The X Prize Foundation calls it “visioneering.”
We call it 120 smart people stuffed into a room. But whatever you call the huge brainstorm that happened in April, it produced some wild ideas for the next X Prize challenge.
“Breakthroughs come from nontraditional places,” X Prize Foundation chairman and chief executive Peter Diamandis said, a way of explaining why Rainn Wilson of NBC’s The Office was sitting in a room with Microsoft’s Paul Allen.
Allen and Wilson were among the 120 CEOs, scientists, philanthropists, and innovators who sat around a film studio in Los Angeles recently, brainstorming solutions to the world’s most vexing problems. They weren’t actually tasked with developing any solutions themselves; the weekend brainstorm was intended to hatch ideas for the next X Prize. “People who are experts in an area are often blinded to ‘orthogonal thinking,” Diamandis said. “An expert is someone who can tell you exactly how something can’t be done. A real breakthrough sometimes comes from a naïve question, or someone outside the field that looks at things differently.”
X Prizes have challenged inventors to come up with oil-skimming robots, hyper-efficient cars, and moon robots, among other things. The attendees at this event were presented with a broad range of topics—oceans, energy generation, jobs, robotics, education, energy storage, transportation, poverty, natural disasters, poverty, food security, neuromedicine, and bioterrorism, which had been requested by the U.S. government—and then asked to ponder: Where do we need a breakthrough?
Go. Ideas were cast back and forth. At the energy-generation brainstorm, a Washington consultant stood up. “The problem is not that there isn’t enough capital to finance breakthrough technologies, it’s that the policy signals are so blurry and unpredictable, that the capital cannot be unlocked to scale these technologies.” Someone else suggested a prize to build the first carbon-free city. “The problem is power transmission and line loss,” another said. A VP at Nintendo, who happens to be Icelandic, proposed devising a low-cost way to harness geothermal energy along the Ring of Fire. Another attendee: “There is zero money going into alternative physics R&D because of the stigma. Physics says its possible but we’re not working on it at all!”
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