Current Essay Contest


Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Previous Contests

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013

Contest closed to Entries. Submit Community Votes by August 7, 2013; Public Votes by October 31, 2013.

read/discusswinners

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American
read/discusswinners

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams
read/discusswinners

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008
read/discusswinners

FQXi ESSAY CONTEST: Introduction
April 20, 2014

How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014

Contest Timeline.

This FQXi Contest is presented in partnership with:

Jaan Tallinn   Gruber Foundation  Templeton Scientific American



I. GOALS & INTENT

The goals of the Foundational Questions Institute's Essay Contest (the "Contest") are to:
  • Encourage and support rigorous, innovative, and influential thinking connected with foundational questions;

  • Identify and reward top thinkers in foundational questions; and,

  • Provide an arena for discussion and exchange of ideas regarding foundational questions.

For examples of previous FQXi contests, please see the list to the left.


II. EVALUATION CRITERIA

An expert panel of judges will be instructed (and general readers strongly encouraged) to rate the entries by the degree to which they are relevant and interesting, as more specifically described below, with 1/3 weight given to relevancy and 2/3 weight given to interest.
  • Relevant: The theme for this Essay Contest is: "How Should Humanity Steer the Future?".

  • Dystopic visions of the future are common in literature and film, while optimistic ones are more rare. This contest encourages us to avoid potentially self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom and doom and to think hard about how to make the world better while avoiding potential catastrophes.

    Our ever-deepening understanding of physics has enabled technologies and ways of thinking about our place in the world that have dramatically transformed humanity over the past several hundred years. Many of these changes have been difficult to predict or control—but not all.

    In this contest we ask how humanity should attempt to steer its own course in light of the radically different modes of thought and fundamentally new technologies that are becoming relevant in the coming decades.

    Possible topics or sub-questions include, but are not limited to:

    • What is the best state that humanity can realistically achieve?

    • What is your plan for getting us there? Who implements this plan?

    • What technology (construed broadly to include practices and techniques) does your plan rely on? What are the risks of those technologies? How can those risks be mitigated?

    (Note: While this topic is broad, successful essays will not use this breadth as an excuse to shoehorn in the author's pet topic, but will rather keep as their central focus the theme of how humanity should steer the future.)

    Additionally, to be consonant with FQXi's scope and goals, essays should be sure to touch on issues in physics and cosmology, or closed related fields, such as astrophysics, biophysics, mathematics, complexity and emergence, and the philosophy of physics.

  • Interesting: An interesting essay is:

    • Original and Creative: Foremost, the intellectual content of the essay must push forward understanding of the topic in a fresh way or with new perspective. While the essay may or may not constitute original research, if the core ideas are largely contained in published works, those works should be the author's. At the same time, the entry should differ substantially from any previously published piece by the author.

    • Technically correct and rigorously argued, to the degree of a published work or grant proposal.

    • Well and clearly written, so that it is comprehensible and enjoyable to read.

    • Accessible to a diverse, well-educated but non-specialist audience, aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature.


III. CONTEST RULES & PROCEDURES

Applications will be accepted electronically through the form on FQXi's website, as follows:
  • ENTRY

    • Submission: Essays and accompanying material must be submitted online using the webform between the dates of January 9, 2014 (commencing 4:00 PM Eastern Time), and April 18, 2014 (until 11:59PM Eastern Time). Applicants must provide accurate contact information, an abstract of their essay, a brief biographical statement, and their essay. Immediately after an essay application is submitted, the applicant will receive an application confirmation email containing this information at their specified email address. This confirmation DOES NOT mean your essay has been accepted into the Contest. All essays will be reviewed for rule compliance (see "Publication" below) and those that are eligible will be posted online within 10 days. Essays received on the deadline date will be posted in batches for up to 10 days after the contest ends.

    • Please note: You will be required to register an email address with fqxi.org and set up an account to enter the Contest. This information is available on the application page.

    • Acceptability: In order to be judged, essays must at least satisfy minimal professional standards of acceptability for publication, both qualitative and quantitative.

    • Format & length: Essays must be submitted as PDF documents via the webform.

    • Eligible essays must comply with these guidelines:

      • The body of the essay may not exceed 9 pages or 25,000 characters (not including spaces). To ensure your submission fits the character count, you can use our online character counter.

      • The length of the body of the essay must not exceed 9 pages, including figures and equations, calculated based on a standard 8 ½ x 11 inch single-sided page with 1 inch margins. The following can be appended to these 9 pages: one page of references, and up to two pages of technical endnotes. No essay text (such as textual footnotes), figures, notations, or equations can be included in the reference section. The technical endnotes are meant to provide an opportunity for additional technical detail while retaining a readable, accessible, and self-contained essay body; all essay reviewers, including the Expert Judges, will be encouraged to focus on the body of the essay, and use the endnotes only as a technical supplement to a self-contained work.

