Brooklyn Project

In your opinion, what technical efforts A. would have world-shaking consequences and B. are clearly feasible?

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231 Responses to Brooklyn Project

  1. Dave Pinsen says:

    A tunnel across the Bering Straight?

    • Why? The area is too sparsely populated. It might be more useful when its get warmer and less fuel for airplanes…

      • Colastorm says:

        A railway from Harbin to Edmonton utilizing the Straight would be extremely useful right now. It would also facilitate mining in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and the Far Eastern Federal District.

        • 415 reasons says:

          How would a weeklong rail journey through a sparsely populated wasteland be preferable to a flight from Shanghai to LA? It seems like very few people would choose to do that, even less than currently use Amtrak to get from the east coast to the west coast.

          • owentt says:

            Even by cargo ship it’s only 2-3 weeks from north China to NW USA. An eight-day rail trip through the Kamchatka and Nome weather—and resulting delays—hardly seems worth it even for freight.

            • Smith says:

              I’m from Alberta and the trains here handle intense blizzards and -45 weather just fine. The heavy oil must flow. The climate in Fort McMurray is actually worse than Kamchatka and Nome.
              There are profitable mining projects in the north that are curtailed because of a lack infrastructure. Roads are unreliable but rail handles arctic weather superbly.
              I don’t imagine anyone has suggested a link across the Bering would be useful for passenger transport; but it would open five million square miles to mining and forestry, and beat the pants off ocean freight in price and speed.

        • Rosenmops says:

          Good luck getting that past the Canadian Indigenous and environmental lobbies. Would be held up in court for 50 years.

      • owentt says:

        Conveniently, we could make the Earth much warmer just by using up all the viable fuels that can power airplanes (liquid hydrocarbons are the only thing energy dense and flexible enough available in quantity).

    • Will says:

      Get it straight–It’s Bering Strait!

  2. Allium says:

    Everything destructive is easy, so War is a given.
    The Internet, Radio, TV, Telephone, GPS.
    Cleaning the oceans from plastic and metals.
    Restore desertified areas.
    The building of Walls.
    Space weapons.
    Underwater buildings/structures.
    Mass poisoning.
    Flying planes into buildings.
    Mass surveilance, brainwashing, gaslighting.
    The international production chain and its distribution.
    Life engineering.
    Weaponizing electromagnetic and mechanic waves.
    Plastic-eating bacteria.
    Exporting conceiled atomic bombs in ship containers.
    Spreading viruses/bacteria in a densely populated area close to an airport.
    Exploding the Davos meeting.
    Killing politicians.
    The international slavery, sexual slavery, drug and weapons’ black market.
    Removing royalties from patents.
    Removing barriers on the way of knowledge™.
    Changing the/a educational system.
    Changing the/a economic system.
    Getting away with intellectual property.

    Many more, but I’ll not flood here.

  3. protokol2020 says:

    It’s either a bullshit, either I am too stupid to understand it.

    Another level of complications on the top of Ethereum (blockchains) which are already too slow and too computing demanding to be of any real value. At least for now.

    • Michael J says:

      One thing about developing bleeding-edge software: If today’s hardware is too slow, in 5 years it will be twice as fast (or more).

    • sprfls says:

      I don’t believe that’s the “Brooklyn Project” our host is referencing. 😉

      Anyways, I disagree: there’s going to be a lot of great stuff coming out of that initiative. I personally know some of the people involved and they’re smart as hell. I wouldn’t bet against them.

      For example check out — decentralized and more secure potential alternative to GPS, that can actually prove one’s location (GPS easily spoofed).

  4. Michel Rouzic says:

    Population control in Africa. The Chinese and their ever increasing control over Africa might just be the people to do it.

    • joe falcone says:

      In 1970, the fertility rate in almost every nation in Africa was 6-8 children, sub-Saharan and Maghreb. In 2013, it was 2-3 children in North Africa and much of southern Africa, 4-5 in large swathes of central and western Africa. Only 4 or 5 countries are still in the 6-8 children range.

      • Michel Rouzic says:

        Not fast enough, they’re still predicting that the population will double by 2050, when even now it’s already a problem.

      • Alex says:

        It is a game of musical chairs. The whole point is where you are when your fertility goes below replacement. Star Trek would look very different if Roddenberry could extrapolate some population trends.

    • DRA says:

      Or perhaps they can find a way to improve African educational ability.

      • Michel Rouzic says:

        Yes let’s make the more educable Africans reproduce the least. What could possibly go wrong.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Cloning human organs to reduce rejection rates. Censor-proofing and anonymizing the Internet by improving existing decentralization protocols to be fast or building a new one. General AI.

  6. magusjanus says:

    Your von Neumann/Asteroid Belt idea is awesome (though I think we’re not quuuuiiiite there technologically with 3dprintin/solar/etc. but nothing some tens of billions and smart brains couldnt likely handle).
    On a similar note, Project Orion is a great way to get payload into space at much smaller cost (relative to whatever the heck we’re currently doing).
    I’m not an expert, but going off of: it seems Ram Accelerators and Space Guns are also worth a shot, maybe for non-human payloads.
    NAWAPA would be great if cost disease hadn’t destroyed US ability to do any infrastructure projects (I’d love to get your take on it: ). GRAND is also swell: Ideally, both! Maybe not “Earth Shattering”, but would be pretty cool and definitely technically feasible.
    US going on full nuclear power (or 80%+). Very doable, if we can rein in costs from environmental/lawsuit/bs and build reasonably priced nuclear power, no reason US couldn’t basically be 80%+ nuclear and dramatically less carbon emissions (which may matter in long-run… maybe).
    Maybe significant progress on longevity/life extension through dedicated research program ( ). How would humans or governments deal with some people living forever? (or statistically a 1k-2k years until they get hit by car or whatever) How does that change tax system? morality? religion? Inequality?
    Best candidate though is likely iterated embryo selection from stem-cell derived gametes, per Bostrom: seems we’re getting close. That would be bananas.
    or AI and we all turn into paperclips.

    • jamienyc says:

      Radical life extension, along the lines of what George Church is working on at Harvard, or the methods proposed by Aubrey De Grey ( Space travel is vastly overrated in terms of its impact on humans living on Earth – its main pull is the ‘wow’ factor felt by Sci-Fi fans.

    • savantissimo says:

      The Seed Factory Project. (Link to work in progress collaborative Wikibook by former Boeing Space Systems engineer Dani Eder, who originated the concept around 1980 for lunar use) From the introduction:

      The Seed Factory Project is an open-source collaboration to develop the concepts, technologies, and working examples of automated self-expanding production systems. A Seed Factory bootstraps itself from a starter set of core machines. It grows to any size you need by making parts, materials, and entire new machines. The machines can be copies of the starter set, larger versions, or different ones that enable new products. Design files and instructions are supplied for guiding the production process.

      We want to enable a sustainable 21st century civilization with a high quality of life. Our approach to this is using high levels of automation and renewable energy, integrated waste flows and recycling, and using local resources and production to minimize transportation needs. We also want to enable economic resilience in the face of coming automation replacing many jobs. Early generation factories are intended for communities of owner-operators, who build the equipment and use the products they make themselves. This makes them self-supporting despite a shortage of paid employment, and without the need for massive income transfer programs.

      With people’s basic needs taken care of, later generation systems can grow to industrial scale. These larger units are “grown” from smaller starter kits or previous generation equipment. They should therefore be cheaper to build than conventional factories. In the longer term, the technology will enable living in more difficult environments, and eventually beyond the Earth. It does this by minimizing the equipment to get started, and using local raw materials and energy to make what is needed. The general idea of a starter set which grows in capacity by making more equipment for itself, is universal. The detailed processes and products, however, will be different for each application and environment.

  7. catte says:

    Cape to Cairo railway.

    Maybe not world shaking consequences but I think it would be nice to have after all this time.

    • MovieNite says:

      Sure, Chinese engineers could build it, but who would maintain it? Certainly not the locals; even if they wanted to, they wouldn’t be up to the task.

    • bob sykes says:

      Shades of Lyndon LaRouche, although his high speed rail went from Dakar to Djibouti. He also wanted high speed rail lines east to west in Eurasia, but the Chinese are doing that.

      Where is Lyndon?

      • Smithie says:

        Once, a Larouche video came up on my screen. It was so incredibly bizarre that instead of turning it off, I watched it transfixed. And that was even before the minute or two that it took me to mentally connect it to Lyndon LaRouche. Once I had, I was even more transfixed because I knew for certain that it was very bizarre.

        What is with him and advocating massive infrastructure projects in other countries? Was this his old platform? Is he advocating that we build it and pay for it or is he trying to convince them to do it? These are the questions that discombobulated me.

