Inspired by Nat Friedman’s tweet asking people about the future technology they’re excited about, I put a list of unsolved problems I think are huge. I believe it’s great to discuss important unsolved problems in the world so that ambitious young people who are looking for problems to educate themselves about have a resource to refer to.
In the future, I think I should add my unique take on each problem — like current challenges, what people in the field are trying to build, what could work, etc. But for now, here’s a rough list of problems or areas where humanity needs to make progress:
- Lack of understanding of how the brain (and the nervous system) works and communicates. A deeper understanding would lead to tools for augmentation and enhancement. Current technologies for “reading the brain” like EEG (which is like sticking voltmeters to the brain for recording electrical activity and finding patterns in the data) are very limited in their use.
- Life Extension. Some common arguments against longevity are:
a) Philosophical: “The rush of passing time gives people meaning. Life is short because it’s meant to be….”
I typically don’t argue with people on their beliefs (I argue about facts and data) because I’ve come to realize that most disagreement arises from a difference in fundamental axioms that one believes in. But for me, a longer and healthier lifespan sounds exciting, because I can spend more time pursuing my intellectual interests 🙂
If you’re up for changing your opinion, check out the comments on this tweet.
b) Economic: “If people live 1000 times longer, then we’d need 1000 times more resources!”
I heard someone say this at SynBioBeta this year. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe that longer living humans benefit societies more because they’ve already attained an education and have accumulated work experience, unlike “untrained” new humans. More humans results in more time spent producing goods.
But how will we accommodate if people live so long? Taller buildings and efficient transportation to minimize waste of space! Smarter humans will figure out.As for the science, my roommate and good friend Laura Deming, who’s an investor in longevity companies wrote an excellent guide on the longevity science which I highly recommend you to read.
- Automation. Autonomous vehicles and automation of repetitive tasks currently performed by humans.
I once had a chat with an engineer at Aurora and I asked if getting self-driving cars to the road is a technical or regulatory challenge. He said both. But mostly a technical challenge in getting cars to drive on the same road with human drivers where you can’t make predictions.
Boston Dynamics is working on useful robots. But we’re quite far from affordable robots that do tasks like cleaning (Roomba is cute, but not very useful), cooking, and other chores.
- Better and more efficient governments, systems for managing and governing people, etc. Why is such a large portion of the world miserable, starving, and unproductive? How can we do make it possible for a larger number of people to live a better quality of life and contribute to the economy?
Why should you care? Here’s a great explanation for why it’s in your best interests if everyone on earth is better off.
- Gene-editing to augment our default selves. If brain-computer interfaces can augment our intellectual abilities, we might use some gene-editing techniques like CRISPR to augment our physical abilities! Learn more about CRISPR from these excellent explanations: https://youtu.be/0KZmCF3GezM and https://youtu.be/BFdINWL6Hao
- A better understanding of biology. A lot of literature on biology is just memorization of facts, unlike physics and chemistry, where there are fundamental laws and scientific theories that answer the why’s and how’s. If we can gain a deeper understanding of living things, we can cure or prevent diseases, augment ourselves, understand sleep and nutrition, and more!
- Space exploration and understanding more about the universe.
- Faster, cheaper, portable, and easier to learn to use way of transporting. Do we need flying cars if we can efficiently manage space on the ground?
- Food. Decreasing waste and increasing crop yield. This project by three teenage Irish girls looks promising to me!
- Better tools for managing information for people in all professions and of all intellectual interests. As a science lover, I’m bombarded with 1000s of research papers on brain-computer interfaces I could read. What do I choose to read? Perhaps, a more personalized Internet?
I’ll update the list with more!
Update: Have a look at this amazing list on Wikipedia.
If you have any suggestions or feedback, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! 🙂