Save the most people by reporting potholes
September 30, 2009 3:42 AM   Subscribe

Last year, Google launched Project 10^100, a call for world-changing ideas to be funded to the tune of 10 million. At the time, MetaFilter was generally sceptical and Slashdot irreverent. The shortlist has been announced for voting.
posted by outlier (49 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wanted to keep editorialising out of the post. Scepticism about the project has been muted, but I find some of the choices odd. Encourage positive media depictions of engineers and scientists? A genocide monitoring and alert system? I suspect the more valuable contributions would be less glamorous and have to do with IT and the developed world.
posted by outlier at 3:47 AM on September 30, 2009


These sound like typical grant applications. Vague, fuzzy, politically safe, and well set up to deliver 2% of the stated goal just as the funding runs out.
posted by rokusan at 3:54 AM on September 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


Some of these ideas seemed rather poor choices to throw 10 million at - as in, yes, it would be a start, but 100 would scratch the surface. The one I chose seemed the only logical one, to me. It will be interesting to see which wins.
posted by efalk at 3:54 AM on September 30, 2009


Build airships for public transport

Holy shit, we have a winner.
posted by cillit bang at 4:01 AM on September 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I guess they didn't like my world-changing idea of getting rid of the scourge of advertising.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:05 AM on September 30, 2009 [20 favorites]


I am disappointed that most of these choices are only really designed to help America.

I think I'll vote for landmine removal.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:14 AM on September 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'd like a version of the UN that didn't have Zimbabwe and Libya on Human Rights committees, and didn't allow Security Council permanent members to veto things they didn't like being said/done about their client states.

I'm a fan of the idea of the UN, but its HQ should be rotated every 4 years like the Olympics, with a strict quota to prevent on repeat visits to favoured nations.

I'm not entirely sure $10m would cover it though.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:15 AM on September 30, 2009


All of these ideas are better than "manufacture evidence of WMD in Iraq, including involvement in 9/11, then invade and get stuck in quagmire". Cheaper too.
posted by DU at 4:19 AM on September 30, 2009


I think the "Genocide alert system" sounds pretty unworkable, even for ten million dollars. I mean what are they going to do? Setup a hotline? Designate one out of every 100 people to be an official "genocide monitor"? Unlike a hurricane or tsunami, genocides don't have predictable causation. And by the time it hits it should be pretty obvious to everyone.

I like the 'real world issue tracking' system but lots of cities are experimenting with systems just like that already.

Many of the ideas are so vague and things that people are already working on, like "Build real-time, user-reported news service", "Make educational content available online for free", "Drive innovation in public transport".

Ideas area always the easy part. Everyone has plenty of ideas, the real question is funding. There are already groups out there who do this kind of thing, like the Clinton Global Initiative or whatever. Google is just doing this to glorify itself and project it's beneficent smily-face image. It would be more interesting if they had more concrete ideas.
posted by delmoi at 4:28 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess they didn't like my world-changing idea of getting rid of the scourge of advertising.

They could copy the Metafilter model. People would pay $5 once and no longer see ads anywhere.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:29 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been trying to decide which of these projects would actually deliver the most bang for the buck with the money available. Anyone feel like offering some arguments to help me decide?
posted by tdismukes at 4:40 AM on September 30, 2009


Engineers and Scientists are not nerds but really cool and hot too.

Please make my check out to 'Cash'.
posted by digsrus at 4:46 AM on September 30, 2009


Will help users decide which world-changing idea to fund.
+---+
|Edu|
+---+

+------------------+
|Vote for this idea|
+------------------+
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the landmine one.
posted by jquinby at 4:58 AM on September 30, 2009


Anyone feel like offering some arguments to help me decide?

Which idea and to which organisation the money is donated will be decided by Google's "advisory board" (read the FAQ), not the public vote. And since it's a relatively small amount of money and it's going to be invested in existing organisation (possibly split between several of them) rather than spent on a particular project, there'll be no measurable outcome whichever button you click.

Which is shit, because when first announced the plan was we'd be voting on 100 actual ideas that Google would "make real". They've clearly got cold feet about taking actual responsibility for an actual real-world thing that people would be able to see succeed or fail, so we've got this crappy list to avoid the embarrassment of abandoning the project completely.

And we ain't getting no airships.
posted by cillit bang at 5:00 AM on September 30, 2009


I went for landmine removal, because it seems like the one that might actually save some lives with only a $10M investment. The other ones with life-saving potential seemed more nebulous or indirect.
posted by rokusan at 5:07 AM on September 30, 2009


Anyone feel like offering some arguments to help me decide?

This was my process for deciding when I got the email a few days ago...

Looking through the ideas for the first time, I noticed what sunshinesky says, [a disappointment] that most of these choices are only really designed to help America.