  8. Rosebud says:

    With a constellation of ultra high resolution hyperspectral satellites we could map species and near real time vegetation health… Game changing in both ecology and agronomy.

  9. Josh says:

    Some kind of kinetic energy harvesting from ocean waves.

    Zero cash economy and laws/enforcement making it impossible for illegal immigrants to buy things or get paid except in kind.

    • JerryC says:

      Tidal power exists, but it’s expensive and intermittent, like most non-fossil fuel power technologies.

      • dearieme says:

        You’re confusing tidal power with wave power.

        Wave power has been tried: no reliable success yet.

        • Colastorm says:

          I may be interpreting you wrong dearieme, if so I apologise, but are you implying there aren’t any tidal power stations?

          • dearieme says:

            No: I’ve even seen the French one at Rance and a medieval English one at Woodbridge. I am saying that you mustn’t confuse wave power with tidal power. It’s wave power that’s proved a hard nut to crack and it’s wave power that Josh mentioned. Tidal power isn’t difficult to do but I assume that it’s usually uneconomic. We get unusually large tides in Britain but still nobody seems to have come up with an economic design.

            So far the problem with wave power is the high power density: the consequence is that the equipment takes a terrible battering.

      • josh says:

        oh..Umm..what about popsicles that don’t fall off the stick when you are close to finished?

      • SoCalMike says:

        About 25 years ago i had a seismograph in my classroom (i used it for about 7-8 years). It worked with an induction coil that ‘sat’ inside of a large horseshoe-shaped magnet. The coil was attached to a post sunk about 5 feet into the ground. When the ground shook, the coil would move inside the magnet and produce an electric current, which, after amplification, would print as a typical ‘earthquake’ wave. The kids and I loved it – it worked really well.

        It seems that if you took that same concept of induction coils and magnets and put them in some sort of ‘tube’ or ‘container’ of some kind, that you could have some ‘floaties’ that produce electricity from the up-and-down from the tides/waves. Problems? Yes, but I’m surprised it hasn’t been done yet.

        • SoCalMike says:

          Wouldn’t it be nice if we looked things up before we write stupid things? I just looked up ‘tidal power using induction coils’ and got a gazillion hits. Yep, it’s being done.

          But that seismograph was cool.

        • dearieme says:

          “from the tides/waves”: aaaargh! Is the confusion between tidal power and wave power because you are Americans who live a thousand miles from the sea?

    • Alex says:

      Josh, that would quickly be used against law abiding citizens with deplorable ideas. Ever hear of anarcho-tyranny?

  10. MovieNite says:

    A trillion-dollar moonshot investment in cognitive enhancement. Figuring out once and for all how to reliabky boost IQ, which must be doable via combination of e.g. pre-embryonic genetic selection, crispr-like genetic tinkering, brain zapping done right, the right combo of minerals/supplements, etc. Of course there are many other aveneues, but this is something that can be achieved. It would serve the dual purpose of increasing the now-useless IQ-90 and below people to say a moderately useful 105, and boosting a few IQ-155s to IQ-170 territory, i.e. the territory where real science is done and society thereby advances. Doing this would solve all the problems mentioned above, e.g. overpopulation in Africa (which would cease if Africans had an average IQ of 105).

    • dearieme says:

      “boosting a few IQ-155s to IQ-170 territory, i.e. the territory where real science is done and society thereby advances.” Have you got evidence for that? It wouldn’t surprise me if much real biological science in the last few decades has been done by people with IQs of 130 – 155, while many of the IQ 170 types have wasted their time getting nowhere with particle physics and indulging themselves with barren string theory.

      How could either of us have evidence? Who has a data base of measured IQs for scientists? The NSA? Fascbook? Google? …..

      • says:

        Using the entry IQ scores for life and phy science majors, and the GRE quant score percentiles of those graduates wishing to do post-grad converted to delta IQs, gives

        Major EntryIQ E(PostGradIQ) PhD
        BioBiomedicalSciences 121 122.1 ???
        PhyAstronomy 125 139.3 ???

      • says:

        or % of post-grad with IQ in the top GRE fraction

        Major TopIQScore Pct
        BioBiomedicalSciences 148.5 1.6%
        PhyAstronomy 152.5 13.6%

      • says:

        Hmm. I mixed up the data for Physics and GeneralPhySci. That for Physics is higher with IQtop at 160.5, closer to what others had speculated. IQtop is the GRE ceiling score wrt their peers. It look odd that the DeltaIQ for Sociology is negative, i.e. the average quality of the self-selected post-grads is lower than that of the overall peer graduates.

                          Major IQentry DeltaIQ  IQavg  IQtop %top
          BioBiomedicalSciences  121.00    1.11 122.11 148.47  1.6
               PHYSICALSCIENCES  125.00    7.70 132.70 152.47  9.0
                   PhyAstronomy  133.00   14.29 147.29 160.47 13.6
                   MathSciences  130.00   15.94 145.94 157.47 18.6

        ComputerInformationSciences 124.00 4.40 128.40 151.47 6.8
        MaterialsEng 129.00 15.94 144.94 156.47 13.4
        Economics 128.00 10.99 138.99 155.47 9.7
        BankFinance 125.00 12.64 137.64 152.47 18.9
        Sociology 115.00 -7.13 107.87 142.47 1.0
        Philosophy 129.00 1.11 130.11 156.47 2.5

        However, the reason is obvious when charting the DeltaIQ with the under-employment rate from the NewYorkFed, i.e. the rate of graduates of various majors working in jobs that do not require universities degrees. It seems that many went back to graduate schools. On average the higher the under-employment rate the lower the DeltaIQ between grads and post-grads, some even went negative. DeltaIQ is dependent on GRE scores. Is that why some graduate schools advocate that GRE score is optional? Self fulfilling wishes.

        overall: QiqDelta = -0.178*UnderEmpRate +6.839; #n=43; Rsq=0.1130; p=0.02749 * (Sig)

        Given previous analysis that most of those with IQentry < 115 believed that IQ or test score do not influence future incomes and were pushing for equality of outcomes that they had created their own reality with just that in their domains, a much better fit happens in the other domain with meritocracy,

        IQentry > 115: QiqDelta = -0.434*UnderEmpRate +20.735; #n=26; Rsq=0.6866; p=1.718e-07 *** (VVSig)

      • M says:

        Have you got evidence for that?

        There have been studies which indicates, in the words of physicist Stephen Hsu, that “cognitive ability in the far tail significantly increases the likelihood of important contributions to science and technology”. See e.g.

        Whether or not people in this category have lately been collectively squandering their time on string theory… well, I have no idea.

  11. realist says:

    Thorium power reactors.

    • William O. B'Livion says:

      Helium cooled pebble bed reactors.

    • ziel says:

      What’s the deal with these (know nothing about them) – what’s the controversy (aside from them being nuclear)?

      • archandsuperior says:

        A lot of people who don’t understand nuclear physics saw Kirk Sorensen’s TED talk and got erections.

        There’s a lot more thorium on earth than there is uranium, but humans simply do not consume enough energy for that to matter.

      • Anthony says:

        I’ve heard that the U.S. specifically did not research thorium reactors because they wanted to piggyback nuclear weapons research on power reactor research (or vice versa). In other words, the fact that thorium based power doesn’t lead to nuclear weapons was once seen as a bug, not a feature.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Sure it does: you can make a bomb out of U-233, and we have.

          • DRA says:

            Really hard to separate U-233 from U-232, and the latter is hard to hide.

            By any chance does a U-233 bomb produce less long lived fallout than a U-235 or Pu-239 bomb?

            • gcochran9 says:

              We’ve made a couple of tons of bomb-quality U-233 and still have it. We’ve tested a U-233 bomb. Effectively it’s a lot like plutonium, needs implosion.

              As for fallout, about the same as any other fission bomb.

  12. Henry Scrope says:

    A lifestyle/health/disease database covering the West. What actually causes disease? What prevents it? The information is out there, it can be collated and analysed.

    Harry Harrison’s Trans-Atlantic Tunnel (Hoorah!). Planned in 1972 and we haven’t built the damned thing yet. Trump is your man as long as we call it the Trump Tunnel.

    Radiotelescopes on the far side of the Moon. Dunno why but I think that would be cool.

    • Not sure if it will have “world-shaking consequences,” but how about a massive, controlled study into different diets? Select a very large sample of people and have the President tell them it’s their patriotic duty to participate in a study where they are told to try different diets, with subsidies for various products to encourage compliance.

  13. dlr says:

    1) Irrigation projects, two kinds:

    1a) rerouting rivers to the south that are currently going north and emptying into the arctic ocean, as described in Engineers’ Dreams, by Willy Ley. (a truly great book. Probably all of the ideas in it would qualify as the kind of thing you are looking for.) He suggests 2 rivers in Russia’s far north, and the Mackenzie River in Canada for re-routing: the two in Russia into the deserts of Central Asia, and the Mackenzie River into the American Southwest.

