First off, this post was not written by Napoleon Bonaparte. I apologize if I led you to think that. First, he’s dead, and zombies are notoriously inefficient at using computers. Second, only blog members are able to write posts on this blog, which means Kevin, me, and theoretically Dan. Third, I’m pretty sure Napoleon didn’t know English, although I don’t know him personally, as he is, as listed above, dead. Ha ha Napoleon! You’re dead and I’m not! Unless this is blog is still popular in the future (I use the term popular loosely) or I die in the next five minutes, in which case I would still have outlived Napoleon, making my life a glorious success.
So, now that we’ve cleared that up, I recently completed The Napoleonic Revolution by Robert Holtman. Holtman primarily argues that while Napoleon is most famous for his military genius and the Napoleonic code, he made contributions to the economy, education, and industrialization of France in particular and Continental Europe in general. One of the ways Napoleon did this was by offering large cash rewards for innovative new technologies, like techniques for farming sugar beets (as sugar cane was hard to come by) or improving the textile industry. Now, Napoleon, being fundamentally a jerk, often reneged on his cash promises, but kept the technology anyway.
I think this idea would be an excellent way to stimulate technological innovation. Announce on all the major TV stations a contest for a particular advance — say practical, efficient, reliable fuel cells as an example — and offer a million bucks of sweet, sweet cash in exchange. Tax free, in a large bag with a dollar sign on it. For a government (and only a government could make it tax free — a private institution could also pay the difference), a million bucks is practically insignificant. However, it would stimulate innovation, and not just from major corporations, but private citizens, as everyone could use another million bucks.
I only see two major problems. One, grifters. As long as a number of scientists look over the idea and ensure it’s valid, and said scientists are not also grifters, this should be easily avoided. Two, I can see corporations dominating these contests. Now, this is a problem only in the sense that it prevents some citizens from participating. They will look at the contest and shy away, feeling they have no legitimate chance to win, and the idea is to maximize the number of people working on this. By the law of large numbers, we’re guaranteed at least one good idea nobody else has thought of before. You could either exclude corporations from the contest, offer more than one prize, or simply use a website of some kind to accept entries. Sure, you’d get drunken college students at 3 am writing “BOOBS RULE!”, but you could always monitor comments. Plus, we can all agree, boobs do actually rule and it doesn’t hurt that we are reminded every once in a while.