Do Operations Research, win $1 million

Art Geoffrion wrote me, pointing out that the Netflix Prize is a great opportunity for OR people to show their stuff. Netflix is offering up to $1 million for a system that predicts whether a customer will like a movie or not. They have made available a wonderful database of 100,000 ratings. Lots of people have used data mining methods on this database For me, the line between data mining and OR is very thin indeed, so it would be interesting to see what an OR approach can do with this.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on these types of prizes. There are a lot of good reasons for companies to provide these competitions:

Prizes prompt a lot of effort, far more than any sponsor could devote itself, but they generally pay only for success. That’s “an important piece of shifting risk from inside the walls of the company and moving it out to the solver community,” says Jill Panetta, InnoCentive’s chief scientific officer. Competitors for the $10 million prize for the space vehicle spent 10 times that amount trying to win it.

Contests also are a mechanism to tap scientific knowledge that’s widely dispersed geographically, and not always in obvious places. Since posting its algorithm bounty in October, Netflix has drawn 15,000 entrants from 126 countries. The leading team is from Budapest University of Technology and Economics.

Given the generality of OR, it is clear that our field can be competitive in many of these. Any takers?

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