    1b) mass desalinization coupled to large scale, conventional irrigation projects. Israel has recently gotten the cost of desalinization down to where this would be feasible: Australia’s outback, the entire middle east and the Sahara Desert, the entire west coast of South America, and no doubt many other areas could be turned into gardens with this.

    2) A swarm of tiny, light reflecting panels in stationary orbit around the equator, from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn, whose orientation can be controlled remotely from earth. Orient them broadside to the sun’s rays to reflect the sun when it is getting too hot. Turn them sideways and let all the sun through when more sunlight is wanted. Perhaps partial or total blocking the sun for 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon. Ideally, they would bring the the temperatures of the tropics down to around human optimum. The panels would be solar powered of course.

    If it could be done, instead of simply using panels to reflect the light back into space, use lens to alter the path of the rays and re-route some of them up to the polar caps, down to around 30 degrees or so, to make the entire earth more temperate. This would be risky, perhaps too risky to contemplate as something along these lines could obviously be used as a weapon.

    3) Crash program in material science to find a cheap method of foaming rocks/rock-like substances. Goal: something cheap enough that we could construct a million islands and/or some small continents in the south and central Pacific.

    4) Elimination (outside zoos and other controlled facilities) of all species of animals/insects/pathogens/parasites that are harmful to mankind. Time to replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Improvement Agency!

    • pyrrhus says:

      Reverse osmosis desalinization takes a lot of energy, is expensive, and worst dumps very salty waste water into the ocean, destroying a great deal of aquatic life.
      Irrigation results in salting of topsoil, which is difficult to remediate.

      • dlr says:

        “Reverse osmosis desalinization takes a lot of energy, is expensive” — not true, anymore. Look at what the Israelis have done along those lines with their newest desalination plants.

        ” Sorek can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents.”

        I agree with you about it being important not to dump the salt back in the ocean though. The long term solution is to make blocks of the salt and bury it.

        “Irrigation results in salting of topsoil” — only if the water being used for irrigation has a high salt content. Desalinated water is more like distilled water, than like water flowing down from the mountains with lots of dissolved salts in it. The desalinated water is so low in salts and minerals that the Israelis are looking into adding magnesium salts into the desalinated water to get the levels up to those needed for human health:

        • j says:

          Returning salty water to the ocean destroys a great deal…? The oceans hold 1.3 to 1.5 billion cubic kilometers of 3.5% salty water. A child peeing into the Mississippi river causes a larger ecological impact.

      • Pox Vocally says:

        Anecdotally, observations reported at sea water reverse osmosis plants which I have operated has the brine attracting a variety of ocean life and coral reefs are unaffected. What you don’t want to happen is have the pH of the environment changed. This can be controlled with basic acids (HCl) or base (NaOH) chemicals. Equally important are RO membrane cleaning chemical or pre treatment waste, where in many instances the RO membranes are sacrificed in order to comply with waste regulations or to not dump chemicals altogether.
        These conditions can be easily addressed in modern western or far east cultures where regulations, monitoring, and attitudes are readily complied with but not so much in other parts of the world.

    • savantissimo says:

      The outflow of the major rivers into the Mediterranean and east Atlantic is mostly wasted. Perhaps the smart solution to greening the Sahara is just to build bloody big pipes to move the fresh water. Neutral to slightly positive buoyancy, guyed to the seafloor, deep enough to be mostly out of harms way but shallow enough for divers to repair. The sea salinity would be preserved by leaving most of the rivers’ waters to go out to sea, and by the fact that the water will only be temporarily held by the new Saharan ecosystem, in the long run raining back into the sea (and providing more cloud cover on the southern Mediterranean shore which could make the waters cooler and thus more fertile.) A pressurized system would be desirable to move the water and keep the seawater out, so the pipes could be made from tensile materials, such as flexible plastics which would also prevent corrosion and allow integrated safe anti-fouling compounds (silver ions, not too expensive because of the low amounts needed). Using flexible sheet materials, and looking at the cube-square law for very big pipes (hoses, really), the mass of the system apart from the gravel in the anchors would be less than 1/10,000 the water in the system and on the order of 1/100,000,000 of the water delivered in a year. So even if a ton of water is worth a penny and a ton of hose costs $100,000, it would still have a gross payoff of 10:1 in a year, more than enough to pay for the rest of what would be needed.

    • Glengarry says:

      “4) Elimination (outside zoos and other controlled facilities) of all species of animals/insects/pathogens/parasites that are harmful to mankind. Time to replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an Environmental Improvement Agency!”

      I seem to recall that Mao did that. The prime enemy of mankind was deemed to be the sparrow, which was promptly eliminated on sight.

  14. Ledford Ledford says:

    Removing back-up beepers from all vehicles.

  15. Bob G says:

    Space elevator.

    • William O. B'Livion says:


    • owentt says:

      “B. are clearly feasible”

      There’s no material known anywhere in the universe nearly strong enough to be the cable of a space elevator, so it’s not clearly feasible.

      • gcochran9 says:

        Carbon nanofiber is in principle strong enough.

      • DRA says:

        Building a space elevator on Mars would be much cheaper than on Earth, and the strength required for the cable would be much less, because Aero synchronous orbit is much lower. The tie down could be on Pavonis Mons, which is conveniently located very close to the equator.

        More importantly, NIMBY would not come into play, and the environmental study should be easier, if one was required.

        On the other hand, access to low Mars orbit is much cheaper than low Earth orbit, even with chemical rockets. And using contained nuclear power to heat reaction mass may prove acceptable to future Martians.

    • savantissimo says:

      Rotovators are quite feasible. You recover the orbital energy of any of the mass deorbited, they can run on solar energy and use propellantless electrodynamic reaction against the Earth’s magnetic field to supply the rest of the energy, and they reduce the needed velocity for craft getting to orbit by about half, to about mach 13, so the energy, allowing using robust, reusable single-stage rockets. They’re also bootstrapable, a small capacity tether can lift the material to make it into a large capacity tether.

  16. pyrrhus says:

    Cheap fusion power, or any form of almost unlimited power, would be world changing…But that would spoil the simulation….

    • dearieme says:

      Fusion power is only forty years away. Always.

    • bob sykes says:

      One of the truly great scams of all time. Has kept a few hundred senior physicists filthy rich for decades.

      Back in the 70’s Science ran a series of articles demonstrating the stupidity of fusion. A fusion reactor would have to be an order of magnitude larger than the equivalent fission reactor, and the electricity it produced would be an order or magnitude more expensive than the fission reactor’s. A fusion reactor would have no commercial or military use (wouldn’t fit in a Nimitz) despite Aliens.

  17. Maciano says:

    I’ve read in the news that both cacao and banana trees will go extinct because of climate change and diseases. I do not believe this is true, by the way, but I do think humans could harvest bananas and cacao much smarter.

    The Dutch glass greenhouse sector is worldbeater in tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, etc., The harvest per m2 is huge, much higher than any other country. This technology, combined with other optimizations in lighting, humidity, etc., could easily be used in more countries and for many more types of agricultural products.

    • NotAPostMortemLizardSurgeon says:

      Have you ever eaten Dutch tomatoes? I mean they have gotten better in the last years, but Double Dutch Cocoa would probably not taste better than artificial flavoring.
      But I would guess that cocoa does not grow that well in a hydroponic system, so we would be down to growing them in soil with automatic irrigation. There would be immense upfront costs and you would have to pay engineers rather than enslaving children.

      Bananas are much easier, especially since Cavendishs already aren´t that good tasting.
      Unless someone creates a seedless and thick skinned pawpaw.

  18. Michael Sanders says:

    The Von Neumann Model…

    ‘The basic concept of the Von Neumann model is this: An abstraction of hardware entirely in code. This virtual machine has no underlying physical attributes save the media its stored upon. Its simply a program following a set of reusable instructions.’ [i]

    ‘The von Neumann architecture, which is also known as the von Neumann model and Princeton architecture, is a computer architecture based on the 1945 description by the mathematician and physicist John von Neumann and others in the First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC.’ [ii]



  19. Mike says:

    Reverse-engineering pleasure.

    100% serious.

    • Jacob says:


      • owentt says:

        That’s not how meth works. But it is how opioids work.

        • Jacob says:

          All recreational drugs are dopaminergic agonists. Meth stops/reverses catecholamine transporters, forcing dopamine out into the synaptic cleft.

          I don’t know if you might be referring to something more specific, but that sounds like a pretty good hack of the pleasure system to me. Perhaps we should ask a meth addict.

