Aspire Magazine Issue 2 - Page 57

“WHEN TRADITIONAL PROBLEM SOLVERS SAY ‘CAN’T’ OR ‘WON’T’ YOU DON’T GIVE UP. YOU HAVE TO LOOK ELSEWHERE FOR SOLUTIONS .” – MARCUS SHINGLES, XPRIZE FOUNDATION CEO or someone who has dreamed of leaving Earth, Dr. Peter Diamandis is doing more than most to help save our planet. The engineer, entrepreneur, and futurist is the founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, a non-profit that incubates prize-driven competitions meant to inspire innovation. For centuries, contests have been used to tap into the world’s collective genius in order to solve seemingly unsolvable challenges. In 1927, hotelier Raymond Ortieg promised a $25,000 award to anyone who could successfully fly nonstop from New York to Paris. American pilot Charles Lindbergh earned the winnings and worldwide fame. His success also prompted considerable investment in aviation, helped boost public interest in the global air travel industry, and more than a half-century later, inspired Diamandis to create the XPRIZE Foundation. “The Ortieg Prize became the model for XPRIZE,” says Diamandis. “We give teams all over the world a chance to pursue the audacious goals set forth in our competitions.” When XPRIZE first launched in 1995, the sole focus was on spaceflight. A child of the Apollo era, Diamandis grew up obsessed with the idea of space travel. When the first Bush administration’s effort to return to the Moon and travel to Mars fizzled due to lack of government funding, he created a contest to try to open the space frontier. The first XPRIZE, the Ansari XPRIZE, offered $10 million to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three- passenger vehicle 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks. “Our goal was to inspire and guide the emergence of a private spaceflight industry,” he says. It took 26 teams investing more than $100 million dollars for eight years before the prize was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a joint venture between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan, which completed its flights in the custom-built SpaceShipOne. The success of the Ansari XPRIZE made Diamandis realize he could capitalize on incentive competitions, today’s technology, and the power of crowdsourcing to tackle major global challenges. “We can no longer rely on scientists, medical experts, and governments alone to solve the host of problems facing the human race: climate change, overpopulation, deforestation, emerging diseases,” says Marcus Shingles, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation. “When traditional problem solvers say ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’ you don’t give up. You have to look elsewhere for solutions.” XPRIZE relies on its Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, and supporters, which include prescient thought leaders such as James Cameron, Larry Page, and Arianna Huffington, to help usher in new ideas and challenges. The foundation holds an annual summit where some of the smartest and most influential people in the world come together to brainstorm concepts for what could become the next multi- million dollar XPRIZE competition. At the 2017 Visioneers Summit, teams presented impact proposals on global challenges that included clean air, cybersecurity, democracy and voting, Alzheimer’s, and zero-waste mining. The Alzheimer’s disease team, among other various teams of innovative talent, advanced to consideration for a 2018 XPRIZE competition. To date, XPRIZE has launched and awarded about $150 million in prizes across a number of areas, including oceans, energy, environment, transportation, health and education, and has another $200 million in prizes in various stages of development. In March, the foundation announced its newest challenge, the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE. “I believe it will be one of the most unique and groundbreaking competitions to date, as it demands collaboration between people in a variety of fields such as virtual reality, robotics, machine learning, and brain-machine interfacing, to create a multi-purpose avatar system,” says Diamandis. By gamifying modern problem-solving techniques, XPRIZE has been able to empower brilliant minds from around the world. “If we can get a crowd activated in critical mass—not a couple of Stanford University engineers, but hundreds if not thousands of teams from all walks of life—and have them thinking about problems in dormant domains, like saving the world’s oceans, we can have 10 times rather than 10 percent more impact,” says Shingles. Shingles, who came onboard as CEO in 2016, truly believes that ordinary people have extraordinary ideas. Crowds, research shows, are energized by intrinsic motivations, like the desire to do good or to learn. “In the past, you might have volunteered at a soup kitchen if you wanted to do good,” says Shingles. “The modern-day version of that is going ASPIRE | ISSUE TWO 55