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In 1714, the British government passed the Longitude Act, which offered a prize to anyone who solved a great challenge of the time – accurately determining a ship's longitude. Navigation problems caused wrecks and trade disruption, so the prize was large – 20,000 pounds, $3.5 million by today's standards. A working class clockmaker eventually won after years of developing reliable marine clocks, or "chronometers," that allowed sailors to pinpoint their position at sea.
Fast forward 300 years and Britain is offering the Longitude Prize again – this time it's $17 million for solving one of humanity's biggest problems. And a group in the U.K. is letting citizens pick the problem this time. Asking them through a BBC poll if it should be:
Flight – How can we fly without damaging the environment?
Food – How can we ensure everyone has nutritious sustainable food?
Antibiotics – How can we prevent the rise of resistance to antibiotics?
Paralysis – How can we restore movement to those with paralysis?
Water – How can we ensure everyone can have access to save and clean water?
Or Dementia – How can we help people with dementia to live independently for longer?
It will be interesting to watch what happens. Visit our Facebook page, Facebook.com/FareedZakaria, to vote on which problem you think the prize should try to solve. Remember, the last problem was solved – not by a highly educated expert, but a man with a limited education but a passion for clocks.