It seems to me that crowdsourcing is a good way to get crazy ideas off the ground – quite literally in fact, as I was talking to a friend about some insane but interesting business ideas he has, from space exploration (using light-sail ships to travel to the nearest earth-type planets) and mining of asteroids, to building up flotillas of cargo airships.
Clearly all of these would represent not only massive investments but also massive risks. Massive, but not unprecedented. In the seventeenth century, in the early years of the great European chartered trading companies – the East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, etc. – investing in a mission to the spice islands, for instance, represented a long-term investment of very high risk– ships sunk frequently, or were vulnerable to pirates – if also high reward. It rapidly became clear that the answer was for merchants to hedge that risk by spreading their investments in small parcels over a number of ships; merchants came together in ad hoc associations to fund expeditions. In time, insurance grew up to cover potential losses.
The solution, in other words, lay in novel financial instruments and arrangements. This protected and consequently released capital investment.
Space exploration has already moved from being annexed to national military operations, to the private sector. Two companies that I know of have proposed mining asteroids for valuable minerals (one of them proposes taking 3-d printers into space and manufacturing the drilling equipment in situ). It may be that the future of space exploration – to pursue the analogy – lies in spreading both the risk and the excitement around the networks which we are now so assiduously building up.