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New X Prize Sets Sights on Science, Technology and Social Solutions

The X Prize Foundation and the World Technology Network announced today the formation of a joint venture to launch a series of technology incentive prizes to help spur innovation and breakthroughs in a range of scientific arenas.

The creation of new X Prize awards follows the success of the twin SpaceShipOne flights that snagged the $10 million Ansari X Prize purse. However, these are focused on other arenas, such as medicine, environment, energy, nanotechnology, and informatics.

The unveiling of new technology incentive prizes was made in San Francisco, California today during the World Technology Network's 2004 World Technology Summit and Awards meeting.

The World Technology Network (WTN) is comprised of more than 800 individuals and organizations from over 50 countries nominated and judged by their peers to be the most innovative in the science and technology world. WTN is focused on matching creative talent with technological issues of the day in the hopes of jump starting breakthroughs.

Unexpected results

"When the X Prize was first announced in 1996, industry experts scoffed at the concept of private space travel," said Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation in a press statement. "This week, eight years later, the world watched with wonder as SpaceShipOne successfully conquered that exact challenge. Incentive prizes cause amazing, unexpected results," he said.

The new set of prizes are intended to inspire innovation and bring about breakthrough results with wide-ranging societal implications, such as life extension, molecular assemblers, water purification, hydrogen generation, and similarly ambitious goals.

Commercially, they are intended to create leaps in research and development that will benefit all participants and open new markets.

"The really exciting thing, I think, about that the sky's the limit," said James Clark, founder and chairman of the WTN.

Both groups are looking to identify Fortune 500 companies interested in assisting in the creation of the prizes by funding the purse in turn for title sponsorship rights. 

Privately-funded solutions

According to the X Prize Foundation and the World Technology Network, examples of privately-funded solutions in scientific and social fields might include the following:

1.   Transportation: Demonstration of a 4-seat vehicle able to achieve 200 miles per gallon in a cross country race

2.   Nanotechnology: Construction of a pre-determined molecule by an assembler

3.   Aging deceleration: Extension of mammal life, or demonstrated evidence of aging reversal

4.   Education: Demonstration of a self-sufficient education facility able to operate independently and educate villagers anywhere on the planet

Open door policy on ideas

Be it radical new forms of energy production, a cure for a specific disease that's not being properly addressed, or even how teleportation might become public point-to-point travel - there's an open-door policy on ideas.

"We're in a public suggestion phase. And that phase ought to be the phase when no idea is too far out and no idea is too ambitious," Clark advised.

"There are several billion people on this planet. They all have dreams. They all have visions. There are hundreds and thousands of scientists and technologists, if not millions, with specific challenges that they have in mind in their fields. There are thousands and thousands of companies with the resources to put up the sponsorship for these sorts of prizes. The exciting thing right now is to see what ideas people can come up with," Clark explained.

Permission to take risks

Diamandis said that we now live in a risk adverse society.

"What we're trying to do is to incentivize progress," he told, for people to look beyond the immediate cutting edge, beyond small incremental improvement, and motivate some real breakthroughs.

"One of the elements that a prize does is that it gives people permission to take credentials their risk taking," Diamandis added.

The first WTN-X Prizes are expected to be announced in six months.

The WTN and X Prize Foundation have developed a website to court competitors and attract sponsors:

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Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.