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.
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.
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.
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.