Harnessing Technology to Bring Radical Breakthroughs for Good

Nov 6, 2018 BY Dr. Emily Musil Church
EmilyCTWS Blog Images-03

Before starting at XPRIZE, I was a college professor for over a decade with a focus on human rights. It is not the usual path to leap from academia into the world of exponential technology, but at XPRIZE I was able to join a community of people looking for ways to push science and technology to create radical breakthroughs to solve humanity’s biggest challenges.

XPRIZE is a non-profit organization in Los Angeles that crowdsources innovation and entrepreneurship to harness technology to solve grand challenges in fields as diverse as human health, space and deep sea exploration, carbon capture, women’s safety, and adult literacy. Teams compete from all over the world, and so far we have given away more than $150 million in prize money.

An XPRIZE looks for where governments are not willing or able to solve a problem, and where there is not a market incentive. We convene people from diverse backgrounds—often industries that don’t normally talk to each other—to help us map out the main challenges in any given area we figure out where breakthroughs are needed for us to build a better future for all.

Philanthropists or companies put up the prize purse, and we design and operate large-scale competitions with goals that are audacious, but achievable.  These audacious goals are to bring about breakthroughs that are not just a little cheaper or a little better, but that create exponential change.

I started at XPRIZE to help launch the Global Learning XPRIZE in 2014. This is a competition that challenges teams from around the world to develop open-source, scalable software that will enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing and arithmetic within 15 months. Today, we have more than 250 million children who still can't read or write. Our teams have created software using cutting-edge technology designed to adapt to children’s learning no matter who or where they are. This is a solvable problem. We just need to focus the world’s attention on designing for these children and their needs, especially out-of-school children.

Engaging in the World of Technology

When I introduce people to XPRIZE, I want them to realize how important it is to engage with technology no matter who they are and what their background is. We tend to look to the same people over and over to solve problems rather than seek out new voices and ideas.

That is why I first started talking to CompTIA. When I heard about the Center for Technology & Workforce Solutions (CTWS) I thought about the challenges and opportunities facing our current and future workforce. I am honored to be on the Advisory Board of the CTWS. Our challenge is to think through with people from diverse backgrounds what it means to be technology-enabled and examine some of the big questions around technology and workforce. What are the things we need to think about to develop our work force? How do people need to be engaging with technology; trained in it, using it, designing it?

One of the things that has surprised me the most in my work is how little people across sectors talk to each other, and how many people feel alienated from the world of tech creation. It is critical that we have their voices, their expertise, and their knowledge.

We must be inclusive and get people comfortable with technology in order to solve challenges we face as a society, and I look forward to working with CTWS to help facilitate that work.

Interested to learn more about CTWS, contact us!

Dr. Emily Musil Church is the Executive Director of the Global Learning XPRIZE