    • engleberg says:

      Reverse-engineering pleasure.
      100% serious.

      I don’t know if a trickle charge to pleasure centers would work, as per Niven, But I’d bet microvalves in the brain, feeding more blood and nutrients into the pleasure center, and out, getting rid of waste better, would work. Bonus: all those medical microtech deals in your brain would notice strokes. And why stop with pleasure centers? I want my whole brain covered. And why stop with the brain? I want a network of medical microtech all through my body, noticing problems and fixing them. And why stop with me? I want everyone on Earth to have this, rich young healthy smart prudent people, all the rest of us, so there’s a huge database.

      • albatross says:

        Wireheading/opiate use isn’t reverse-engineering pleasure, it’s finding where the “on” button is located and figuring out how to hit it.

  20. dlr says:

    Bribe the lowest IQ part of the population to not have kids. This would have to be done though a charity, obviously, not the government. In house surgeons would perform a tubal ligation or a vasectomy and the recipient would get a monthly stipend thereafter for the rest of their life. If they change their mind, they can come back in, get the procedure reversed and the cash payments stop.

    This has the advantage that it can be implemented with today’s technology. It has the disadvantage that it will take 15-20 years before we started seeing real world improvements (although only 6 years if you are a primary school teacher!).

    This would no doubt get a lot of criticism for being ‘eugenics’ and the charity would be compared by hysterics to Hitler and the Nazis, of course, because giving people money to do something is exactly the same as rounding them up and murdering them en masse, but perhaps the charity could come up with some cover story that sounded politically correct enough to deflect criticism (“helping people to responsibly turn their lives around, one person at a time…” etc). Something sort of similar to Planned Parenthood but with cash prizes to the participants.

    You probably wouldn’t even need life-long cash payments, just a couple of thousand dollars of ‘assistance’ (‘to help stay in school!’) at the time of the operation. With a lower cash prize, maybe a couple of hundred bucks for getting a birth control implant. They could come in and get one of those, and another couple of hundred bucks every 3-4 years.

    The screening for lowest IQ’s would be tricky, not that it would resonate poorly with ‘do-gooders’, they would all be in favor of helping the most disadvantaged first, and of course funds are always limited, but because it is always possible to deliberately do worse on an IQ test.

    This same approach could be used to eliminate the least cooperative, most violent, least conscientious members of society from the gene pool. Again with the only real implementation problem being coming up with a good selection method. Anyone in juvie or prison or on parole would be an obvious candidate. Anyone on welfare, ditto.

    • Henry Scrope says:

      “least cooperative, most violent, least conscientious members of society” is what we are importing to counter our falling populations. But falling populations are actually good, look at the Black Death. Increased prosperity no end!

      • Jacob says:

        “But falling populations are actually good, look at the Black Death. Increased prosperity no end!”

        Never give this guy six technicolor rocks and a shiny metal glove.

    • Xenophon Hendrix says:

      I’ve had a similar idea, but I think the government could do it by providing IUDs at taxpayer expense for all women. It could be described as a health benefit without ever mentioning IQ. Nevertheless, it would be powerfully eugenic. There are a whole lot of “oops” babies among the less intelligent. Relatively fail-safe contraception would eliminate them. Also, offer a disguised bribe to healthcare providers for pushing the “free” IUDs.

      • albatross says:

        How about sterilization surgery that’s reliably reversible with some very minimal outpatient version of the doctor turning fertility back on? Cut way back on unwanted pregnancies caused by forgetting to take the pills/running out of condoms before you run out of horniness/etc.

    • M says:

      Just in case people didn’t know: there already exists a similar privately funded effort, which has been going steady for 20 years. Google “Project Prevention”. They don’t have much resources, though, so they are not making a significant impact.

      The screening for lowest IQ’s would be tricky

      On the contrary, I believe that would easily take care of itself: IQ correlates strongly with time preference / the ability to defer gratification, so just offer a small cash incentive and you’d get the lowest IQ people take up the offer in higher numbers.

  21. another fred says:

    A plague that severely cuts world population. I’m not recommending it, but I am predicting it. If the stresses of overpopulation get too severe someone will do it.

    You didn’t say it had to be fun.

    • bob sykes says:

      Y. pestis killed off 50% of the Roman Empire in the 6th Century and at least one-third of Europe in the 14th. Looks like a good candidate bug.

      • Smithie says:

        Not sure Y. pestis would work. The more recent outbreaks were pretty light in comparison. Probably because people understood germ theory, although some believe it was because the plague was caused by a different bug, or at least a different strain of pestis.

    • Colastorm says:

      I like that idea, until I think of my family, friends and myself all dying agonizing deaths with buboes and necrosis, and then I don’t like it so much anymore.
      Unless I lived deep in the boreal forest, I don’t know how I’d escape something a virulent as the plague.

      • another fred says:

        Not to go too deep into speculation, but I imagine that first world countries would react with “measured” haste. Crowded, unproductive, cities would not be good ideas for havens but governments would not want to lose all their spear carriers.

        If one expects to hide in the forest it had better be well secluded. It is hard to imagine any “state” giving a damn about you.

      • epoch2013 says:

        Zoonotic transmission can control that. See malaria.

  22. Identify blood factors that partially counteract aging; mass-produce them, the way we currently do with insulin (a blood factor that counteracts diabetes); make them available in bulk to the older half of the population; see a significant postponement of morbidity. That’s not yet proven to be feasible in humans, but it’s very likely to be. E.g.:

    • et.cetera says:

      This is hands down the worst idea in this comment thread. I propose mandatory euthanasia for baby boomers to counter it.

  23. just because something is obvious doesn’t mean it’s wrong

    Embryo selection for IQ is the tech most likely to shake up the world in the near term. Yes, it will at first give rich parents children the edge making stratification worse. But it’s the second order consequences which will be more profound.

    In a decade (give or take) this will force into the open a debate about what those with higher IQ owe to those with less. Which will upend current political parties and old ideology. We’ll have to recognize the new IQ aristocracy, naming high IQ names. And what of the new IQ aristocracy’s obligations? Do they owe only their own countrymen? The rest of the world? Do they owe the disadvantaged within their own ethnic group above other groups? Or is it ok to retreat into Elysium, into walled enclaves, where the rich give lip service to the proles, but in the end don’t give a damn? Happy that their own children first get embryo selection, and their grandchildren an even bigger edge with CRISPR.

    • Leonard says:

      Seconding this. Bimodal IQ distribution with a bump up high. Imagine 10000 Elon Musks, all energetically going about some blue-sky project to save the world. And 10000 Cochrans irascibly swatting aside sham science.

      • R. says:

        And 10000 Cochrans irascibly swatting aside sham science.

        If you persuaded them to lift and invade safe online spaces, feminists would have to get their own internet 😀

    • Colastorm says:

      “Or is it ok to retreat into Elysium, into walled enclaves, where the rich give lip service to the proles, but in the end don’t give a damn?”
      Like Kennebunkport, Cape Cod, Chevy Chase, Hewlett Bay Park, Kenilworth, Point Dume, etc.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Embryo selection for IQ requires that we can predict IQ from DNA but we aren’t there yet. But many people including Cochran say we are just years away from being able to, All kinds of reactions and repercussions could result, none of which anybody can predict. However this looks like the first stage in mankind manipulating the next generation for higher IQ,

      • Xenophon Hendrix says:

        If I understand some of the things Dr. Cochran has written here, we wouldn’t have to identify IQ elevating genes, we just would have to identify rare mutations, rare mutations almost always being bad. We could sell it as improving health rather than as raising IQ.

        • albatross says:

          In fact, I believe that would improve health overall, as well as leading to kids that were in general smarter, better-adjusted, better-looking, and taller.

      • DRA says:

        We aren’t there yet, but my 37 year old daughter is expecting her first child, and evidently blood tests to detect chromosomal abnormalities are now widely used. (She has received a clean bill of fetal health in that regard.) See also

        And how hard is it to detect fragile X chromosome issues prenatally?

        Other prenatal issues effecting fetal potential include avoiding fetal alcohol syndrome, untreated or poorly controlled hypothyroidism in the pregnant mother, and probably a list of other issues. These issues don’t effect the genetic potential of the baby, just the potential of the person they will become. As far as I know these issues may not be detectable prenatally. If so, we are left with the issue of the mothers knowledge and time preference.

        Postnatally there are the issues of lead in the environment. Perhaps selenium or iodine deficiency? I understand that iodine is not added to processed foods, and with more convenience foods perhaps there is less use of iodized salt in cooking. And vitamin D, I don’t know if it effects IQ, but I’ve read that it does have potential impacts on predisposition the violence. I also note that many groups that are lactose intolerant are overrepresented in violent crime statistics. Why is milk the only food we supplement with vitamin D? Perhaps we should add peanut butter to the list!

