Why is Google Funding Another High-Dollar Science Award?

Wait, there’s yet another seven-figure science prize? Well, actually this one has been around for a while, but Google just boosted the Turing’s annual cash award to $1 million. Why another prize?

The Nobels, the Kavlis, Breakthroughs, X-Prizes, Longitude Prize. There are so many milion-dollar-plus prizes for scientific achievement right now that the phrase “it’s the Nobel for…” is becoming utterly meaningless.

But to be fair, the Turing has been around since 1966, and computer science is a bit neglected in these big cash giveaways. 

The Turing Award is given out annually by the Association for Computing Machinery to reward achievements in things like algorithms, system design, programming and artificial intelligence, as opposed to basic physics and chemistry we see in the Nobels. The Turing previously awarded $250,000, and was co-sponsored by Intel and Google since 2007. But after Intel dropped out of the partnership, Google decided to quadruple the prize amount to $1 million for future winners.  

That makes it around the same as the Nobel, which gives a little over a million, depending on the Swedish Kronor exchange rate, to science achievements in physics, chemistry, and medicine. The Kavli Prize gives $1 million each to three winners working in astrophysics, nanoscience, and neuroscience, every other year. And a recent addition, the Breakthrough Prizes, give $3 million to winners in life science, mathematics, and physics. 

Related: Some Takeaways From This Year's Richest Science Awards

With companies like Google and Facebook regularly showering software startups with a few billion here and there, the idea of a $1 million computer science award might seem a little unnecessary. But there is a gap, namely in the more fundamental and less commercial research pursuits, which ACM president Alexander Wolf told the New York Times form “the foundations on which others can build.” 

It’s also always nice to see Alan Turing’s name get another bump in recognition, considering the abhorrent treatment he received in his lifetime, despite his many achievements in computing. 

It also reinforces Google’s reputation as invested not just in acquiring wealthy subsidiaries and building fancy products, but in serious research. The company has continued to position itself as a friend of science through its faculty awards, its fellowships, and its recent, high-profile support of getting more girls into computer science.  

Related: Google’s Quiet, Multimillion Dollar Academic Research Program

When Intel dropped the sponsorship, Google no doubt saw a priceless opportunity to become synonymous with the world’s main computer science award, all for a measly million bucks a year.

While it is nice that the funding is going to an already recognized and respected prize, it does make you wonder about all of these million-dollar awards and their effects. I tend to wonder whether the additional funds actually raise the profile of the awards. After all, the Fields Medal offers a tiny $15,000 Canadian, but is still probably the most sought after in mathematics. A million-dollar prize will always land at least a headline, but will we start to experience big prize fatigue? 

Related: Google: Grants for Science Research