With all the problems in the world, there should be at least a few where you can get paid to find solutions. Lo and behold, there are some problems that you can totally get armloads of money for, sometimes for simply sitting in a chair and thinking about the answer. Problems like…
10. The Cray Mathematical Institute’s Millennium Problems
In the year 2000, the Cray Mathematical Institute brought out a list of math’s seven most infamous problems, with the person who solves each problem getting a million dollars. Since 2000, only one has been solved. Grigori Perelman, a Russian mathematician who lived in his mom’s basement, solved Poincare’s Conjecture, an unsolved problem since 1904. However, he spent so many years on the problem, he pretty much dropped out of society, refusing a Fields Medal (math’s highest honor,) and never claimed his million bucks, citing his disillusionment with mathematics. So as long as you don’t mind losing your mind while doing so, there are still six problems out there for you to solve.
One such problem is solving P= NP, a conundrum first proposed in 1971. To put it in simple terms, P is a group of problems that equal, say, the size of a circle. NP is the bastard cigar shaped oval that tries to get one of its ends to match perfectly over the said circle, with positive outcomes of those same problems, but that have to be verified in a math process called Polynomial Time, which is pretty much how they can stay the same through moving time.
Got all that? Basically it’s solving the exact same problem twice, except the numbers keep changing. It is currently the largest open problem in theoretical computer science. There have been numerous people who have tried their hand at this, and all have failed. The closest we’ve come is a promising claim in 2010 that solved part of it, only to be shot to Hell by mathematicians looking it over.
9. Archon Genomics X Prize
Headache-inducing math problems too hard? The Archon Genomics X Prize requires a little less math. For a $10 million prize, all the winner has to do is create a device that can sequence 100 human genomes within 10 days, with an accuracy of only one error in 100,000 DNA parts. Oh, and the cost has to be under $10,000.
Unlike the math problems, however, this can potentially do a hell of a lot more for humanity than just match numbers together like they were set up on a blind date or something. If this ends up being feasible, genome sequencing can go mainstream, detect future health risks, help make tailor-made medications and can be accessible to everyone with even the most fraudulent health plan.
Also, $10 million dollars. That’s cool too.
8. The Night Rover Challenge
As solar panels are generally only good for collection during the day, NASA has started up a contest with a $1.5 million prize to the person who can figure out a long-lasting method of energy storage, so that things such as rovers can have enough electricity to work during the dark. But not the dark we deal with every night; NASA wants to be able to use solar-powered vehicles on the Moon, a place fairly infamous for being dark all the bleeping time. If somebody can crack this riddle, a rover could explore the Moon, Mars, or even beyond at all hours of whatever kind day they observe over there.
Imagine crystal-clear photos of the Pluto skyline one day. Right now, this would likely be impossible, what with the Sun being billions and billions of miles away and all. But a Night Rover could absolutely pull it off and, if you like money, you could be the one to help make it happen.
7. Qualcomm Tricorder Prize
Named after a futuristic device on Star Trek, the Qualcomm Tricorder prize is trying to find someone who can make a device that can diagnose patients better than a panel of certified physicians. By doing this and outsmarting doctors, you can win $10 million, and be forever known as the person who actually made a Star Trek prop come to life. Now true, you’d also have an an entire community of unemployed doctors screaming for your head, but you probably won’t hear them over the sound of your own filthy-rich-guy cackling.
6. The Methuzelah Mouse Project (Mprize)
By testing mice in laboratories, scientists have found unfortunate consequences, like how mice have an extremely short life span. As many of the tests have to do with human health, results are usually not complete and extremely skewed. Therefore, if you can breed, genetically alter, or otherwise upgrade a living mouse to live past 5 years, you win $4 million. This can help out scientists, by letting them study long-term health risks, and pretty much speeding up science.
Also, this research would go a long way toward studying how these same measures can extend human life as well. To that end, you can win another 4 mil if you can figure out a way to not just make the mouse live longer, but also find a way to keep it healthy during its new old age. Basically, this would be the beginning of scientist’s efforts toward extending just how old humans can get. And maybe then, The Immortal Hulk Hogan would finally live up to his name.
