The WTF Awards / sketching a map to an escape from steam engine time

The myopic utility- and profit-oriented nature of markets funnels us into a world where monoculture & path dependence turns technological development into endless deja-vu. In my previous article on this subject, I recommended counteracting these forces through a proliferation of small-scale independent contests designed to reward absence of apparent utility. In this one, I would like to present a sketch or prototype of what such a contest’s ruleset would look like.

This kind of contest should be made small-scale and as inexpensive as possible to run: I would like to see a federation of similar contests occurring simultaneously, run by different universities and other organizations.

If you are in the position of creating such a contest, feel free to crib & modify these rules.

The XXth Annual X University WTF Awards

1. Applications begin April 1st, at the beginning of the awards ceremony for the previous year, and end at midnight of that night. Your application may not contain any information about your planned submission. If we recieve more applications than we can reasonably expect to judge, we will choose accepted applications by lottery.

2. Work done is to be presented on April 1st of the following year. Anyone who presents their work after one year is also eligable to present at the ceremonies three, five, and seven years later, so long as they have done new work on their project in the meantime.

3. Judges should be expected to grade on the criteria of: apparent uselessness, novelty with respect to previous work, novelty with respect to other entries, cross-disciplinarity, technical difficulty, classification difficulty, new ground covered, and (if this is a 3, 5, or 7 year project) dissimilarity to earlier versions of this project.

4. Those projects being presented must provide documentation of build processes, early research, rationales behind decisions made, and any discoveries made during the course of the project. This should be complete enough that a third party, following this documentation, could reproduce the project in its presented state. This document will be released into the public domain and stored in a public archive associated with the contest.

5. The winner of first prize in the X University WTF awards recieves $500, gives the closing speech for the ceremony, and their project is banned from being re-entered (although they may take their entry to other WTF Awards with whom we are federated, after 3 years). The winner of the second place prize gets $250, and the winner of the third place prize gets $200.

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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