing contests is upon us. History has seen its share of successful prizes, such as the 20,000 pound, British Longitude Prize of 1714, for determining a ship’s longitude. Or how about the $25,000 Orteig Prize, awarded to Charles Lindbergh for the first transatlantic flight between New York and Paris. But now, such competitions are raising more international publicity and awareness than ever before—setting goals that were once unimaginable, offering staggering sums to the winners, and attracting notable partners (who help publicize and pay for the prizes) who want to be associated with the radical change the prizes hope to inspire.

Last week, in partnership with Google, the X PRIZE Foundation (where I work) announced its latest challenge; The Google Lunar X PRIZE. Up to $30 million will be awarded for landing robots on the moon, transmitting high-quality photos and accomplishing various tasks. The X PRIZE, best-known for the success of the $10 million Ansari Space X PRIZE, awarded for launching a human into space twice within two weeks, requires that the teams in all competitions be 90 percent privately funded. This is meant to ensure a path to commercialization and benefit for all of humanity, not just governments.

But it’s not just space travel that the foundation is seeking to blast into orbit. Following the success of the first X PRIZE, the foundation launched the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, a $10 million competition for rapid and cost effective DNA sequencing technology, which, when successful, will usher in a new era of personalized medicine. Such goals, while so far unattainable, still attract support from pioneers such as Richard Branson and Stephen Hawking, who will be among the first to have their DNA sequenced by the competition’s winning team. I came on board with the X PRIZE Foundation in March to lead this effort. But I took on this responsibility only after careful consideration and realization of the power of such a prize to provide leverage to accelerate technology and spur the radical change we can make towards human health, happiness, and longevity.

The colors are shining. Al Gore has shown that green is good. Bono proved that red is supportive. And now Google, with its multicolored logo, is demonstrating its support and belief in the prize model. What’s most important, though, is the celebration. Our world, our culture, must celebrate these competing teams, the scientists, the engineers, the visionaries. Together, they are the problem solvers who are trying to save the world—and not just entertain it.

Inspiration, Creativity, Innovation… These are not just words meant for posters in an office. They are happening all around us, and corporate leaders, governments, and individuals have a responsibility to step up and cheer it on!

Marc Hodosh leads the Archon X PRIZE for Genomics and is chairman of Dean Kamen’s FIRST Robotics competition in Boston, which inspires thousands of high school students to pursue careers in science and technology.

Marc Hodosh is President of TED MED, a conference he is re-launching in the fall of 2009, in partnership with TED founder, Richard Wurman. Follow @

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