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Saturday, June 29, 2013

X-Prizes - The World's First Open Argument Against Them Fisked - shock horror - mpg prize won by petrol using car

    When surfing Libdem blogs I ran across this from, who else, the Guardian. It is the first article I have ever seen that says X-Prizes are a bad idea and is clearly driven by Cameron giving them a very limited bit of support. Expect to see similar fact free rubbish in the senses stunning tradition of the fact free anti-fracking and anti-GM lobby's "we shouldn't try it until it has been tried for decades in case something or other is bad about it".

So a light fisk.

Innovation prize-mania seems to be infiltrating policy corners and important institutions everywhere, from the NHS to NESTA and the UNDP. This week, The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering made its first £1m award. A few weeks ago, Cameron launched the £1m Longitude Prize. Earlier in the year, the $3m Breakthrough Prize and the $1.5m Tang Prize were launched with considerable fanfare by celebrity billionaire founders.
Clearly scared

Nature reckons it's "wise to accept such gifts with gratitude and grace". Innovation policy researchers are being asked to provide support to other important institutions, ranging from DfID to the EC. Maybe they want to join the band-wagon and set up yet more prizes. It feels as though it's only a matter of time before there are prizes for the best prize. It could be the meta-prize, the X2-prize, or the sur-prize.
2 paragraphs in and the closest to factual criticism is inventing a name and disapproving of it

So far, innovation researchers have largely held their tongue despite problems with both types of prizes – recognition and inducement. Recognition prizes .....(irrelevant to the main point - criticising a different sort of prize is sleight of hand appearing to link to the real target)....

But it is the hyperbole surrounding inducement prizes that seem to attract the most flies Gratuitous rudeness passing for reasoned discussion. Advocates for inducement claim that a prize will stimulate or even procure innovation, but prizes often fail to address three very well-established facts of contemporary innovation: (1) Innovation is uncertain, (2) innovation is cumulative and (3) innovation is collective. One might well answer 'So what?' to these stylized facts, let me address that.

So what if innovation is uncertain? Uncertainty means you can end up handing over a prize for an innovation that isn't all that great. The $10m Automotive X prize for designing a car that achieves 100mpg went not to an electric car, but to a design that opted for sticking the good ole internal combustion engine into an extremely light frame. Exactly how stupid isYuqub - complaining that a prize designed for an MPG vehicle was won by one that used petrol - does he really not know what "mpg" means or is he saying that any prize should always be won by something PC irrespective of the prize terms

 Reducing battery-size, -weight and -cost would have required one to pursue a trickier research trajectory. When chasing a prize, researchers won't want to get bogged down exploring basics (or basic research) absolutely untrue - prizes work partly because the most basic research often does not pay off so well as the later discoveries it is built on, for example Lindberg's first plane across the atlantic carried fewer passengers (none) than current 747s What he really means is that inventers look for the easiest, cheapest and thus most commercial way of doing something when Guardianists want only the politically approved way, whether it is commercial or easy at all

 and pursuing ambitions beyond the minimum specifications of the prize. Again the complaint is that the prize goes to the person who hits the target set. One can see from this why government grants tend to go to the politically approved & grants awarded by Guardianistas (ie our civil service) don't hit the target

Conversely, if you craft the specifications too precisely and know exactly what you are going to get in advance, then it's not really innovation that you're asking for when you set up a prize. So when the Longitude Prize was put up for measuring Longitude it would have been better if it had been put up for measuring something less specific, like sustainability?

 The more you take uncertainty out of the prize criteria by nailing down the specs, the more you take the innovation out of the activity you're stimulating.

Getting the 'uncertainty-specification' balance right is hard, but getting it wrong can be costly when the prizes are big. The problem is that, as Stian Westlake points out, the stakes are high when it comes to innovation. Prizes would need to be really very big to have much of an effect. It's telling that not a single major car manufacturer bothered to enter; $10m isn't enough for them to get out of bed. In any case, why bother with electric innovation when there is a massive network of infrastructure supporting combustion. This is what really scares him. not that Cameron will offer a "piddling millions pounds to solve the world's most serious problem" but that that some of the £800 billions poured into subsidising windmills will be offered to somebody who produces working solutions (by definition if they don't produce a solution it isn't won & costs nothing. ...

