- Elon Musk has set aside $US15 million for an XPRIZE contest for entrepreneurs who can find the most effective way to use software to teach illiterate children living in extreme poverty.
- Peter Diamandis is the founder of XPRIZE, which is built on the idea that inspiring business competition is one of the most effective ways to fuel societal progress.
- Diamandis believes that rapid technological progress will benefit everyone over the next few decades, not just the top of the upper class.
- This post is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
One of the greatest insights Peter Diamandis ever had was that one of the best ways to inspire people to create societal progress is through a contest with a cash prize.
It was 1993 and he was reading Charles A. Lindbergh’s autobiography “The Spirit of St. Louis” during a visit to his parents’ house. He learned that Lindbergh was motivated to become the first aviator to cross the Atlantic by a $US25,000 prize. “And Lindbergh, the most unlikely guy, pulls it off and becomes massively famous – and opens up aviation, more importantly,” Diamandis said.
It inspired him to set out on a journey to inspire a similar path to launching the first private manned flight into space, a feat he saw realised in 2004. Since then, the XPRIZE Foundation has had seven successful contests and eight current ones, inspiring several businesses to tackle “moonshots” that companies would otherwise find too risky to be worth the attempt.
SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been funding one of the current contests, the $US15 million Global Learning XPRIZE, since 2014, and its winner will be announced in April 2019. Diamandis explained to us that it is an ideal example of how the private sector can tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges, like the prize’s goal of finding an elegantly simple and cost-effective way of wiping out illiteracy, a condition that Musk called “the wellspring of poverty.”
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In 2014, 700 teams submitted their plans for developing Android applications for tablets that could provide children living in extreme poverty with clear lessons on how to read, write, and do basic maths. The XPRIZE team selected five semifinalists and gave them each $US1 million to pursue their plan and test it in communities in Tanzania. Google provided 800 tablets for the initiative.
The winner will win $US10 million to scale its program, and all semifinalists will be open sourced, available to any developers who want to build off them. XPRIZE has stated that it intends to help the winner reach 250 million children around the world with its winning software.
“So when I speak about this, I talk about, we’re going from a world of have and have-nots, to a world of haves – and yes, there’ll be super-haves,” Diamandis said. “But I believe we’re heading toward a world where every man, woman, and child will have access to the best education, the best healthcare, water, food, energy.”
He said the predicted commercialization of what he and Musk are doing with the Global Learning XPRIZE will be more beneficial than pure charity, in a way. “These devices, these tablets, will eventually be free. Because someone will want their data, or will want you to buy on their Amazon device,” he said.
“I think the human race and society – how we govern, how we raise our kids, how we think, how we communicate – is going to fundamentally change well within the next 30 years,” Diamandis told us, and his role will be fostering entrepreneurs who drive this change. “And so being part of that transformation, it’s what I think about; it’s what guides and what drives me.”
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