        Selection for high IQ will come, and good for that! However, there are a lot of issues between genes and preschool that don’t get much attention.

  24. Kennee Mckenzie says:

    Regreening the Arabian peninsula.

  25. mapman says:

    A huge step toward understanding disease: dig up medical histories for everyone, sequence everyone and let the most powerful machine learning digest it all.

  26. Smithie says:

    I always liked the idea of building a large, spinning space station that would let us figure out how much gravity the human body needs.

    Once, I heard someone assert that it would be quite possible to build the space station from the movie 2001, taking only 3 launches of the sea dragon, a massive, dumb rocket that was designed to be built out of the cheapest materials, launch from the ocean, and be partly reusable, but was never built. I assume they meant lifting the mass, not the assembly. Not sure, if it would be the right size to figure out the question properly.

    • DRA says:

      We could start now with seeing how much gravity mice need to reproduce and mature. Perhaps none at all, but I don’t think anyone has checked. If gravity is needed for mammal gestation a mouse-sized centrifuge should be something we could do very easily on the existing space station.

      We should certainly plan on finding out what gravity the human body needs, particularly for successful gestation and proper growth. But we might want to work up to it by stages.

      While a spinning space station could be used, so could centrifuges on a low gravity world. Luna could be used for simulated gravity starting at about one-sixth Earth normal, and working up to Jovan gravity, if desired. I would suggest that before we do experiments on humans, perhaps we should progress through non-human primates of roughly comperable size.

    • engleberg says:

      Above 1 G you don’t need a space station. Build a centrifuge on Earth, spin up, put hamsters and weight guys in, see results. Remember the old Jerry Pournelle thing about hamsters raised in 6 gs?

  27. Irate eye rater says:

    Establishing a permanent base/eventual colony off-world. Success would require progress in many domains that would be cross applicable elsewhere.

    You also get a highly selected population of real smart cookies all founding a society together, which may come in handy.

    • AppSocRes says:

      Creating large, viable, self-sustaining human colonies on the Moon is well within the capacity of current technology. This would provide a base, effectively almost outside the Earth’s gravity well, for further cheap exploitation of extra-terrestrial resources. The unique conditions on the moon, e.g., low gravity, naturally high vacuum, and an enormous natural range of temperatures, would provide extraordinary opportunities for the development of new industries and technologies. Ultimately, the new extra-terrestrial colonies would change the entire human geopolitical system in ways we cannot imagine. The Moon colonies might also provide a haven for some remnant of humanity should conditions on Earth change in some disastrous and un-correctable way, e.g., a complete icing over during the next glacial advance.

      • Within the capacity? What do you mean? How would they replace broken things on Moon with a new ones? Or dig minerals?

        • DRA says:

          The Moon may be particularly short on minerals in usable ores. On Earth many ores contain usable elements that were concentrated by the hydrological cycle. Others by volcanic action. On the Moon the useful elements that were concentrated by natural processes may be limited to water, at the poles, and nickel, cobalt and iron delivered by asteroid strikes evident by subsurface mass concentrations.

          Many other elements are certainly present, but may require processing a lot of material to isolate.

          Manufacturing replacement parts may be limited to things that can be 3D printed cheaper than imported. Bulky items, made from simple materials, such as gravel for roads, mass for radiation protection, glass fiber and glass composite or large metal items may be made locally.

          Even on Earth, no advanced nation can economically produce all items. Importing many things from Earth will be much cheaper than trying to manufacture on the Moon, particularly with the small likely population, at least until after the disaster, and then it will be too late.

          Mars should be better in most respects. Early in it’s history it seems to have had an active hydrological cycle. I does have massive volcanos that may have concentrated useful minerals. It certainly has wind sorted sand and dust which may have concentrated useful material. And it may have had the beginning of plate tectonics to concentrate other material. And it certainly has more various volatiles than the Moon.

          I suppose that if live ever got a start there may even be concentrations of hydrocarbons that could be useful, perhaps for making plastics.

      • DRA says:

        If conditions on Earth change in some disastrous and un-correctable was, it will probably be because of something people do, and the Moon is too close to be safe.

        However, the Moon does seem a good place to try our technological skills, while close enough for rescue missions to save people from conditions in Lunar settlements that change in some disastrous and otherwise un-correctable way. At the present time, we have not proven the technological skills to live for any significant time in a closed environment. But the Moon would be a good place to prove such skills.

        Once we know that we can sustain a closed environment on the Moon long enough to mount a rescue mission to Mars and travel to Mars to save a foundering settlement, then Mars would be a much better location for a haven to save a remnant of humanity against disaster.

        • albatross says:

          I think a Lunar or Martian colony has to be really well-established before it has any chance of surviving the destruction of Earth. A Mars colony would probably be growing its own food and using local supplies for, say, water, ammonia, iron, fuel, etc. But sooner or later, without resupply missions, the reactor fuel runs out, or the solar panels stop working, or the flash memory on their computers wears out, and there’s not a whole lot they can do to replace those things unless they can build a whole bunch of industries.

          • DRA says:

            Musk estimates that Mars will have to have a population of about a million people before it could survive without imports. I assume that also applies a lot of robots and factory automation.

  28. Abelard Lindsey says:

    “Radical” life extension.

  29. Smithie says:

    Here’s my other pet idea: figure out how to hack the immune system.

    People talk about stem cells and they talk about nanobots. Both seem kind of pie in the sky. But there is something really close to combining the two, which is much easier. If you could figure out how to grow the different differentiated immune cells, you could really do a lot with that knowledge. You could alter the cells. Make them do very specific tasks. You could effectively make them part machine: put on/off and even self-destruct switches on them. Make them produce drugs, and turn them on for a set time each day, to minimize side effects.

    In my opinion, you could easily figure out how to cure most cancers, most autoimmune diseases, and most parasitic infections. And they could probably do a lot of other things too, like keep your arteries from clogging up.

  30. Karl says:

    Building the Wall!

  31. funkyworklehead says:

    Consumer-available 3d metal printers. They’re coming and they will rock the world (in my low IQ opinion).

  32. RJW says:

    Reduce tillage.

  33. Gord Marsden says:

    Another canal project, dig a canal between the mediterrainian sea and the Libyan depression. Endless hydro through evaporation

    • catte says:

      Wouldn’t it just get clogged up with silt?

    • R. says:

      Would it not affect the climate in the area, all that vater evaporating..

      • Gord Marsden says:

        Should cool the hottest place on earth, the Libyan desert, will also create a salt pan landscape like the Dead Sea.

    • foolisholdman says:

      While you are at it, you might as well dam the Straits of Gibraltar then you could, at the same time as generating enormous amounts of power, save all the sea-level cities around the Med from being flooded by rising seas. (The Med has a net inflow from the Atlantic as it evaporates more than it gets from the rivers that flow into it.)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Classify all pathogens and correlate them with diseases.

  35. Bob says:


  36. j says:

    Fusion engine for space ships. Space lift. Moon colony. Captain Nemo’s submarine.

  37. ziel says:

    I’d like to see a Manhattan Project-style approach to AI development with a focus on elderly/disabled care. There seems to be a good amount of decentralized activity going on right now (Google, Boston Dynamics eg) but a more focused effort, pulling together the best resources, to really concentrate on creating truly smart machines could solve many of the problems we’ll be facing over the next few decades with birth-rates plummeting and lifetimes stretching.

  38. Greying Wanderer says:

    anything spacey would be my personal preference however i think the banks will take out western civ and everyone will starve before anything like that would come to fruition so instead maybe something that might stop / slow down the banks…

    maybe a censorship proof internet? or eugenics? (genetic screening, CRISPR etc) but both of those would probably take too long imo…

    so maybe domed farming / living in the far north (Siberia, Canada etc) – high tech hyperborea.

  39. caethan says:

    There was Atlantropa, the German plan to dam the Straits of Gibraltar. You could either just tap it for massive hydroelectric power, or if you were ambitious, try to reclaim a bunch of land. Gibraltar Falls would be a sight to see. Gotta watch out for time-travelers, though.

    Or the NAWPA, where we proposed to reroute the MacKenzie river and most of the drainage basin to irrigate the American Southwest. I think they claimed to be able to support agriculture in Sonora and Baja even, with the increased flow through the Colorado.

    • dearieme says:

      There’s a notion in NZ that they should be able to generate power using the strong currents through the Cook Strait. Mind you they have ample hydro-power potential that they decline to exploit.

  40. Anuseed says:

    Make Anime Real.

  41. Mis(ter)Anthrope says:

    Removing the tongue of every female at birth.

