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40,000 D0LLARS PRIZE Looking for Balloons and Insights to Online Behavior

Last post 12-01-2009 9:12 PM by cartoon. 0 replies.
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  • 12-01-2009 9:12 PM

    40,000 D0LLARS PRIZE Looking for Balloons and Insights to Online Behavior


    The prize is $40,000, and it goes to the first person or group to determine the locations of 10 red balloons that can be anywhere in the continental United States.

    The apparent frivolity of the challenge is only on the surface. This is not a game invented by some eccentric Web Midas. The contest, which takes place on Dec. 5, is being sponsored by Darpa, the Pentagon’s research agency.

    The goal is to learn more about social behavior in computer networks and how large computer-connected teams use their resources and connections to compete.

    There is also an invention being celebrated. Peter Lee, a computer scientist and one of the Darpa directors organizing the contest, said Dec. 5 would be the 40th anniversary of the day when the first four nodes of the Arpanet — the experimental military-sponsored computer network that was the forerunner of today’s Internet — were connected.

    Darpa has previously sponsored three “grand challenges” in an effort to advance the technology for autonomous vehicles. In the second one, in 2005, a Stanford University team won $2 million when its roboticized Volkswagen Touareg was the quickest to navigate a 131-mile course through California desert.

    The mission of the agency, created in 1958 after the Sputnik satellite’s launching, is to guard the country against technological surprise. But Darpa prompted concerns about privacy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when it created a program to use data-mining technologies to identify potential terrorists.

    Dr. Lee said he was not certain what to expect in the tactics that teams might use to track down the balloons, which will be visible from public roadways for a single day. Some groups are developing software applications. Dr. Lee said he also expected large teams of spotters and even the possibility that some groups might use subterfuge like disseminating false information.

    Other groups may try to pay for information, he said, noting that even during a brief experiment the agency ran with a balloon near its headquarters, information on the location was offered for sale on Craigslist.

    Dr. Lee said the agency would continue to pursue a number of large and small challenge-style contests to foster what he described as new ways to tap into pools of talented individuals and creative groups. Contestants from anywhere in the world may participate in this contest, he said, and registration will stay open until the contest begins.

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