Spot 10 Balloons, Win $40,000

If you look up and see red weather balloons this weekend, take note. You’ve unwittingly entered into a social experiment.

The Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, launched 10 balloons, each eight feet wide, around the country as part of its “Network Challenge.” The first person or team to locate all of them will win $40,000. Darpa says that the contest is meant to look at how “information spreads and propagates and becomes viral.”

But it’s more than a simple test of crowdsourcing, which has been used to build public databases like Wikipedia or in Wired’s recent hunt for Evan Ratliff.

Peter Lee, director of Darpa’s transformational convergence technology office, which focuses on tech and social trends, said that by giving participants an incentive, like the prize money, the contest tests how people organize themselves and how they validate information.

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