Innovation often plays out in predictable stages.
It's like a game where the ecosystem and the other players adapt and interact to the moves and responses of the others.
As a result, many innovations evolve (or mutate) … and ultimately get used for drastically different purposes than they were created.
It makes sense because the inventor is often focused on solving a particular puzzle (or finding a specific advantage), but once the innovation is exposed, others try to imagine how to use it for their (often different) benefit.
Historically, space exploration was funded by nations based on their wants and needs (including defense initiatives). However, recently, profit is becoming a bigger catalyst. Space travel for travel's sake is seemingly within grasp. So too is asteroid mining (with promises rich profits).
When the prize is big enough, it is more likely that someone finds a way.
The result is more innovation (as more resources are directed at the problem).
It's also the premise behind the story I just saw about turning pollution into profits.
The point is that innovation often follows a prize.
There has been a ton of press about the poor air quality in China. Not much has made it better.
Now, however, there is an idea for towers to suck up polluted air, and clean it, releasing it back into parks and playgrounds (which then are supposedly 70-75% cleaner than the rest of the city). The difference is that this idea revolves around transforming the captured smog into diamonds.
If it works, China may actually have a disincentive to reduce smog.
Then, someone will figure out how to put that Tower on top of smog-producing sites (presumably capturing the carbon more efficiently and effectively).
At some point, the company that figures out how to do this will offer to do it for free (in exchange for its ownership of the byproducts of the process).
Soon others will sense the "profit" and compete. Predictably, they will offer to share the profits with the company (and later the city, the county, the state, or the nation).
And the game goes on …
Eventually, someone will complain that someone else got rich. But, on a different level, that's an innovation tax (the price society should gladly pay to have a better society).
It makes sense to let people search for value. It's even better when they create it.