      • Color figures as well as hyperlinks within the document are acceptable.

      • Although FQXi will accept essays from anyone anywhere, the essay must be submitted in English.

    • Publication: After submission and review for rule compliance, each essay will be posted (within 10 days) in the FQXi Community Forum, under the category FQXi Essay Contest - “How Should Humanity Steer the Future?”, along with each author name and bio. Thereafter, the author and interested readers (including FQXi Members, other contest entrants, and the general public) are invited to discuss and comment on the essay. (Although commenters will be rating the essays, the goal of the forum is to discuss the essays and the ideas they raise; thus commenters are strongly encouraged to cultivate a supportive atmosphere of scientific conversation rather than a judgmental atmosphere of critical scoring and evaluation.)

    • All comments in the Essay Contest Forum must abide by FQXi’s terms of use and appropriate content rules that can be found here.

  • JUDGING

    • Community evaluation: Every FQXi Member and approved Contest entrant will be provided with a code allowing them to rate essays as a "Community evaluator", on a scale of 1-10 (10 being extremely relevant and interesting). A rating code will be provided to each entrant in the confirmation email. If an essay is considered ineligible in the Contest, the rating code will not be active. Community ratings can be submitted until 11:59 PM Eastern Time, May 30, 2014.

      FQXi expects those providing community evaluations to do so based solely on the quality of the essay assessed. Voting collusion or bartering, mass down-voting, and other such forms of 'voter fraud' will not be tolerated, and participants in such will have (all) their votes discarded or in extreme cases their essays disqualified. Entrants should alert FQXi with information if they witness such activities.

    • Finalists: A set of 40 finalists (the "Finalists") will be determined once voting closes, based on the following procedure:

      • Any entry with an author who is an FQXi Member at the time of submission will automatically become a Finalist ( an “auto-inducted entry”), if and only if the following criteria are met:

        • Their essay is eligible as per the Contest guidelines.

        • The Member author has rated 5 other entries and left a suitable comment or question in the online forum for each of the entries he/she has rated.

        • The total number of auto-inducted entries does not exceed 40.

      • The remaining pool will consist of the entries with top Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings.

      • In case Member entries exceed 40, the Member Finalists will consist of the 40 auto-inducted essays with the highest Community ratings that have each received at least ten ratings. Furthermore, if the auto-inducted Member entries exceed 20, FQXi will increase the number of Finalists to ensure that there is a fair representation of the top Community rated entries submitted by people who are not FQXi Members.

    • Expert Judges: A panel of the applicants' peers, chosen by FQXi, will be asked to carefully review, deliberate upon, and rate the Finalists, based on the criteria specified under "Evaluation Criteria".

      This expert panel of judges will be confidential; their names will not be released, though they are free to post online comments just as any Community or Public evaluator.

    • Final Ranking: The final ranking that determines the prize winners will be determined by the Expert Judges using the Evaluation Criteria.

    • Special Commendation:The Judges will also have the option to award up to two prizes to the top essays from “non-professional and/or non-academic” entrants, based on the judging criteria set forth herein.

    • Public evaluation: Members of the public will also be allowed to rate essays. Ratings from the public will be accepted until Winners are announced.

      • Public evaluators will have to submit their email address in order to rate essays. As with the Community evaluator, each Public evaluator can enter one score, 1-10, per essay.

      • Prizes will not be awarded directly on the basis of Public ratings, but these ratings may influence either Community evaluations or Expert judging.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.

  • PRIZES

    • In addition to the cash prizes listed below, all First, Second, and Third Prize Winners will be invited to FQXi Membership, if the applicant is not already a Member. Scientific American will also consider adapted material from winning essays for possible publication.

      • First Prize (top ranked essay): US$10,000

      • Second Prize (ranks 2-3): US$5000 each

      • Third Prize (ranks 4-8): US$2000 each

      • Fourth Prize (ranks 9-18): US$1000 each

      • Judging Panel Discretionary Prize (at its discretion, the panel can decide to award up to 2 special commendation prizes for non-professional and/or non-academic entrants): US$1000


IV. TECHNICALITIES & LEGALITIES

No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase does not increase your chance of winning.
  • ELIGIBILITY

    • The Contest is open to everybody except employees and consultants (including Contest judges) of the Sponsors (Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, the Foundational Questions Institute, and Scientific American) and each of their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, advertising and promotion agencies (collectively, the "Contest Entities") and their family/household members (defined as parents, spouse, children, siblings, grandparents).

