[ExI] What are among the world's most important problems to solve, why?

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat Jul 9 13:36:50 UTC 2016

Thinking about what is most important is actually one of the more 
important parts of my job :-) However, there is a difference between 
something that is intrinsically valuable and important to strive for 
(say finding and doing The Meaning of Life) and what you should be 
prioritizing *right now* (like getting out of the way of a speeding car, 
or reducing existential risk).

Nick Bostrom's "little theory of problems" puts it nicely:

  * There are many problems in the world. Not all of them ought to be
  * Important problems are those for which the value of a solution is
    either large and positive or large and negative.
  * Not all important problems ought to be solved.
  * We can distinguish positive-value problems (some of which are
    high-value, others low-value) from negative-value problems.
  * Not all important positive-value problems ought to be addressed.
  * Elastic problems are those whose solution can be found significantly
    sooner with one extra unit of effort.
  * We ought to address high-value high-elasticity problems.
  * “Discoveries” are acts that move the arrival of some information
    from a later point in time to an earlier point in time.
  * The value of a discovery does not equal the value of the solution
    discovered. The value of a discovery equals the value of having the
    solution moved from the later time at it would otherwise have
    arrived to the time of the discovery.

― Nick Bostrom

So, of the problems at the Infinity Project, which ones are high-value 
high-elasticity problems where we benefit from getting the result early?

Below, I went through a few pages of problems (so this is not complete) 
and gave a quick-and-dirty evaluation on this based on my views. If we 
then regard "low=1", "moderate=2" and "high=3" and multiply them 
together we can get a rough prioritization. So my top choices would be 
superintelligence, pandemics, electronics risk and life extension, 
followed by world hunger, academic papers, getting to LEO and safe cars.


No-suffering economic system: moderate value, low elasticity, low 
benefit early arrival: 2

Safe cars: moderate+ value, high elasticity, moderate early arrival: 12

Bacterial computer: low, moderate, low: 2

Transparency: moderate, low, low: 2

Risk adjustment: moderate, moderate, moderate: 8

Superintelligence: high, moderate, high: 18

Life extension: high, moderate, low/high (depending on whether you count 
your utility): 12,18

Mind recovery: high, low, low: 3

World hunger: high, moderate, moderate: 12

Conference collection: low -, high, moderate: 6

Content reusability: low, moderate, low: 2

Cryoprotectant: low, moderate, moderate: 4

Incentivizing breakthroughs: moderate, moderate, moderate: 8

Realising potential: moderate, low, low: 2

Track personal energy: low, high, low: 3

Schizophrenia: moderate, low, low: 2

Realizing ideas: low, low, low: 1

Understanding: low, low, low: 1

Brain preservation: moderate, moderate, moderate: 8

Academic papers: moderate, high, moderate: 12

Wild animal suffering: high, low, moderate: 6

Sharing code: low, high, low: 3

Filmmaking: low, low, low: 1

Synchronization: low, high, low: 3

GRBs: low, low, low: 1 (GRBs are very rare)

Climate change: moderate, moderate, moderate: 8

LEO: high, moderate, moderate: 12

Electronics risk: moderate, high, high: 18

Superintelligence: high, moderate, high: 18

Pandemic: high, moderate, high: 18

Waits: low, moderate, low: 2

Brain health: low, high, low: 3

Book writing: low, moderate, low: 2

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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