star-studded, cash-overflowing 2015 breakthru prizes

1110_zuck_breakthrough_inline_630x420⭐ ⭐ ⭐ hi all. the glitzy star-studded 2015 breakthrough prize ceremony ran Nov 10th. incl two notable stars Cameron Diaz and Benedict Cumberbatch. coincidentally Cumberbatch stars as lead role in a new movie about Turing called “Imitation Game” costarring Keira Knightly and opening in major theaters at end of November. cant wait to see that movie! have a huge pile of links on that too & am gonna bang those out and share those in a bit. (wonder if Keira might have some thing for science given her other major recent movie Dangerous Method about birth of psychology with Freud/ Jung). Diaz was just in two major hilarious comedies that have absolutely nothing to do with computer science eg “The other woman” about marital infidelity and costarring Kate Upton. oh wait, maybe the other one actually does! “Sex tape” has lots of geek jokes about inadvertently uploading a personal video to the internet cloud via ipads and the hijinx that ensue. saw it (after waiting patiently and with anticipation for months to get it on itunes store), laughed a lot, thought it was decently written & acted.

as written in my last blog on the subj, there is a lot of mixed feeling in scientific communities about these awards and imho justifiably so. by some measures its been over a century since there was a major “celebrity scientist” eg Einstein. my feeling is, lets accept these awards with some good humor and not overthink it & not take it all too seriously. science has many challenges in the 21st century and one of the main ones is obtaining steady government commitment and funding in the face of budget stresses and squeezes (and sometimes crises). but that is a much bigger problem than a bunch of tech billionaires can solve. (and thank god a few manage to get through the capitalist darwinian winner-take-all rat race with a bit of philanthropic conscience intact.) they are well-meaning and have high profiles and can indeed increase the visibility and cachet of science through these awards. there might be some “unintended side effects” but life goes on eh?

christina aguilera sang the tribute song this year.[19] not quite as edgy a choice as last years Lana Del Rey. other notable actors: Kate Beckinsdale, John Hamm (who maybe makes up on the edginess factor on the male side instead, sorry cant resist, “low hanging fruit” HAHAHA), Eddie Redmayne who is starring as Steven Hawking in a movie coming out shortly, “The Theory of Everything”. lets see shortly what the box office verdict will be about this recent burst/ flurry of new science/ geek-nirvana movies.

$3M x 5 to individual mathematicians? thats a stunning figure. $15M! the overall prizes in physics, life sciences, and math were worth almost ~$40M this year (less than half the cost of Zuckerbergs newly announced hawaiian real estate getaway plot [25]). a jaw dropping figure. this is billionaires putting their money where their mouths are, something that politicians rarely do (and when they do its usually Other Peoples Money™). to me its an amazing breakthrough itself just to have large science awards. a century later after his brilliant idea, Nobel (wealthy inventor of dynamite!) would be proud, and is being outdone some by a new generation of silicon valley billionaires.

is it sustainable? something tells me there might be wrinkles in this prize. are the billionaires gonna commit to this every year, for years? is there really that much talent in science to award $40M every year? (aka “after the honeymoon”…”) my feeling is that it could decrease somewhat in the future. but for the moment, its unbelievably awesome. like a dream come true.

Terence Tao went on the colbert report & the video is available below.[20]. a page of Reddit comments/ reactions commentary to that at [27]. the Science/Discovery channels are going to run coverage/ videos tomorrow on Saturday (11/15). hope those make it to the web somewhere!

and that picture of the mathematicians on the red carpet with Cumberbatch and Zuckerberg is really worth a million dollars. an “odd” combination. (and can anyone tell? following-beat-of-a-different-drummer zuckerberg may or may not have been wearing the right color there….? [26]) but hey thats hollywood glamor for you right? written up in … Vanity Fair.[10] and the setting was awesome. NASA Ames research center in silicon valley.

but maybe not surprisingly those photos didnt feature a single mathematician, lol. was wondering ever since last july when they were announced, and am thrilled the mathematicians were invited to the official ceremony. insert old joke about mathematicians & stereotypes:

Q. Whats the difference between an introvert and extrovert mathematician?

A. An introvert mathematician looks at his shoes while talking to you. An extrovert mathematician looks at your shoes.

there was a panel of the mathematicians at Stanford that was livestreamed but unfortunately the archived videos do not yet seem to be available, hope that changes. (guess it was back to the low-profile universities on that and the billionaires didnt pay for that.)

from the businessweek article (oh man what a brilliant PR move/ coup by a 30-something geek billionaire comparing science prizes to ebola! does he have a PR agent or not?!):

One thread of criticism in the coverage of the prizes is that the money “could be better and more wisely spent” elsewhere, as one scientist told Bloomberg Businessweek last year. Zuckerberg compared that argument to the blowback he’s getting for personally funding efforts to combat the Ebola virus, as opposed to more widespread pathogens. “The reason we are focused on Ebola is that it’s growing at a much faster rate. [Other diseases] you can point to where more people are dying aren’t doubling month after month. I believe we have to nip Ebola in the bud before it spreads through Africa and to other countries.”

Zuckerberg continued: “If I could snap my fingers and do one thing in science, I would get more funding for basic science. But the level of funding that needs to be done is not on the order of millions, like the cost of the Breakthrough Prizes. It’s billions to tens of billions. It’s really the type of thing that only governments can fund. I feel like the thing we can do is celebrate people doing great work and create more cultural momentum and awareness that this is an important thing in the world. So when the next economic crisis hits and people are talking about where to cut from the budget, science isn’t the thing.”

“Mathematics is the foundation of technology and innovation today,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s really important for us to reward the brilliant insights of mathematicians that are helping shape our future.”

math award cofounder Milner maybe is a bit )( more articulate/ eloquent on the award significance/ meaning so will close with him giving the final words!

“I think it’s time to emphasize some other priorities,” he says. “We’re going to fund this for a long time, and the idea is to have a lot of impact and hopefully create something of a social movement toward science.”

“Put it this way: It took three billion years to evolve the human brain from a very small cell to an amazing organ, which probably doesn’t exist in the universe, just on Earth. Now, we have this amazing gift, and yet, we don’t celebrate people who use our brains to the fullest … [who are] asking the biggest questions.”

“For better or worse, our world is driven by celebrities in sports and entertainment,” Milner said in an interview. “But celebrities in science are probably not in the top 200 or 300, and that’s completely out of balance to the kind of relative contributions these people make.”

“We know how to celebrate physical achievement and entertainers,” Milner continued. “But, I think it’s about time for us to learn how to celebrate scientists. And science … for at least one hour a year.”

“Most of our time is spent on mundane matters. Tonight we thought about the molecules of life, the structure of prime numbers, the fate of the universe. It was an uplifting occasion for everyone,” said Milner.

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One thought on “star-studded, cash-overflowing 2015 breakthru prizes

  1. Pingback: breakthru prize 2016 | Turing Machine

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