Jun 24, 2020 - Economy

A $5 million prize for putting people back to work

A robot arm reaches out to grab a suitcase from a businessperson

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

XPRIZE, a nonprofit organization that holds grand competitions to inspire innovation, announced this week that it would launch a $5 million contest to help retrain workers who lost employment to automation.

Why it matters: The pandemic has only accelerated the job-destroying effects of automation. As the U.S. looks to put tens of millions of people back to work, truly big solutions will be needed.

How it works: In the new contest, called XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling, teams will take a cohort of people who had been in lower-skilled occupations, attempt to retrain them over a period of 60 days, and then place them in more sustainable new occupations.

  • "We hope this competition is really going to stimulate a conversation about using technology to create a better future for jobs," says XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari.

Background: XPRIZE has run a number of innovation competitions since it was founded in 1995, including the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered $10 million to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 62 miles into space twice within two weeks.

  • The contest, which was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures after more than eight years of work, arguably helped kick off the private spaceflight era.
  • Such innovation competitions have a historical pedigree that goes back to the Longitude Prize, which the British government awarded in 1714 to the first person who developed a way for a seagoing ship to measure longitude.

The bottom line: Prize contents can encourage out of the box thinking, which is something the field of reskilling desperately needs.

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