  42. ohwilleke says:

    Provide free education through graduate school to every kid in the world in the top 5% academically. Smart people only add value to the world if they are given the tools to utilize it.

    • dearieme says:

      Why not teach the 5% at a suitable level and speed in both secondary school and in their undergraduate years? Then there would be little need to waste money on graduate school except for whatever small fraction was interested.

    • They would have to do something to competitively signal for mates within that group. Currently, they major in stupid stuff to show off secondary traits other than intelligence. Providing education for free would only increase that. This flaw would also apply to dearieme’s plan, as they would learn ever more useless stuff ever more quickly.

      Now if we offered only selected subjects for free…

      I still don’t think we’re at the level of ambition Greg is talking about. Though I like the idea of a small but overwhelming change. It has more style. And because of unintended consequences, might be easier to back out of if we found out it was a crap idea.

      • dearieme says:

        “Now if we offered only selected subjects for free…” That’s easy. Repair an infamous defect in US culture by restricting free education to students of foreign languages, history, and geography. They could also do compulsory sports: rugby, cricket, stalking, fox-hunting, pétanque, and bull-fighting. They could do summer internships in pearl-diving, camel-herding, and so forth. Make ’em men of the world, eh?

    • Cantman says:

      “Provide free education through graduate school to every kid in the world in the top 5% academically. Smart people only add value to the world if they are given the tools to utilize it.”

      That certainly is not true, at least in the non-trivial sense that you mean. Most important innovation has not come from the government education industry.

    • Randall Parker says:

      I would give the brightest kids college summer school classes starting at age 14 (earlier if geniuses) and once they get thru a summer with high grades they stop going to high school and go to college 12 months per year. The goal should be a bachelor’s degree by age 19 or earlier. Stop wasting time in school. 140 IQ kids should be done college at age 18.

  43. Bob says:

    Obviously Project Orion and O’Neill cylinders.

    • albatross says:

      I think you want to harden all our consumer electronics and install air filters on all our houses before you do a lot of Orion launches from Earth….

  44. CMC says:

    Peak oiler Ken Deffeyes suggested, as a thought experiment, digging two sea-level canals across the Panama isthmus. “Panama has twenty-foot tides on the Pacific side, almost no tides on the Atlantic side… [Flap gates] …In a few hundred years, we wipe out the Atlantic-Pacific salinity difference. The tropics are not as hot, the poles are not as cold, it is San Diego everywhere….”

  45. GAGCAT says:

    Weaponising infection with modern biotech.

  46. ghazisiz says:

    What about the superintelligence singularity? Computers smart enough to design a superior next generation of computers, with shortening generation times, would lead to changes in every facet of our lives.

    • Michel Rouzic says:

      You scifi dweebs and your techno-rapture. It’s not “clearly feasible”, it’s not even theoretically feasible. This is what I keep saying, science fiction pollutes your minds and imaginations, you can’t even tell that some scifi nonsense isn’t close to feasible, and most of the comments are a sad proof of that pollution. Computers aren’t smart, computers compute, computers don’t get smarter, they just get faster at running the exact same algorithms for the exact same results. Only algorithms might qualify as more or less smart. So go ahead and design an algorithm that does what you want, see how it turns out, nothing’s stopping you.

  47. Rich Rostrom says:

    Contraception (for males and females) that is 99.999% reliable, cheap, and functions from when it is turned on until it is intentionally turned off with no further intervention required. IMO, this would dramatically reduce births to the “lumpen” components of the population.

    Establishment of a national ID system which includes biomarkers (fingerprints and DNA) for every person. This would have radical effects on law enforcement and immigration enforcement. It would also hammer marriages and informal marriages, by exposing the non-trivial proportion of children who are not the offspring of their putative fathers.

  48. TangoMan says:

    A series of momentum exchange tethers between earth and the moon. A skyhook in earth orbit, a transfer orbit momentum exchanger and rotovator in lunar orbit which cycles down to the surface. Lunar mass does down to earth orbit, aids in building an economy in orbit, earth-sourced supplies to the moon.

  49. West Anon says:

    Two favorites seem to be Space and IQ. If you want both, be sure to get the order right! To get both, do Space first, IQ second.

    • DRA says:

      I get the impression from reading Greg that IQ probably improves or declines as required by the environment.

      If we do space first, IQ will probably follow naturally. Or the settlement will fail.

  50. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    I don’t believe anyone has mentioned bacteriophage therapy yet.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Getting cloning to work on humans. There was a 60 Minutes episode on a polo champion in Argentina that cloned his best horse 14 times, with performance pretty much like identical twins. If this was seriously pursued, it would probably only take a few years to get working, then… boom.

    • GAGCAT says:

      This has been technically possible for decades, just banned in most countries.

      Humans are made of cells and DNA like other species, so whenever you see “sheep cloned” or “mouse CRISPR’d” the only reason it wasn’t done in humans is ethical not technical.

      • albatross says:

        So what’s the probability that some human clones exist now?

        • GAGCAT says:

          1 – If you count identical twins.

          I’d take a bet at even odds there’s artificial ones in China.

          An ethnic specific IQ GWAS, some smart donors and preimplantation screening would lead to really smart kids and could be done today.

          One day some country will start trouncing everyone in international math competitions, forever. Then we’ll know from that point it happened ~15 years ago.

          An argument against this is you could have done this with no knowledge of genetics at all (eg hire a dozen taxpayer funded mistresses for Von Neumann so he ended up with more than 2 grandkids). Maybe the will isn’t there.

    • savantissimo says:

      It should be pretty trivial to get quads or even octuplets by splitting embryos. Freeze the extras and see how one does before gestating the others. Avoids the complications of somatic cell nuclear transfer. But if, as you say, the process works reliably for horses, then humans shouldn’t be any harder, and it shouldn’t be that much harder to make “clones” where each chromosome comes from a different parent. Then you can choose the lowest genetic load chromosomes from a decent-sized population and get super-babies on the cheap without most of the technical risks of editing genes.

      If you can find ones with sufficiently low load, one might even use two copies of exactly the same chromosome for each of the pairs, getting a 100% homozygous girl without any bad genetic effects. Make another one the same but with a Y, and you have a race of semi-supermen that will breed true.

    • Rich Rostrom says:

      Jose Canseco had an identical twin brother Ozzie. Jose hit 462 home runs in his career; Ozzie had 13 hits in his.

      • Anthony says:

        13 hits in the Majors is 13 more than 99.999% of Americans will ever accomplish.

        If baseball was world-changing, hundreds of Ozzie Canecos would be a worthwhile endeavor, even if we didn’t get any Jose Cansecos.

  52. This could perhaps be implemented by a single wealthy individual.

    In the US today, adoption is expensive: $20,000-$40,000 per adoptee, depending on the circumstances. What if an organization found really, really smart sperm donors (à la the Repository for Germinal Choice) and really, really smart egg donors. Then they combine those gametes in a surrogate. The baby goes up for adoption, and the organization ensures the process is cheaper than the usual adoption. You would be (1) helping childless couples have children and (2) increasing the number of geniuses in society. If you had enough money and produced enough babies, maybe you could reverse/weaken the Woodley Effect.

  53. bombexpert says:

    widespread respirator use in an influezna epidemic

  54. TWS says:

    Re-wild everything East of the Mississippi. Introduce all those animals killed by the Indians. Lions, Bears, Elephants, Rhinos. The whole shebang. Then if that works we can talk about re-wilding the west. Start with Manhattan they already put up with worse crap than a giant elephant during their day and I don’t see how a few homeless getting eaten by a lion will change a thing unless it blocks traffic.

    Or we could green the Sahara. That I’d like to see.

    • Smith says:

      I’d love to see a Pleistocene rewilding experiment in the American plains.

      Przewalski’s horse representing American Equus ferus subspecies, Grevy’s zebra as the proxy for the Hagerman zebra, Onagers for Haringtonhippus, Mountain tapirs as proxy for Vero tapirs, Bactrian Camels as proxy for Camelops, Guanaco and Vicuña as proxy for Palaeolama and Hemiauchenia, Plains bison, Cape buffalo subbing for Bison latifrons, reintroduce Saiga, Gopher tortoises, Pronghorn, Dik-diks as Capromeryx minor, Dorcas gazelle as Tetrameryx, Gerenuk as Stockoceros, Red serow as Soergel’s ox or maybe the Shrub-ox, African bush elephant as the Columbian mammoth, White rhino as Mixotoxodon, reintroduce the Collared peccary, and add the Chacoan peccary as proxy for its close relative Platygonus.
      No idea what could replace the Ground sloths, Glyptodonts and Pampatheres outside of genetically engineering giant Armadillos.

      I think the biggest impact would be in the Southwest. Control of creosote bushes, reduction in desertification with better moisture retention in the soil, etc.

