Thomas Frey, futurist and executive director at the DaVinci Institute.
Thomas Frey, a futurist and executive director at the DaVinci Institute, has been drawing inspiration from the success of large-scale incentive-based prize competitions as he announced a series of eight massively difficult competitions during his keynote July 10th at the World Future Society’s “WorldFuture 2011″ event in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Speaking to an audience of roughly 1,000 conference attendees, Frey kicked off his talk with sobering observations about humans and the future, saying that we are essentially a backward looking society. All the information that we get our hands on is history. For most of us, he said, it is like we’re walking backwards into the future.
And what do we know about the future? It is unfolding, relentless, unforgiving, and it happens whether or not we agree to participate. If your next project is not aligned with the problems, needs, and desires of the future (not the present), the future will kill it, Frey said.
Frey explained that a major culprit to understanding the future is system thinking. In ancient times, for instance, the Romans did not produce the caliber of mathematicians as ancient Greeks because of their numbering system. Roman numerals are essentially equations, and as a consequence, it prevented them from doing higher math. So what technologies are we currently employing today that are equivalent to Roman numerals and preventing us from solving greater challenges? They are all around us according to Frey.
To advance society, you need to stop solving problems of the past and look at what still needs to be accomplished. Frey and his team of visionaries at the non-profit futurist think tank reasoned that the best way to do that is through the an “emerging power tool,” which are prize competitions like X Prize and the DARPA Grand Challenge. The institute proposes that only countries will be allowed to compete, and each country may submit up to two teams, similar to an Olympic-style competition. And to enter, each team pays $1 million to cover the costs of administration and promotion.
Two of the eight competitions Frey outlined during his keynote were already public: the “Race to the Core,” a competition for the first scientific probe to make it to the center of the earth, and “Viewing the Past” a technology to replay unrecorded events from the past using a holographic-style projection system. These are incredibly difficult challenges and at stake will be a combination of national pride, personal legacies, and laying claim to unprecedented achievements in science and industry, reports a release.
Below are all “Eight Greatest Competitions”:
- Race to the Core: first team to build a probe that makes it all the way to the center of the earth with a communication system capable of sending real-time sensory data to the surface
- Viewing the Past: create a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened no less than 20 years earlier in actual-size, in holographic form
- Disassembling Matter: first team to reduce a solid block of granite to particles no larger than molecules in less than 10 seconds, using less than 500 watts of power without causing an explosion or physical damage to objects more than 10′ away
- The Gravity Challenge: demonstrate gravitational control over an object weighing no less than 2,000 lbs. by doubling the force of gravity to 4,000 lbs., reducing the force of gravity by 50% to 1,000 lbs., and creating negative gravity by lifting the object 1,000 ft and returning it back to the original position with no explosions and in less than 10 minutes
- The Ultimate Small Storage Particle: create an electron-based data storage system no larger than 10 millimeters cubed that can be manufactured for less than $1 per 100 terabytes and is capable of uploading, storing, and retrieving a volume of information equal to the U.S. Library of Congress in less than 10 minutes using less than 1 watt per TB/month
- Travel at the Speed of Light: create a scientific probe capable of traveling at the speed of light for a distance no less than the Earth to Saturn with information sensors to capture stresses, impacts, and details along the way
- Swarm-Bots: create a swarm of 10,000 synchronized micro drones no larger than 10 millimeters across (height, width, and depth) capable of lifting a 250-pound person to a height of 100 feet and gently returning him/her to the ground
- 10-second Interface: create a direct-to-the-mind interface that will allow 25 average people to answer a series of questions within 10 seconds with no harmful side effects to the user
Some competitions may not be completed in our lifetime and they could evolve, according to Frey. “They are designed to stretch human thinking and push the envelope of understanding. More than just a series of competition, we view them as a turning point in world history. Our hope, at this stage, is that we will stir the imagination of people around the world and incite a global conversation,” he said.
WorldFuture 2011 took place July 8-10, 2011, at the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.