Friday, September 25, 2009

Project 10^100

About a year ago Google started up Project 10^100 which invited people to submit ideas they thought would change the world. The intention was that a few of the best ideas would be put up for a vote, where one or several winning ideas may or may not be put into motion through funding and initial management by Google. Note, I used the ambiguous qualifier to reflect the verbiage of the site, which says "Your vote for one of these ideas will help our advisory board choose up to 5 projects to fund," thus somewhat resembling the electoral college in terms of feel good vote theater. Snark aside, I genuinely support the idea of this project regardless of the chosen process.

Moving on, the window for submissions closed quickly as over 150,000 entries flooded the digital suggestion box, and now, having supposedly read through every one, the voting has opened. The project somewhat defies our typical expectations in that it's not really about ego, that is, there is no winning person or prizes for winning people; the notion is that what really matters are the ideas, and that the people behind the ideas should be perfectly satisfied that their world-changing idea is getting attention. Likewise, judging a winning person would probably be very challenging, as there is little doubt in my mind that the ideas up for voting were put forward more or less with a consensus amongst many submissions. Humility therefore firmly established, it appears that the idea I (and certainly many others) submitted has made it into those selected for voting.

Here's an excerpt from my submission:

Unfortunately the sister project of Wikipedia, Wikiversity, has had a difficult time getting off the ground. This is attributable to several factors, most significantly the lack of contribution which itself is likely resultant from the expertise required in the knowledge of the topics as well as in the arrangement of the information in a manner conducive to learning. Thus in the spirit of Knol, portions are written by community members to be periodically approved by volunteers who are acknowledged experts in the field. International schools from elementary forward would be able to use crowd crafted expert approved materials for free, as well as individuals desiring to educate themselves in any topic. It may even be possible to establish an accredited university online using performance tests based on these materials, providing a degree for the bare minimum cost. Education is generally presumed to be a profoundly positive thing, thus indirectly the issues resolved by universally available education are multitudinous. More directly however the result of education in an individual's life are tools for empowerment and progress, which itself may eventually benefit all mankind were they to become the next Gandhi or Gödel.

From the idea titled "Make educational content available online for free," there are shown suggestions that contributed to the idea:

1. Collaborate with top schools around the world to make their lectures freely accessible online
2. Create an online educational platform that provides free training and education as part of a worldwide, officially accepted degree
3. Provide free online lectures and textbooks for every subject and grade level
4. Facilitate information exchange among students around the world, including cross-country "study groups" on specific topics

Honestly I think that all of this is inevitable, and in fact much of it has already happened. Years ago MIT kick-started what would become the OpenCourseWare consortium by making available course materials for free, and since then a large number of other institutions have joined. Though limited to post secondary materials, I'm certain it will expand soon. Point 4 is pretty well taken care of with various message boards and forums online, I often find help through questions already asked and answered on these sites with a quick search. Point 2 is the most technically challenging one, and that is only because accreditation is done through outdated organizations operating in their own interests. My opinion on this matter is something like the inverse of point 2--rather than seeking accreditation, seek to dismantle the accreditation organizations. It seems to me rather clear that the qualifications and abilities of an individual cannot even begin to be known simply because they have a degree from an accredited institution. Nonetheless, I doubt accreditation is going away, and I have heard of some organizations working towards minimum cost accredited degrees. On that note I ought to mention that affordable education is available--the tuition for foreigners at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) is a couple hundred US dollars, which despite being an incredible bargain is still more than native Mexicans who pay less than a hundred dollars. For anyone who might find themselves prejudiced against Mexico for whatever reason, I ought to also mention that UNAM is a world class university that has produced a number of Nobel laureates, participates in cutting edge research, and is one of the largest universities in the world, with satellite campuses all over the world and nearly 306,000 students.

Of course all the criticism I have offered is quite ironic given that I apparently contributed to the idea... but I suppose all I can say is that a lot has changed in the past year, especially my own thought patterns. Fortunately the collective conscious has my folly covered in this situation, as there were enough people thinking then as I am now to have also gotten a spot titled "Drive innovation in public transportation." Intriguingly, a number of the "suggestions" for this spot match very closely with what I would have said myself (emphasizing ultralight vehicles, preferably power-assisted pedal bicycles, minimizing injury and maximizing efficiency via autonomous transports). This makes me think one thing more than any other: what are the people that suggested those things a year ago thinking about now?? Apparently I am a year behind others in getting to the thoughts I'm having now, it'd be really nice and interesting to be able to jump ahead another year's worth of thinking!

Anyway, I highly recommend taking a look at the ideas. There are a total of 16 big ideas representing a good cut of what the collective mind is thinking for the future, some of which at the very least will probably pique your interest, or maybe even move you to action.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

This is stupendous!