Skip to content
31 May 2017

$100,000 Nine Dots Prize winner announced

The winner of the $100,000 Nine Dots Prize1, a new prize for creative thinking that tackles contemporary societal issues and secures the winner with a Cambridge University Press book deal, has today been announced as 35-year-old James Williams, a PhD candidate researching design ethics at Oxford University.  

Up against competition from over 700 other entrants from around the world, Williams’ 3,000-word answer to the set question ‘Are digital technologies making politics impossible?’ was deemed the most original and innovative by the ten-strong Board of leading academics, journalists and thinkers.

His entry Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Persuasion in the Attention Economy argues that digital technologies are making all forms of politics worth having impossible as they privilege our impulses over our intentions and are ‘designed to exploit our psychological vulnerabilities in order to direct us toward goals that may or may not align with our own’. He covers:

  • How the ‘distractions’ produced by digital technologies are much more profound than minor ‘annoyances’
  • How so-called ‘persuasive’ design is undermining the human will and ‘militating against the possibility of all forms of self-determination’
  • How beginning to ‘assert and defend our freedom of attention’ is an urgent moral and political task

As well as the US$100,000 prize money, Williams has been awarded a book deal with Cambridge University Press for a book in which he will develop his ideas on this topic. He will be supported by the editorial team at Cambridge University Press and will spend a term at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University.

On being awarded the Prize, Williams said: “I'm honoured, grateful, heartened, energised and overjoyed to have won this opportunity. I know that many others thought deeply about this question and put substantial time, attention and care into answering it.  I'm looking forward to getting to work on producing a book that is worthy of the competition.

“As Neil Postman pointed out in the 1980s, we’re far more attuned to Orwellian threats to freedom such as coercion and force, than to the subtler, more indirect threats of persuasion or manipulation of the sort Aldous Huxley warned us about when he predicted that it’s not what we fear but what we desire that will control us. Yet today these Huxleyan threats pose the far greater risk, and I’m extremely encouraged that the Nine Dots Prize Board has chosen to give its attention to these pressing matters. Their important question is not only compelling but also timely, and this competition is a fascinating and original way of putting such a crucial subject on the societal radar.”

The Nine Dots Prize was established to promote and encourage innovative thinking to address problems facing the modern world. It is judged anonymously by a Board composed of ten internationally recognised and distinguished academics, authors, journalists and thinkers.

Mandy Hill, Managing Director of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press, said: “We are committed to publishing high-quality and thought-provoking works that inform and shape intellectual debate and we are excited by the opportunity that this winning entry provides. We’re looking forward to working closely with James to support him through the process of writing a short book which expands on his ideas and really engages readers in this stimulating area. James’ entry addresses hugely important issues in the world today and we are delighted to be working with CRASSH and the Kadas Prize Foundation to publish this Open Access work in order to encourage a wider public debate on the topics explored.”

Born in Cape Canaveral, Florida and raised in Texas, Williams is currently a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute and Balliol College, Oxford, where he researches the philosophy and ethics of attention and persuasion as they relate to technology design. He is also a member of the Digital Ethics Lab at Oxford and a visiting researcher at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. Prior to that he worked for over ten years at Google, where he received the Founders’ Award – the company’s highest honour – for his work on advertising products and tools. He is also a co-founder of the Time Well Spent campaign, a project that aims to steer technology design towards having greater respect for users’ attention. He holds a master’s in design engineering from the University of Washington and as an undergraduate studied literature at Seattle Pacific University. 


For more information on the Nine Dots Prize,

visit and follow the Prize on Twitter @ninedotsprize


For further information and interviews with the winner or Board members, please contact Caitlin Allen at Riot Communications on 020 3174 0118 / 07814403000 / 

  1. 1.     About the Nine Dots Prize

The Nine Dots Prize is a new prize for creative thinking that tackles contemporary societal issues. Its heartland is the social sciences, but it welcomes entrants from all disciplines and cross-discipline thinking. Entrants are challenged to submit 3,000 word responses to a question set by the Board every other year. The inaugural question was ‘Are digital technologies making politics impossible?’ The Prize is worth US$100,000, which will support the winner to write a short book expanding on their ideas to be published by Cambridge University Press in a variety of formats, including open access, meaning the book can be downloaded free of charge. The Prize is judged anonymously in line with its aim of seeking answers from unexpected places – whether from new voices or from experienced authors.

The Prize is funded by the Kadas Prize Foundation, an English registered charity established to fund research into significant but neglected questions relevant to today’s world. It is supported by Cambridge University Press and the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), both departments of the University of Cambridge. Its name references a lateral thinking puzzle that can only be solved by drawing outside of a box of nine dots arranged in three rows of three.

Further information can be found at

  1. 2.     About the Kadas Prize Foundation

The Kadas Prize Foundation was established to fund research into significant but neglected questions relevant to today’s world. Its main charitable activity is as a prize-awarding body, enabling Prize winners to further their work in the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences to the benefit of the public. The Foundation was established by Peter Kadas, who has worked around the world for a number of financial institutions. Originally from Hungary, he holds Canadian and UK citizenship. He is a Senior Adviser at BXR Partners, which is an adviser to investment group BXR Group.


  1. 3.     About the Board

The Board is composed of ten internationally recognised and distinguished academics, authors, journalists and thinkers. They are:

-        Professor Diane Coyle – Professor of Economics at Manchester University, former Vice Chair of the BBC Trust and Economics Editor of the Independent

-        Professor Paul Gilroy – currently Professor of English at Kings College London, previously Giddens Professor of Social Theory at the London School of Economics

-        Professor Simon Goldhill (Chair) – Director of the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Professor in Greek Literature and Culture and Fellow of King's College, Cambridge

-        E.J. Graff – Managing Editor of the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog and Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University

-        Professor Alcinda Honwana – visiting Professor of Anthropology and International Development at the Open University and formerly was a program officer at the United Nations Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

-        Peter Kadas – Director of the Kadas Prize Foundation

-        Professor Ira Katznelson – President of the Social Science Research Council and former President of the American Political Science Association

-        Professor Roger Martin – Institute Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship at the Rotman School of Management and the Premier’s Chair in Productivity & Competitiveness

-        Professor Riccardo Rebonato – Professor of Finance at EDHEC Business School, formerly Global Head of Rates and FX Research at PIMCO

-        Professor David Runciman – Professor of Politics and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge

Public Relations Manager
Tel: +44 (0)1223 326194



Back to News

Recent stories

Cambridge University Press at the London Book Fair 2019

The American Political Science Association and Cambridge University Press collaborate to launch APSA Preprints

Cambridge University Press announces free-to-read books and journal articles in celebration of International Women’s Day 2019

  • Share:

Thank you for your feedback which will help us improve our service.

If you requested a response, we will make sure to get back to you shortly.

Please fill in the required fields in your feedback submission.
This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read more Close