The MATLAB programming contest we run twice a year is currently up and running right now. The rules are here, and there are also some entertaining statistics and graphs showing how things are progressing. I’m particularly impressed with how the code has improved this year. It’s getting better and smaller at the same time, which is unusual (and rare) for code in general, but especially so for our contest.
So it’s lucky timing that we got a nice mention in the New York Times Freakonomics blog: Geeks and Tweaks: What Computer Programming Contests Can Teach Us About Innovation. The post was written by guest bloggers Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman, and it includes a long quote from me which comes from my paper in Interactions magazine, In Praise of Tweaking.
Raustiala and Sprigman’s post is broken into three parts. The contest comes up in the third. The first two (part one and part two) talk about what the world of football can tell us about copyright law. In short form, the argument goes like this: copyright law came about because if creators don’t have protection from the law, they will lose their incentive to innovate and create. That’s the theory, at least. But wait a minute, say the authors. Football is good counterexample to this argument. You can’t copyright a defensive formation, but that doesn’t stop innovation from happening. In fact, football is one of the most innovative professional sports. The MATLAB contest comes up because it offers no special protection to innovators, and yet innovation flourishes there too.
I just like the fact that our programming contest is presented as being analogous (in some small way) to the NFL.