    • Randall Parker says:

      As a nationalists I’d rather green the western US plains states by bringing in massive amounts of water. How to get the water?

      Also, bring water to Death Valley and Salton Sea. Even if was salt water it would evaporate and provide plenty of fresh water over land wherever it rained down.

  55. Not so original because you’ve touched on this a bunch but:

    vaccines for lots of ‘benign’ pathogens like Coxsackie B (associated with Type 1 Diabetes, dialted cardiomyopathy), a comprehensive Herpes vaccine (associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other stuff), Epstein-Barr Virus, Influenza vaccine that provides near universal coverage, a better Tuberculosis vaccine, etc.

    Basically a big campaign to push for new vaccines. Seems very feasible. Unfortunately, vaccines have bad PR in developed countries at the moment, so this seems unlikely.

    • Henry Scrope says:

      Good plan. Just get some major ‘donors’ behind it and all the politicians will act accordingly. Big casino owners and bankers get these diseases too and would be happy to direct the use of public money to prevent them.

  56. austmann says:

    Airship drone craft carrier which drones can take off and land on high up in the air and refuel/reload.

  57. DRA says:

    A few thoughts for increasing staple food availability:

    A. Gene splice wheat gluten into four carbon photosynthesis Sorghum to achieve higher productivity of bread per farmed area in warm dry areas.

    B. Gene splice nitrogen fixing abilities in crops that currently require nitrogen fertilization. It would save a lot of energy making the fertilizer, and would reduce nitrogen runoff and eutrophication of bodies of water.

    C. Gene splice four carbon photosynthesis into staple foods that now lack the capability to significantly improve utilization of sunlight.

    “A” may be the easiest, and I haven’t heard that it has been tried. “B” and “C” may have been tried, or are being tried, so maybe are not technically feasible at this time.

    Even if all are technically feasible, they would certainly run up against vested interests, so may not be politically feasible. And if they occur, they may only be worth a few years of population growth… ah well!

    • Esso says:

      Even easier: knock off antinutrients like lectins in beans, saponins etc. as long as pests don’t become a problem.

    • moscanarius says:

      (B) is an old dream of the microbiology / plant biology community, but is not simple to do due to the complexity of nitrogenase cofactor synthesis and the anaerobic requirements of the enzyme. It is being tried, but success is still not on the horizon, despite the exciting results obtained in yeast mitochondria a couple of years ago.

      (C) is another old dream, is also being tried, but is also very difficult; C4 photosynthesis is really just common photosynthesis under higher CO2 concentrations, the key being that C4 plants can accumulate dissolved CO2 in photosynthetic cells by shuttling it from many more peripherical cells. This involves creating a special lead anatomy as well as expressing different genes in neighbor cells of the same tissue; identifying the genes needed for this is not simple at all.

  58. Cantman says:

    Some country deciding to breeding lots of capable people at the maximum biological rate.

    Cloning various protohumans.

  59. albatross says:

    It seems like the question is assuming some effort that’s not going to just happen on its own. All kinds of revolutionary changes in technology happen without anyone doing a Manhattan Project, just because you can make a lot of money selling iPhones or Viagra or whatever.

    Anything we can do to make ourselves smarter as a species is a big win. That can be genetic modification, drugs that make people smarter or more focused or something, better tools, better education, computer enhancements to intelligence[1], etc. That has the property that doing it helps with most other problems–if people get smarter, that’s a pure win.

    Existing stuff that fits this description: Spreadsheets, computer packages for doing math and statistics, Khan Academy and Open Courseware, free software development tools that let clever 15 year olds become good programmers. But there’s surely a lot more.

    One nontechnical way to get more of the intelligence of our species doing productive things is to look for stuff that uses up smart people unproductively and get rid of it. My intuition is that the flow of very smart people into finance, internet advertising, corporate law and tax law is like 99% loss for mankind–we lured those folks away from doing productive things, in favor of playing zero-sum games with other smart people at high salaries.

    Another nontechnical thing we could do is to find a way to make the academic science track less awful. The bit where you do a PhD and two postdocs and then you get your five or six years to work like crazy in hopes you’ll end up with a permanent job, that takes a lot of really smart people and grinds them up. There’s got to be a better way for this to work, though I don’t claim to know what it would be.

  60. Nikolas Persson says:

    Baffled by all the people here thinking that pathogens are a big factor anymore (they might become again). Vaccines and antibiotics are miracle drugs that removed the significant portions of disease, the one that kills otherwise healthy people.

    The way I see it the only things that will create runaway effects are means to produce super-intelligence, either through genetic engineering or AI but we don’t actually know if either is feasible yet.

    I think what the Chinese are experimenting with, gamifying citizenship as a means of mass control could have very far reaching consequences. This is not truly new as states have given out medals for valor before, but now it can be automated and done on a massive scale with the helps of networked computers. Frank Herbert was prescient when he predicted the conflict between man and machine would not be between concious robots and humans but rather between humans who rely on computers to control others vs. people who do it the old fashioned way.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Investigate germ theory of disease
    New antibiotics
    Crash program to increase human intelligence
    Crash program to extend human lifespan
    Get rid of the dumb guys at the top and institutionalize competence
    Power generation
    Space elevator
    Basing study
    Systematically investigate persistence of historical states with aim of increasing our power / persistence
    New vaccines
    AI and in particular implications for war 5-12 years down the line

  62. DRA says:

    In MY opinion, what technical efforts A. would PREVENT world-shaking consequences and B. IS clearly feasible?

    Preventing disaster caused by a major solar storm!

  63. dave chamberlin says:

    Here’s a hypothetical situation that happens in the near future.
    A country is going to use one or more of the hypothetical means mentioned above to skew the bell shaped curve of human intelligence so that ten percent of the next generation has an average IQ of 130. What happens to that country when those kids grow up and enter the work force ?

    To keep things simple this !0 percent of the population has the same bell shape curve with a standard deviation of 15 that naturally created children have and this hypothetical nation of Abomnia has an average IQ of 100.

    Now what happens to the next generation?
    Abomnia had 1 in 44 with an IQ over 130, now it has 1 in 5, a 9 fold increase.
    Abomnia had 1 in 740 with an IQ over 145, now it has 1 in 60, a 12 fold increase
    Abomnia had 1 in 33,000 with an IQ over 160, now it has 1 in 440, a 75 fold increase
    Abomnia had 1 in 3.5 million with an IQ over 175, now it has 1 in 7400, a 473 fold increase

    Don’t double check my math, It’s rough and It’s just an example, the point is if one country is able to genetically engineer higher intelligence of the next generation to this degree…..they will take off like a rocket in one generation.

    I am not predicting this will happen, I am only projecting what would happen if one country was able to genetically engineer higher intelligence, It would be incredibly impactful to their economy, their science, their world influence, everything. I am only saying if one country does succeed in doing this every other country has to follow suit or be hopelessly left behind. Or….there could be war.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      Math is off on all of them a bit but one a lot. With 10 percent given an average IQ of 130 it still means half of that average would be below 130 so the projected number of 1 in 5 is way off. The point is that genetic engineering of a markedly higher IQ of even a small percentage of the entire population would have a profound effect.

  64. MawBTS says:

    Greg has spoken about anti-aging efforts in the past.

    Sarah Constantin (a Lesswronger) has started something called the “Longevity Research Institute”.
    Apparently, the FDA doesn’t consider aging a disease, which means companies have little reason to focus on it in their R&D efforts. There’s a big backlog of substances which could potentially increase human lifespan, but have only been tested on small samples (or on rats). The LRI hopes to properly trial some of them.

  65. Harold says:

    I believe there are feasible experimental designs to prove racial differences in IQ; ‘Chuck’, I think, has written about them.

    Eric Turkheimer thinks such would have world shaking consequences, “If it is ever documented conclusively, the genetic inferiority of a race on a trait as important as intelligence will rank with the atomic bomb as the most destructive scientific discovery in human history”.

    Turkheimer has it backwards: it is the anti-scientific denial of racial differences that is destructive. Buildings built on shaky foundations are liable to fall down. Nor, contra the Turkheimers of the world, are the engineers who promised the inhabitants the building was on solid ground, good guys. They are scoundrels. They will be responsible for any death and destruction caused by the collapse.

    This was what was missing in the responses to the Turkheimer et al piece at Vox: a condemnation of their immorality.

    I can’t say I have any other good ideas. Unhackable computing infrastructure is feasible. Proof checkers can be built up checking themselves starting from a hand checked minimal core the correctness of which we can be as sure of as we can ever be sure of anything. A compiler can then be proven correct and used to compile an OS which is provably secure, and so on. It would be expensive, requiring a lot of hard work and time from some of the worlds best computer scientists and software engineers, who would have to be paid enough to be lured away from other jobs, but it would be a better use of money than the Iraq war.

