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Web Summit: From Science Fiction to Real-World Moonshots

In a discussion moderated by Motherboard’s Derek Mead, the first female private space explorer Anousheh Ansari (Prodea Systems) was joined by Zenia Tata (X Prize) to explore science fiction and its real-world applications.

Ansari spoke about her work with X prize and how she credits its success to the communities and connections it fostered around technology. Tata, who works with X Prize, continued on the subject by introducing two new X Prize efforts, one of which focuses on water abundance to alleviate the global water crisis by extracting water from the atmosphere. The other focuses on low-cost solutions for women’s safety, piloted by Anu and Naveen Jain.

Mead pivoted the conversation away from X Prize and to the broader panel topic of science fiction, asking both Ansari and Tata about the barriers between reality and science fiction. Both panelists agreed that science fiction is critical in implementing a futuristic outlook in an organization.

Tata discussed the role of technical science fiction writers, an area she anticipates will experience growth, even in mainstream companies that are considering exponential technology. Tata drew a clear line between what she called “techno-futurists” and science fiction writers. The writers, she argues, are more valuable to businesses because they bring the creative component of storyline development, a skill that enhances a business trajectory plan.

Placing the focus back on X Prize, Mead asked Tata to explain how exactly X Prize designs a prize. She explained it in a two core steps that involve establishing a “market horizon” or timeframe for the solution, which can be anywhere from 10 to 50 years in the future depending on the focus. She also said that it’s critical to understand the ideal scenario by identifying the desired impact that will underscore the moonshot.

 

Ansari added a piece of advice for futuristic thinkers, suggesting that they look for environments that let them explore otherwise “crazy” ideas because that’s the real leapfrog for advancement and confronting the once-thought impossible. Ansari concluded by sharing her eagerness around transportation-focused X Prize work. In particular, she’s fascinated by teleportation and experiential technology that will affordably allow people to be exposed to new places, including space.

Ansari is currently working on a project with a group of astronauts called Constellation that hopes to bring the space travel experience closer to home.

Before the panel wrapped, both Tata and Ansari urged the audience to continue to dream big and embrace challenges every day.

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