I also agree with delmoi, that many of the ideas are so vague and things that people are already working on, like "Build real-time, user-reported news service", "Make educational content available online for free", "Drive innovation in public transport". Investing in one of these would speed it up, true, but that doesn't entail success and these are all likely to happen in the next 10 years anyway.

It doesn't seem like they struck gold with the idea side of things, despite appealing to the masses with large sums of money and getting so many entrants.

In the end, I voted for education in Africa, because I feel like that's the most worthwhile place to throw 10 million, no matter how you slice it, and I feel it's the least likely to happen by any other means. It would also be of benefit to everyone to invest in education for where there is a severe lack of it, because there could be such large gains in so little time (it makes me think of the usual asymptotic curve of learning - rapid gains in the early stages before a levelling off)
posted by tybeet at 5:29 AM on September 30, 2009


I voted for airships, because when I grow up I want to be a sky pirate.
posted by ServSci at 5:53 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I voted for transparency in government. From that, all else follows.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:17 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


Does anyone else think that most of those illustrations are awful? Drilling little happy faces into bulletproof glass comes across as more Orwellian propaganda than "better banking tool". Is an abacus really the most effective metaphor for "collecting and organizing data" these days? A bridge coming out of a magician's hat - because "magic" is totally a positive media depiction of science and engineering. Skipping down to the epic flashlight vs. AK-47 battle, the gun is totally going to win. Evidently, the best way to "help social entrepreneurs drive change" would be to model reproductive processes from the Codex Seraphinianus. Africa as an incandescent bulb, because incandescent bulbs are so "cutting edge research"! And tossing cars in a meat grinder, extruding one long oozing ubercar? That's the best illustration you can come up with for "Drive innovation in public transport"? Did you even read the copy?  A  i  r  s  h  i  p  .

Oh and hey, meet me at the playground after school, LANDMINE FRISBEE.
posted by oulipian at 6:22 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the end, I voted for education in Africa ...

That's where I threw my vote. Unglamorous, a long time to payoff, with no flashy IT component but likely to have the greatest effect on the largest number of people eventually, and likely to feed back on itself - getting more education out there will create more teachers, more professional workers and (fingers crossed) a better economy.
posted by outlier at 6:24 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I really think too many of these are "pies in the sky"... not sure anything will really come of this.
posted by fozzie33 at 6:36 AM on September 30, 2009


I voted for transparency in government. From that, all else follows.

I did too, and for the same reason, although it was actually a hard decision and midway through I thought, "I'm not the least bit qualified to decide this." But then I went ahead and voted anyway.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:31 AM on September 30, 2009


"... not sure anything will really come of this.

Well, it's that or they can just burn the money to make Smores with some night. If they give it to an organization, it'd be likely to be snapped up by administrative costs, and I imagine they already give heaps of money to charities anyway. Also, I think they're probably having some fun. So, what the hell. People do worse things with scads of money they have lying around, like buy fifty cars or whatever. Throwing it at cleaning up land mines seems at the very least a more useful idea than that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:36 AM on September 30, 2009


I voted for landmines. A lot of the others seem like things that are going to hit the first world before anyone else, and landmine removal tends to save lives and do it among people who've already been fucked about by the powerful.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:43 AM on September 30, 2009


Wow. You're all still haters.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2009


I voted for socially-conscious taxes. But I agree with a lot of what has been said upthread - 10 Mil ain't much, and it shouldn't have been so difficult to make a choice from that list.

I don't know what they expect to make happen with this in its current form, and that bushwa about making Science Sexy is incredibly silly.

You want to improve the world through media manipulation? Make social workers sexy.

Start making movies where suicide hotline operators are blonde bombshells, and the male leads are working with prisons on rehabilitating domestic and sexual assault perpetrators.

I'm still a hater, I guess. I just don't see Google going anywhere positive with this the way they've presented it.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:14 AM on September 30, 2009


I am disappointed that most of these choices are only really designed to help America.

We are the world.

Wow. You're all still haters.

There's a not so fine line between healthy skepticism toward a large and powerful organization (which will receive well in excess of $10 million in good will and free advertising for this) and being a hater, and I don't think any of these comments (so far) really fall on the negative side of this line.
posted by philip-random at 8:16 AM on September 30, 2009


Our users submitted a number of suggestions for making engineering and science "cool," including online libraries of "day-in-the-life of an engineer" videos, an online channel devoted entirely to IT news, live performances with massive robots, and telling inspirational real-life stories

Yeah, no.
posted by naju at 8:20 AM on September 30, 2009


If they give it to an organization, it'd be likely to be snapped up by administrative costs, and I imagine they already give heaps of money to charities anyway

You missed the part of the FAQ were they explicitly state they're going to do little more than cut a cheque to an existing organisation in one of these areas?
posted by cillit bang at 8:26 AM on September 30, 2009


Our users submitted a number of suggestions for making engineering and science "cool," including online libraries of "day-in-the-life of an engineer" videos, an online channel devoted entirely to IT news, live performances with massive robots, and telling inspirational real-life stories

What the hell? These people don't watch the Discovery Channel?
posted by scrowdid at 8:55 AM on September 30, 2009


If even part of the $10 million goes to "telling inspirational real-life stories," I'm boycotting Google completely. And that's not an easy thing to do, but I'm committed.
posted by naju at 9:07 AM on September 30, 2009


its hard to vote cause they are all sort of crap.
posted by mary8nne at 9:08 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was kind of hoping for something like a supercomputer that could control the sun's cycles, or a ray gun that shoots happiness.

