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Make three wishes

The annual TED Prize has been announced. The winners get $100,000 each plus the chance to make “One Wish to Change the World. No Restrictions”. In February, they will get the chance to make their wish in front of the trendy do-gooders at the annual Technology Entertainment Design Conference, and hopefully persuade them to help make it come true with financial and other support.

Past winners include Bono and Larry Brilliant, whose wish – “that you would help build a global system to detect each new disease or disaster as quickly as it emerges or occurs” – earned him the top job at Google.org, which is belatedly now getting its act together. (Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, reportedly made him the job offer on a TED audience comment card.)

This year, the prize has gone to Sylvia Earle, a deep sea explorer and ocean activist; Jose Antonio Abreu, a Venezuelan who is attacking poverty by enabling children to play music; and Jill Cornell Tarter, who
according to the press release is “the woman leading the world’s search for extra-terrestrial life”. Whatever she wishes, may the force be with her.

In the book, we note that prizes have a long and honourable history in philanthropy and social innovation, and we argue that the recent growth in their popularity is a notable feature of philanthrocapitalism. We particularly like Mo Ibrahim’s prize for retired African leaders, which is provoking a lively debate about how to improve government in Africa.

We also admire the work of the X Prize Foundation, although we wonder if it will be able to achieve its ambitious agenda given the difficultyin some of the complex areas it plans to address of defining a prize
precisely enough for objective judges to tell if it has been won. In a recent interview, X Prize Foundation creator Peter Diamandis told Matthew about his plans, and predicted that someone somewhere will soon offer a $1 billion prize for something yet to be determined.

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