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

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Sat Jul 9 15:26:20 UTC 2016

Here is another list, http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/challenges.aspx

These are unranked according to someone I have corresponded with at
the National Academe of Engineering.

Advance Personalized Learning

A growing appreciation of individual preferences and aptitudes has led
toward more “personalized learning,” in which instruction is tailored
to a student’s individual needs. Given the diversity of individual
preferences, and the complexity of each human brain, developing
teaching methods that optimize learning will require engineering
solutions of the future.

Make Solar Energy Economical

Currently, solar energy provides less than 1 percent of the world's
total energy, but it has the potential to provide much, much more.

Enhance Virtual Reality

Within many specialized fields, from psychiatry to education, virtual
reality is becoming a powerful new tool for training practitioners and
treating patients, in addition to its growing use in various forms of

Reverse-Engineer the Brain

A lot of research has been focused on creating thinking
machines—computers capable of emulating human intelligence— however,
reverse-engineering the brain could have multiple impacts that go far
beyond artificial intelligence and will promise great advances in
health care, manufacturing, and communication.

Engineer Better Medicines

Engineering can enable the development of new systems to use genetic
information, sense small changes in the body, assess new drugs, and
deliver vaccines to provide health care directly tailored to each

Advance Health Informatics

As computers have become available for all aspects of human endeavors,
there is now a consensus that a systematic approach to health
informatics - the acquisition, management, and use of information in
health - can greatly enhance the quality and efficiency of medical
care and the response to widespread public health emergencies.

Restore and Improve Urban Infrastructure

Infrastructure is the combination of fundamental systems that support
a community, region, or country. Society faces the formidable
challenge of modernizing the fundamental structures that will support
our civilization in centuries ahead.

Secure Cyberspace

Computer systems are involved in the management of almost all areas of
our lives; from electronic communications, and data systems, to
controlling traffic lights to routing airplanes. It is clear that
engineering needs to develop innovations for addressing a long list of
cybersecurity priorities

Provide Access to Clean Water

The world's water supplies are facing new threats; affordable,
advanced technologies could make a difference for millions of people
around the world.

Provide Energy from Fusion

Human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale. The
challenge is to scale up the process to commercial proportions, in an
efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.

Prevent Nuclear Terror

The need for technologies to prevent and respond to a nuclear attack is growing.

Manage the Nitrogen Cycle

Engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better
fertilization technologies and by capturing and recycling waste.

Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods

Engineers are working on ways to capture and store excess carbon
dioxide to prevent global warming.

Engineer the Tools of Scientific Discovery

In the century ahead, engineers will continue to be partners with
scientists in the great quest for understanding many unanswered
questions of natur

On Sat, Jul 9, 2016 at 6:36 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
> 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 solved.
> 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.
> Evaluations
> 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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