  • GUIDELINES

    • No person is allowed to submit more than one essay to the Contest, regardless if he or she is entering individually or as part of a collaborative essay. If more than one is uploaded, all except the first will be disqualified. (On the rare occasion when a replacement is requested by FQXi, this will be handled outside of the usual submission system.) Collaborative essays written by more than one person can be submitted. If such an entry is awarded a Prize, it will be split equally among the collaborators.

    • Sponsors reserve the right to cancel or modify this Contest in the event that an insufficient number of entries are received that meet the minimum judging criteria.

    • This Contest shall be construed in accordance with U.S. law. All Federal, state and local laws and regulations apply.

    • Essays complying with the rules and satisfying minimal relevance and quality criteria will be automatically posted on the FQXi Community Forum website together with authors' names; after Prizes are awarded, contest Winners will be highlighted as such. The Sponsors reserve no copyrights to the submitted work; however, by submitting an entry, the applicant hereby grants to the Sponsors a worldwide, royalty free license to so post the essay, as well as use the essay for internal and advertising, marketing and promotional purposes of the Contest, in perpetuity, in any and all media now known or hereafter invented.

    • By submitting an essay, entrant represents and warrants that the essay is entrant's own creation and is 100% original work; is not subject to, and does not infringe upon, the rights of any third parties, including without limitation, copyright, trademark or privacy or publicity rights; and is not defamatory, obscene or otherwise illegal.

    • Entrants not complying with these requirements will be subject to disqualification. All entrants must have a valid email address. In case of dispute as to identity of entrant, entry will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the email address submitted at time of entry. "Authorized Account Holder" is defined as the natural person who is assigned an email address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational, institution, etc.) responsible for assigning email addresses or the domain associated with the submitted email address. Any other attempted form of entry is prohibited: no automatic, programmed, robotic or similar means of entry are permitted. The Contest Entities are not responsible for technical, hardware, software, telephone or other communications malfunctions, errors or failures of any kind, lost or unavailable network connections, website, Internet, or ISP unavailability, unauthorized human intervention, traffic congestion, incomplete or inaccurate capture of entry information (regardless of cause) or failed, incomplete, garbled, jumbled or delayed computer transmissions which may limit one's ability to enter this Contest, including any injury or damage to participant's or any other person's computer relating to or resulting from participating in this Contest or downloading any materials in this Contest.

    • All Prizes are subject to United States Income Tax. Winners are required to furnish FQXi with appropriate tax forms for reporting the Prize, and applicable taxes may be withheld from the Prize.

    • Void where prohibited by law. FQXi reserves the right to refuse to award any Prize if doing so violates any applicable laws.

    • By submitting an entry in the contest, the author agrees to release, defend and hold harmless the Contest Entities and each of their respective directors, officers, employees, agents, volunteers, the Contest judges, and their affiliates, heirs, successors and assigns from and against, and waive any right to pursue, any and all claims of any nature whatsoever arising out of or in connection with the Contest, the selection of Winners, and the use of the submitted essay, the author's name, and biographical information as authorized under these Contest rules.

    • All decisions of the judges are final and the selection of Winners is at the sole and absolute discretion of FQXi.

  • NOTIFICATION & ACCEPTANCE

    • Potential winners will be notified by e-mail on or about August 31, 2014, and may be required to execute and return an Affidavit of Eligibility/Release/Prize Acceptance Form within fourteen (14) days of attempted notification. Each participant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. If the winner cannot be contacted within seven (7) calendar days of first notification attempt, if prize or prize notification is returned as undeliverable, if winner rejects his/her prize or in the event of noncompliance with these Contest Official Rules, such prize will be forfeited and an alternate winner will be selected from all remaining eligible entries. Upon prize forfeiture, no compensation will be given.

    • The names of Winners will be posted at www.fqxi.org and www.ScientificAmerican.com on or about August 31, 2014 and will also be available by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to FQXi Essay Contest Winner's List, PO Box 3655, Decatur, GA 30031 no later than October 15, 2014.

    • GENERAL: Acceptance of a prize constitutes permission by Winner to use of his/her name, photograph and/or likeness for advertising, publicity and promotion purposes without compensation (unless prohibited by law).

  • CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE ANY WEB SITE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THE PROMOTION MAY BE A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS AND SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, THE CONTEST ENTITIES RESERVE THE RIGHT TO SEEK DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW.


V. SPONSORS
  • Foundational Questions Institute - PO Box 3655, Decatur, GA 30031

  • Jaan Tallinn

  • The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation - PO Box 208958, New Haven, CT 06520-8958

  • The John Templeton Foundation - 300 Conshohocken State Road, Suite 500, West Conshohocken, PA 19428


VI. MEDIA PARTNER
  • Scientific American - 75 Varick Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10013-1917


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