These are soberingly bland.
posted by Theta States at 9:24 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Did anyone else thing that the genocide graphic looked like an AK47 in a wine bottle?
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 9:26 AM on September 30, 2009


...and by "thing" I meant "think." Dammit.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 9:26 AM on September 30, 2009


Clearly this will make things works.
posted by !Jim at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2009


Ten mil for landmine removal. I'm down with that.
posted by RakDaddy at 10:58 AM on September 30, 2009


I voted for taxation research, just because it seems like something Google would be good at working with. Plus, it just becomes an emotional yelling match in politics, and so much of economics ends up being based on dogmatic assumptions from before. Google has the power to mine that data and find trends that will hint at what best encourages prosperity, rather than just falling back on Friedman or Keynes. Hopefully, it will be scalable for both wealthy economies and developing nations, meaning that it could help stop poverty.

The landmines were a close second for me, but I suspect real change there really calls for cheap, automated robotic removal, which I'm not sure Google is the best company to do. Considering we are already building bomb-defusing robots for Iraq on large military budgets, I suspect after the war is over, bomb diffusion technology will trickle down to countries like Laos and Vietnam that currently can't afford it beyond basic "humans with metal detectors" strategies.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:11 AM on September 30, 2009


I just realized something: Google's moto is "Don't be evil." This means that they're buying $10 million of good so that they can balance out 10 million of evil later, and remain lawful neutral.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:21 AM on September 30, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Encourage positive media depictions of engineers and scientists"

LOL. Scientists and engineers are nerds.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:53 AM on September 30, 2009


If the positive media depictions of engineers and scientists prevents at least one real life Dr. Doom from forming, the 10 mil will have paid for itself several times.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:08 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Ensure that all people have safe access to clean drinking water" would go a hell of a long way toward solving a lot of problems in the world. I'm disappointed not to see anything like that. These choices suck. Where do I vote for better options?
posted by rusty at 1:25 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I decided to vote for Transparent Government. I'm envisioning some kind of website that every Google user has easy automatic access to, it shows you the names and faces of all the people that are responsible to you, and every goddamn thing they've ever done. So like, RPG stat bars on issues, with their stated position vs. their actual record.

And a click to donate button for them, and their opponents.

Seems realistic for 10M.

The tax thing was a close second.
posted by danny the boy at 3:30 PM on September 30, 2009


a lot of them seem to involve Google having some sort of RPG stats bar on you...
posted by yoHighness at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2009


ie health and monitoring was the most creepy for me.
posted by yoHighness at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2009


My representative is a level 4 Caucus Conjuror, of the alignment Chaotic Blue Dog.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:37 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


For those of you disillusioned by the scale of funding relative to the tractability of the problems, or the fact that large amounts of the funding would be eaten up in overhead, there is another vote-for-this-idea contest going on at ideablob.com.

Each ideablob project is a community-level project, and the funding is on the $10K level.

(For those of you keen on the funding-African-schools-idea, you may be interested in at least one contender, blue kitabu, a self-sustaining school in Ghana. (I went to the same university as some of the members, but do not know them personally)).
posted by whatzit at 8:05 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have to concur with the majority of the disappointed responders here. In the end I chose free online education because 1) I don't ever refuse a vote that can actually have even a minute impact on issues of equitable world development, and 2) besides the land mines option, I saw the other attempts at working with the third world as really just patronizing the third world (yet again) and handing over 10 million dollars to the highest bidder (see "Provide quality education to African students"). Talk to someone who has made it to the first world from the third world by way of education and they will tell you the issues with this system; namely, that NGO's can become more powerful than the government itself and create a pretty destructive power dynamic in African countries (I can't think of any specific examples right now but I remember this point coming up fairly regularly when I lived with a bunch of non-profit social entrepreneurial cats).

Back to free online education, you see, to me it seems like this is closest we'll ever get to having equity in educational opportunity worldwide given the possibility of the ubiquitousness of internet access, which already seems to be in line with Google's mission.

Now I must cut off this free education policy rant on a free (sort of) online resource to pursue my non-free non-online education.
posted by reymonortenyo at 6:52 AM on October 1, 2009


« Older The form of the Joint Dictatorship of the...   |   Free dinner! George Monbiot... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments