The Billion Dollar Puzzle

You might have heard of the seven Clay Mathematics Institute Millenium Prize Problems, each of which offers a US$1,000,000 prize for its solution. Given that mathematics is sometimes done with nothing more than paper, pencil, persistence and perhaps a bit of lateral thinking, any one of these problems might seem to be an easy route to riches. But of course the problems are ones that have already resisted the onslaught of many great minds. Depending on your own mathematical experience, you will probably find that these problems fall into three groups:

If you want to spend your time on one of these problems, then good luck to you, and don't let me stop you. But if you want to know about a mathematical and scientific puzzle that has not yet had the big guns of mathematics and science properly brought to bear on it, and which could easily make you a billion dollars if you solve it, then read on ...

The Puzzle

As you might have guessed, if you came to this page from elsewhere on this site, the puzzle to be solved is the puzzle of what music is.

Before I go on to explain why you should think this is a puzzle that you might easily solve yourself, I must justify the claim that you could get a billion dollars for solving it. I need to make it quite clear that I don't have a billion dollars to give to you if you solve the problem (unlike the Clay Mathematics Institute, who presumably have $7,000,000 sitting somewhere, waiting for future winners to collect it).

If you solve the problem, it will be up to you to use the solution to make yourself the billion dollars. As I point out in my book, What is Music?: Solving a Scientific Mystery, when I discuss the "Luxury Yacht Test" for a theory of music, this should not be so difficult. If you solve the mystery of what music is, you should be able to use that information to create a generative algorithm for musical composition, and you should be able to use that algorithm to generate commercial quality music, which you could then sell in the normal way to receive royalties. I cannot absolutely guarantee that you would receive as much as $1,000,000,000, but to get that much you would only have to receive – in return for composing music better than any music anyone has ever heard before – $1 from each of the 1,000,000,000 richest people in the world (which is about the size of the world's "middle class").

Why the Puzzle Might be Easy to Solve

It's one thing to say that this or that problem represents a billion dollar business opportunity – it's another to suggest that anyone could plausibly solve such a problem.

The following is a list of reasons why I think that any intelligent person prepared to make a moderate effort has as good a chance as anyone else of making the final breakthrough: