Change the World, and Win Fabulous Prizes

The Internet is revitalizing an old stalwart in the innovation game: the prize as incentive.Every few weeks, some big new contest arrives. This month,, the online retailer, announced that it would sponsor a competition paying $1 million to the person or team who comes up with new technology that most improves its product recommendations. And Qualcomm and the X Prize Foundation — a group known for its huge prizes for grand challenges, like private space flight — announced a $10 million competition for a smartphone application that could diagnose health problems as accurately as human physicians could.Last month, the Heritage Provider Network, a medical group in California, supplied details and data for its $3 million prize. It will go to the team with the best algorithm for predicting which patients are most likely to be admitted to hospitals in the next year. see:The Privacy Challenge in Online Prize Contests
Two big new prize contests just getting under way take a page from the innovative, exciting competition run by Netflix. In a nail-biting finish in the fall of 2009, the movie rental service paid $1 million to a global team of data mavens, who just edged out another group, in most improving its online film recommendations.The Netflix contest was celebrated as a triumph for the company and as a catalyst for bringing new techniques to data analysis. But in 2010, Netflix was forced to cancel a planned second prize because of privacy concerns. Two researchers showed that the supposedly anonymous data from the first contest could be used to identify customers. That eventually brought an inquiry from the Federal Trade Commission and a lawsuit. So Netflix shelved its plans for a second contest.

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