    Would this have world shaking consequence? No. It wouldn’t cause a sharp divergence in history; the flow of events would go on as smoothly as otherwise, but they would diverge, becoming quite far apart, perhaps, from where they would have gone.

    We won’t get it, of course, we’ll just get a whole lot of cyberwarfare and data breaches that never needed to happen.

    Even more tangentially: I wonder about the feasibility of developing electronics and robotics that work saturated in water, that don’t require pockets of air (or other compressible fluid) to operate in. Atlantean tech, if you will.

    It might open up undersea-mining opportunities. And probably ruin the oceans in no time.

    • Esso says:

      Unhackable computing infrastructure

      I would be satisfied with a small piece of very simple and immutable hardware that can open encrypted messages and write signatures (paying bills, writing checks etc), with simple input and display devices. Maybe a barcode reader for the boomers, to make sure they pick it up.

      The design should be easily audited and minimize trust in the manufacturers. Are there ways of using FPGAs that don’t require trust in the chipmaker?

      Then some other device that can counteract traffic analysis, analogous to Tor.

      • Harold says:

        Don’t know much about hardware. I wish I could answer the FPGA question.

        I don’t even know how easy it would be for the government to have trusted fabs.

    • savantissimo says:

      “Neverwet” Superhydrophobic Spray

      Consumers can now buy the two cans (capable of treating 10 to 15 square feet) for $19.97 from Home Depot. Surfaces that the spray can be applied to include fabrics, wood, metal and plastics. The treatement consists of two coatings, each of which takes 30 minutes to dry. …
      NeverWet coatings creating a contact angle of between 160 and 175 degrees (by comparison, the non-stick coating on a Teflon pan is a 95 degrees contact angle). …
      A dramatic video by the company also demonstrates something unbelievable: a waterproof iPhone. A video shows an iPhone covered in NeverWet, sitting in a bowl of water for 30 minutes, remaining fully functional the entire time it is submerged.

    • Harold says:

      “They will be responsible for any death and destruction caused by the collapse.”
      …and if there is no collapse, with consequent death and destruction, they will still be responsible for the building budget being expended on shoring up the foundations; the opportunity cost that will leave us with a shoddy building much less than the grand edifice that might have been.

      To drop the metaphor: we might even end up with a civilisation unable to meet an existential crisis that it would have otherwise been able to.

      • Harold says:

        Um, ‘existential crisis’ may not have been the right term. Oops. Man would I feel foolish if anyone read the comments on older posts.

    • tommy says:

      I believe there are feasible experimental designs to prove racial differences in IQ; ‘Chuck’, I think, has written about them.

      Undoubtedly, but the fact that such experiments are feasible probably still won’t convince the naysayers and those who choose to ignore the evidence. What will likely be needed will be the correlation of genes to functional neurological mechanisms and structures and the correlation of such mechanisms and structures to testing outcomes. I suspect it will be a growing body of documented connections between genes brains test results real world outcomes that will truly make racial disparities hard to ignore.

  66. Harold says:

    Can someone tell me the significance of ‘Brooklyn’?

  67. archandsuperior says:

    Making a magnetic confinement tokamak or inertial confined fusion reactor that generates net power and is reusable is proving tricky.

    But suppose the widget that starts the self-sustained fusion chain reaction only needs to work once? Then you can use all sorts of exotic, high-power-density toys like explosively pumped flux compressors and Voitenko compressors. As long as we allow the fusion initiator to be disposable, it might bring the requisite power densities more in line with near-term capabilities.

    Actually meaningfully confining the angry D-T plasma is tricky, so let’s not bother with that either.

    There, congratulations, now you have an H-bomb that can be made without the need to enrich uranium or breed plutonium. All you need is deuterium (which is easy to suss out from water compared to uranium enrichment) and lithium. Release the plans for the explosive fusion initiator into the wild, and soon every country in the world can be a nuclear power on the cheap! Very likely without alerting their neighbors to what they are doing!

    …You didn’t say that they had to be good world-shaking consequences.

  68. Glengarry says:

    How about a big, beautiful wall?

  69. Glengarry says:

    A replacement for CMOS that scales for, say, 30 more years would be nice.

  70. Project Orion Or Bust says:

    Project Orion.

    That is all. Let’s get it done before Freeman Dyson passes way.

    He (and I) would both die happy men!

  71. dlr says:

    controllable solar ‘shade’ tiles in space. With one side silvered. Remotely controllable, rotatable. These can be used to shade the tropical latitudes (silvered backs to the sun on whatever portion of the tiles will optimize the temperature in the tropics, the rest of them rotated 90% to let the rest of the sunlight through). Downside on this will be lots of argument on what is optimal temperature in the tropics. If I got to vote I’d say, 70 degrees, tops on sunny days, but opinions might differ.

    Another set of tiles to decrease deltas between summer and winter temperatures in the temperate zone: deflect some sunlight straight back towards the sun when it is too hot in the summer, deflect sunlight into the temperate zone during the winter : plenty of it around just set up some tiles to capture some of the vast quantities of sunlight that stream past us. Make places like Minnesota habitable in the winter, and places like Houston habitable in the summer. Eliminate 90% of all human artificial heating and cooling needs. Depending on preferences you could have basically eternal springtime all through the region, or very mild seasons.

    A third set of tiles deflecting sunlight onto the poles to warm up the polar regions to temperate zone levels. Upside, the whole earth is now habitable for human beings. Downside, oceans up 200 feet as all the glaciers on Greenland and Antartica melt. Plus, lots of concerns about methane being released as the permafrost melts and the arctic ocean warms. I’d guess the methane would be much less of a concern with solar shielding levels customizable at will over the entire planet. The increased depth of the ocean could be partially, offset by aggressive fresh water reclamation : Greenland glacier runoff being used to recharge the Ogallala aquifer in the plains states in the US, and greening the American SW/Mexico/Sahara/Central Asia/Australian Outback/etc through irrigation using either glacier run-off or desalinization (water locked up in vegetation is not in the ocean).

    An alternative that would be much more feasible would be to only warm the North Pole and leave the south pole for later when technology has improved. If we just warmed the North Pole, we’d get all of Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, northern Scandinavia and Finland, as valuable real estate, just for the price of dealing with Greenland’s glaciers. Just to get a flavor of the delta, Canada is bigger in size than the US (including Alaska), but currently has about 10% of the population, due to its adverse climate.

  72. jstorrshall says:

    Do nanotechnology the way Feynman suggested in 1960 :

  73. Nuclear powered piston engines.

    Imagine a piston engine in which the cylinders are the size of the Vehicle Assembly Building and the spark plugs are replaced by nuclear bombs.

  74. VelveteenAmbush says:

    Cooking up a thousand or two clones of John Von Neumann and others of his approximate caliber.

  75. Martin L. says:

    –NEW ANTIBIOTICS. If antibiotic-resistant bacteria aren’t a mortal threat to the existence of our species I don’t know what is.
    –A proper grasp of what cancer truly is. (My hunch is that it is a prion-type semi-infectious disease, not “bad cells gone rogue” like The Cathedral still preaches to us day in and day out.)
    –Meaningful anti-aging tech for people who already exist.
    –An Automatic Basic Income for life for anyone who agrees to a (free) permanent sterilization.

  76. tommy says:

    I really don’t know. There are the usual candidates, like say, quantum this-or-that, programmable matter, room-temperature superconductors or metamaterials. Obviously, a significant increase in human longevity would radically alter the whole nature of society.

    I can think of hundreds of things that might be feasible and might have a minor to major impact on society such as:

    Easily reversible sterility agents
    Inexpensive algae-based biofuels, even if such biofuels merely put a relatively low ceiling on top petro prices
    Diffuse, middleman-free long-distance telecommunications networks w/ a low cost of entry
    A chemical equivalent of 3D printing: begin looking for a way to generate complex organic compounds or hundreds of them at once in small quantities for research purposes on the fly
    Materials science: just define several thousand hypothetical materials that have interesting properties or combinations of properties that you’d like to see for strictly novelty purposes and start trying to manufacture them (preferably finding multiple ways to achieve the same effect)–useful applications will likely emerge here and there later; the advancement in materials design in and of itself will likely prove worthwhile over time

    Somebody I talked to today mentioned electronic currencies. I couldn’t help but think it sure would be nice if we had currencies whose mining could be used to solve computationally intensive mathematical, logical, scientific or engineering problems rather than mining for no real end.

    • albatross says:

      If you weren’t careful, you’d run out of whatever worthwhile problem–there’s more demand for money than for, say, simulations of protein folding.

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