So what if innovation is cumulative? Without knowledge accumulation, some innovations remain impossible. No amount of prize money in the 1800s could have produced wide-spectrum antibiotics or, indeed, a satellite capable of orbiting the moon. But in fact this is an argument FOR prizes because if government puts up an unwinnable prize it won't be won, unless we are very lucky, whereas if the offer a government grant for, say, drilling a hole through the global crust it will go to the leader's friend who will spend all the money and produce nothing

A translation of this point for economists: 'The supply of certain classes of inventions is at some times completely inelastic' – (courtesy of Nathan Rosenberg). I offer the translation because economists are often prime culprits for assuming that innovation is about articulating market demand, correcting failures by mimicking the market with big prizes, strong patents, well-aligned incentives between principal and agent, etc. Only last month, yet another economist was singing praise for prizes last month to induce innovations in issues as complex as pandemics, vaccines and HIV.
Although a prize pay-out isn't necessary until researchers come up with the goods, the problem is that without other innovation policies, you might be waiting forever for your goods. But in fact it is a lot more likely that if you rely on grants you will be waiting forever - for example how is this AIDs vaccine, he takes as his preferred example, governments have been funding in the conventional way for over 20 years going?

 Knowledge doesn't accumulate by itself (myth of unfettered research); innovative efforts need to be co-ordinated. Given how important it is to manage the knowledge accumulation process, one might turn the issue on its head and ask if certain innovations may have happened anyway, regardless of the existence of a prize. The 'effectiveness' of prizes depends on how much you buy into the illusion that incentives are what make innovation events happen presumably this idiot is on record as saying it is an illusion that Tesco supplies goods for the incentive of money. I would be interested in some actual evidence it is an illusion

 Unfortunately, despite efforts to associate the moment of innovation with light-bulbs, sparks or other candescent metaphors, modern innovation is a process - not an event - that relies on accumulated knowledge and capabilities.

So what if innovation is collective? Collective innovation makes it less clear who to award the prize to. Presumably he is also on record as saying that commercial considerations made it impossible for Edison labs to collectively produce light bulbs. In fact Edison's claim to have invented bulbs is dubious and probably would not have survived if there had been serious financial pressure to award the first ....

Prizes fuel the illusion that innovation is about heroic lone inventors, and that pitting them against each other is good for making an exciting race. But races hinder dissemination (and knowledge accumulation) by encouraging researchers to keep their results secret for as long as possible to retain an advantage. Rivals might wastefully duplicate efforts. So if we only ban the Olympics we guarantees we will have faster runners - anybody believe that - anybody believe anybody in the Guardian does, because if they don't then, by definition, they know the argument is a lie being promoted for some political reason, presumably that the ruling classes do better out of having the patronage grants give 

Those that have don't have the resources and materials upfront might not get to play their hand in the game at all. So, by implication, let the ruling classes allocate the "resources"

I'm not saying all prizes should be abolished. But the fetish for setting up new prizes is a distraction to more substantial issues in the innovation system. Prizes are out-dated and the current fad represents little more than tinkering with the edges. Let's not kid ourselves about what prizes can do for modern innovation systems. no mention of a more "substantial" way of achieving results and it has already been proven that prizes are at least 33 times better at producing innovation than the  ruling class patronage which is all he recommends

Ohid Yaqub

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they call for a debate while avoiding debate, then you win. Obviously the Guardian being the illiberal, censoring, totalitarian rag it is doesn't allow these comments up.

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"Lindberg's first plane across the atlantic": but Lindberg's wasn't remotely the first plane to cross the Atlantic. Not even close.
Point taken. First solo flight and thus winner of the Ortega prize. Though Alcock and Brown also won a prize put up by Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail.

However the point stands, is even enhanced - that technology prizes work spectacularly well and that anybody whose opinion the Guardian is willing to publish is likely to be an idiot.
But however, "The Guardian" exists
principally NOT to inform readers
of facts at all, but instead to
SELL Newspapaers, and attract
advertising sponsors in the

The more controversial that its
writers are the better it is for
them in that regard. So from
their own criteria, it matters
not whether these writers offer
logical facts or not, just so
long as it attracts comment,
readers, and hence ......
advertising revenue.

The Guardian must pay its staff
and other bills somehow. Really
they are no better than a kind
of "rent seeker", but still that
organ of the Press does serve
some useful purpose.

Otherwise how would we all know
who the latest "Moonbat" will be,
and is !
Actually the Guardian is very poor at both attracting readers and attracting advertisers.

If you look at it you will see that while the other papers are full of ads from supermarkets etc they are full of ads from government, quangos and sockpuppets.

In practice they are thus a state funded vanity press for the bureaucracy - the print arm of the BBC. Though actually they lose money even as that but are owned by the Auto-Trader group who apparently get some benefit from continuing the subsidy.
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