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US Spurs Plethora of Problem Solving Prizes 140

Posted by samzenpus
from the gaming-the-system dept.
coondoggie writes "Got a complicated problem? Hold a prize competition to solve it. That's the basic idea behind the America Competes Act, renewed by Congress this week. According to the White House's Office of Science and Technology, the Competes Act gives every department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions. Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America's top talent and best expertise."
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US Spurs Plethora of Problem Solving Prizes

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  • and lowest expense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @07:27PM (#34647842)

    "Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America's top talent and best expertise." ... and are cheap too because instead of paying people to solve it, you let a multitude of people do it in their free time, and then you pay the winner a set amount regardless of how long it took or what it actually cost. Everyone else gets nothing, regardless of how much time they spend, or what their expenses were.

    I'm surprised scientists get sucked into this stuff, its about as sensible as playing the lottery, and self-destructive to the viability of one's own profession.

    We're already seeing prize models for logo and website design...

  • by windcask (1795642) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @07:30PM (#34647876) Homepage Journal

    Yes, but one could argue incentive for critical thought and problem-solving skills among today's youth pays dividends down the road.

  • by femto (459605) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @07:40PM (#34647924) Homepage

    A critical question is: Who owns the result? A prize should be about promoting development, and NOT about acquiring ownership. Any prize recipient who transfers ownership is a bunny. The sequence should be:

    1. Win prize (prize posted to promote development.)
    2. Use prize money as seed funding for business
    3. PROFIT! Prize giver has a solution and developer has money.

    The reward for the 2nd, 3rd, .. place getters is the opportunity to still develop a business, albeit without the benefit of the prize money as funding.

  • by drb226 (1938360) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @07:45PM (#34647956)

    I'm surprised scientists get sucked into this stuff, its about as sensible as playing the lottery, and self-destructive to the viability of one's own profession.

    Some people actually *enjoy* their profession, and do not need to be paid for *everything* they do (e.g. open source?). Plus, even if they don't win, they at least strengthen their portfolio and skills.

  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @08:12PM (#34648134) Homepage

    No you're supposed to do it for a share of a dinette set plus the personal satisfaction you get from solving problems and the prestige and recognition of being the guy who beat everyone else at doing it.

    Fyi, people actually pay for the opportunity to compete in triathlons, and most of them aren't even expecting to win. The ones who do don't receive much in the way of compensation for the time they've invested in it. And yet hundreds of people still show up to do it.

    If you're not in the spirit of the game then it may not seem very equitable to you, but good news! It's 100% voluntary, so no need for you to worry about it.

  • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @08:46PM (#34648382)

    Huh? That's exactly what American politicians do: they govern according to the actual interests of their constituents, the Corporations, who provide them with generous "campaign donations".

  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @09:15PM (#34648556) Homepage

    However, history teaches us that judges don't like innovative solutions to the problem.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longitude_prize [wikipedia.org]
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harrison [wikipedia.org]

  • by apoc.famine (621563) <.apoc.famine. .at. .gmail.com.> on Wednesday December 22, 2010 @11:02PM (#34649190) Homepage Journal
    It's not necessarily a bad argument. I've seen plenty of college clubs/programs that would happily apply their chosen talent/focus to a problem. They would even budget/fund-raise to make sure they could successfully pull it off. Why? Personal pride, sense of purpose, but often, if there is a cash prize, there's a round of photographs, news articles, and coverage in magazines and other media forms dedicated to their personal niche.

    The money may not be the motivation, but if there's an oversized check for $50,000, you can bet that someone's going to take a picture or two and write about it somewhere. For a lot of groups, that exposure is worth far more than the cash. Although the cash might be seed money for the next venture they jump into.
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 23, 2010 @12:59AM (#34649592) Homepage

    The DARPA Grand Challenge was actually Dr. Tony Tether's way of getting a message through to the academic robotics community - "get results or else". DARPA had been putting money into robotics work, and specific automatic driving work, at MIT, Stanford, and CMU since the 1960s, without getting anything that was close to useful. When the Grand Challenge was first announced, all three of those schools didn't intend to enter, and in fact, months into the competition, none of them had. Many non-academic entrants had signed up, but the big schools weren't in it.

    Then something happened. I gather that it was made clear to the major research groups that if the Grand Challenge resulted in better technology than what DARPA had received from academia, academic funding would be turned off. Suddenly, all three schools cranked up huge efforts, tying up a substantial fraction of their CS departments. Nobody had ever had 100-person crash programs in academic robotics before, let alone ones funded by the universities themselves.

    It worked. But it wasn't the carrot of winning that drove the major schools. The prize was only $1 million. It was the big stick of funding cuts.

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