The non-profit Web site, Longbets.org, debuted in April, 2002. Created by Silicon Valley figures Stewart Brand and Kevin Kelly, this Web site accepts and publishes a unique assortment of wagers: wagers that are based on predictions of social, technological and scientific future events, backed by payment of real money. To demonstrate that these wagers are serious, the minimum bet is $1,000 US, and the minimum period of time during which the event is measured is two years. Additionally, all wagers are tax deductible to the bettors and the winner’s spoils are donated to winner-designated charity. Longbets has so far published eleven bets received from scientists, writers, technology developers and executives, and even one from Hollywood actor, Ted Danson. Mr. Danson, having played the role of a former Red Sox pitcher on the television program “Cheers,” apparently couldn’t resist a sports bet by an Editor for Time Magazine that predicted “the U.S. men’s soccer team will win the World Cup before the Boston Red Sox win the World Series.”
The biggest wager posted so far is the one between Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development, and Ray Kurzweil, an entrepreneur of artificial intelligence. Mr. Kapor has posted a $10,000 bet that it will be at least until 2029 before a computer can successfully impersonate a human being to the point where the computer can fool a human judge. Mr. Kurzweil has doubled that bet at $20,000, and he asserts that once a machine with artificial intelligence has mastered basic human language skills, it will be able to “learn” by reading literature and exploring the vast pool of information available on the World Wide Web, thus expanding its intelligence in not only areas of language and vocabulary, but also becoming knowledgeable and conversant on a previously unimaginable expanse of topics.