5. Knuth Reward Checks
Donald Knuth has written several books about computers and computer science, and has created an ingenious way to sell them: offer a cash prize to anyone who finds a mistake. If you find one, you win a hexidecimal dollar. It’s not that financially impressive ($2.56,) and the actual check is worth way more than the monetary value on it. But these checks are pretty much a prize in and of itself; Knuth has started using checks from the Bank Of San Sarriff. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s entirely made up. It apparently has branches on the also-fictional planet Pincus, so if you ever find yourself in the Pincus area and need a cash withdrawal, you’re in good hands.
So why go to the trouble of creating an entire world for your fake bank and meager checks? Turns out hackers used his check numbers to break into his account and steal his money. How did they get the numbers? Excited people who found an error and won a check pretty much photocopied the things and posted them to the Internet, proving once again that book sense and common sense are total strangers to one another.
4. Virgin Earth Challenge
British mogul/beard enthusiast Richard Branson also has a prize out, and it’s a whopper. A total of $25 million dollars would go to the winner of the Virgin Earth Challenge which is seeking a way to scrub greenhouse gases out of the Earth’s atmosphere, so as to avoid global warming. There are currently 200 billion metric tons of the crap up there, but luckily the rules state you only need to remove one billion tons to prove that it’s possible. Good; removing a mere billion tons of gas from the sky actually sounds quite doable. A cakewalk really. But 200 billion? Now that’d just be silly.
3. The Paranormal Challenge
The James Randi Educational Foundation’s $1 million prize, awarded to anyone who can show that paranormal activity is real, started off when he was hosting a radio show in Britain in 1968. After a caller said Randi should back up his skepticism, he offered $100 to the first person who could prove that ghosts or spirits are real. He has since upped it and upped it some more, with the prize standing at $1 million right now.
But it’s not as simple as speaking with a spook via Ouija board, or guessing what card Randi randomly selected from a freshly-shuffled deck. You have to show gobs of proof, and pass rounds upon rounds of interviews and tests, under very strict settings, in order to satisfy the challenge. And even then, the rules state that Randi will not admit that supernaturalism is real, even if you pass; he’ll simply admit that you managed to meet his challenge, give you your money, and go right back to being skeptical.
Not that we’ve ever seen such an incident. Since 1968, no one has passed, or even come close; more people have guessed the exact price of The Price is Right’s Final Showcase. Noted spiritualists such as Sylvia Browne and Rosemary Altea have either provided convenient excuses not to do it, or have attempted it and failed miserably.
2. The NASA Nano-Satellite Challenge
With a prize of $2 million, the Nano-Satellite Challenge is searching for anyone who can launch a small satellite into orbit twice in one week. That’s right: twice. Because any ol’ moron can reach orbit once in a week. Hell, we did that yesterday.
There’s a reason for wanting two satellites in orbit, so it’s not just busywork. NASA’s purpose is to show how cheaply satellites can be made while still working, in the hopes of spawning more personal satellite usage. So if you’ve ever been thrilled that you could make a bottle rocket sail over a tree, prepare to be severely humbled, as someone who meets this challenge would see your tree and raise you freakin’ outer space.
1. Elevator 2010
OK, so the prize money here is not the biggest around (only $4 million, versus Richard Branson’s $25 million booty,) but if this challenge were ever met, everything about everything we do would change forever. The Elevator 2010 Prize would go to the person who designs a feasible space elevator. That’s not a metaphorical title; it would literally be a 60-mile-plus elevator that would take you into outer space, perfect for mothers of astronauts who forgot their lunch at home before going to work on the International Space Station.
The prize is also divided into other parts as well, so if you figured out a cost-effective way to just make the elevator so it would not break (kind of a big deal when you’re dealing with little-to-no oxygen on the outside,) you get a million dollars just for that. So if you’re more an “idea guy” than a “build things” guy, there you go.
Or, if you’re a “close enough” kind of guy, this contest has you covered as well. A Seattle team won $900,000 several years ago for developing a cable-climber that successfully traversed a 3000-foot tether. Not quite outer space, but still pretty damn high up.
Evan V. Symon is building up a book here.