I’d have said AI safety, but it’s already on your list. Excellent.
I’d also have said basic income. Good to know you’re on it.
Meta-research. Academic publishing is obsolete, and knowledge should not be paywalled. How many researchers already make use of https://www.reddit.com/r/scholar or http://sci-hub.io/?
Bacteriophages. Antibiotics are running out, while phages have been tested by the Soviets, and are available as an over-the-counter treatment in certain countries.
Open-source infrastructure. How many ‘unicorns’ were only possible because of years of prior volunteer work? See @nayafia’s recent post: https://medium.com/@nayafia/how-i-stumbled-upon-the-internet...
Feynman’s and Drexler’s molecular nanotechnology. Smalley muddied the waters, and the National Research Council dropped the ball. We can do better than just nanoelectronics.
See also “Ask PG: What Is The Most Frighteningly Ambitious Idea You Have Been Pitched On?”, paying attention to the Yudkowsky Ambition scale: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4509934
I think focusing on extended lifespan misses the point though (although it's a nice side benefit).
The diseases of old age cause more suffering than everything else combined.
Seeing people I love deteriorate to a state of constant suffering is unbearable to watch. Seeing signs of ageing in myself hammers home just how helpless I am to do anything.
I don't understand why AI safety gets more attention. We're already facing our own personal dissolution from natural causes -- a real and tangible existential threat which is already claiming people in the most torturous ways possible. To be brutally honest, I'd rather die quickly in an AI takeover than suffer decades of chronic pain and dementia... and one of these scenarios seems a lot more likely than the other.
Let's get real, take responsibility, and do something about ageing.
If you're looking for medical miracles, this is a very plausible place to find them.
The "existential risk" talk tends to assume, to start with, that some wonderful, incredibly happy and nice "intergalactic civilization" of future transhumans or posthumans will exist, unless existential risks "destroy" it "in embryo" in our near-term future. Given the incredible prior improbability of intergalactic utopias, there's basically no reason to take the thought-experiment at its word or to value a particularly improbable imagined far-future over the actually-existing present and very likely near-futures.
Can you cite such a person? I've read quite a few folks concerned with existential risk, and never saw this assumption before.
Solving AI would allow us to fix ageing, but only if we get it right. Please watch Bostrom’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/nick_bostrom_what_happens_when_our...
AI safety is not relevant to exploiting technology to ameliorate senescence.
Absent immediate focussed direct efforts in ameliorating senescence, by the time there is a level of AI technology which can make a dent in medical progress, at least a billion, probably many billion, people will have suffered and died who might otherwise have avoided that fate. And the loss of their productivity will impoverish the survivors - and so cause AI progress to suffer.
To expand upon this, it's not just publishing papers behind paywalls that is the problem. The entire system we use to advance humanities shared knowledge is broken. The Internet enables a dramatically more efficient model of scientific collaboration. The problem is academic science has been stuck with a reward system from the 17th century. And quite simply, it does not reward what we want it to reward anymore. However, there is a solution: science funders can distribute their money in a way that creates a very different set of incentives. Sadly, almost all science funders are very conservative organizations. YC Research can play a critical role in catalyzing a transition to an Internet-native model of research. My startup, Thinklab, wants to help. We're a service that helps science funders reward participation in a massively collaborative open online model of research.
Just in my own field of biology, the amount of progress we have made in understanding how cells regulate themselves (20 year ago we were still teaching DNA->RNA->PROTEINS that do stuff), how immune systems function and can be used (stem cell therapy, cancer treatments, HIV drugs) and the flow of genetic information between organisms (the advance of (whole) genome sequencing into becoming a generic tool) has been mind-boggling.
Okay, can you elaborate on why?
Do we? Or do we need more realistic perspective about death? Why quantity over quality?
Seems there's a lot of quality improvements that could be made . For instance, I read recently (can't recall source) that San Fransisco's homeless is the least happy in the world. Also that the top 1% in the world make over $35K a year, but there are far happier people than exist in middle America living in poverty . Looking at populations that are happier - but in poverty - is perhaps an interesting study. Imagine a cross disciplinary study between (perhaps) techniques used in epidemiology/health informatics & anthropology / the humanities.
 Notice that cancer, heart-disease, Alzheimer, etc research also falls into this category - allowing people to live with less suffering.
 Yeah, 3 assertions, no sources, sorry - just my word & unreliable memory of something someone said in a book once folks :)
We do: we need to realize how horrible it is that we treat it so casually, rather than as a tragedy. Perhaps then we'll do something about it.
>  Notice that cancer, heart-disease, Alzheimer, etc research also falls into this category - allowing people to live with less suffering.
All three of which (especially the first and last) have heavy ties to aging. It isn't just about living longer; it's about not aging. We're not talking about getting a few more decades like those in your 90s; we're talking about getting a few more centuries like those in your 30s-40s. (And hopefully that will buy us enough time for the next such improvement, and the next.)
Being against death reveals a profound misunderstanding about what life is about, which is: finiteness, urgency, novelty, creativity.
We don't need room for new people with new ideas, room isn't the issue: as far as we know so far, the Universe is virtually infinite. When we come around to defeating death (it's bound to eventually happen) we'll start terraforming, doing generation-ships to reach even further, and the rate of growth of human knowledge will reach an even more unimaginably fast pace.
And then we existentially argue "Does any of it matter?" :)
You're seeing it as the key to suffering, but its equally reasonable to view it as what it will likely become - an instrument of power.
Congratulations: you've managed to point out one of the very, very few nice things about having your body slowly but unstoppably degrade for six decades starting in your mid-20s.
This is a classic example of a limited rationalised mindset. Imagine how much more enriched people lives would be if they got to know their great grandparents and more. Death is a tragedy, there is nothing stopping you and others who share your beliefs from ending life at any moment they want. This is about options, think about the potential -- it would change society is so many ways.
Something I've been thinking about for a while is: what would it mean for peoples' willingness to save another person from a burning building, or swim to rescue someone drowning at sea, or donate a kidney, etc, if we all developed a sense of entitlement that we should be able to live forever?
When so many people at all levels of society are unable to enjoy the lives they have, I feel that life extension research is not something that should be a high priority for investment.
I would gladly sacrifice my life to prevent the rest of the species suffering the physical agony, mental degeneration, poverty, frustration, and violence which result from pandemic senescence.
Your moralizing aesthetic judgements do not justify the misery of billions of people, or inaction in the face of its preventable imminence.
We've been extending our lifespan for the last century through various technological advances. We are just continuing that trajectory, albeit at a faster pace.
This is a really great scifi short story that is kinda relevant to this: http://www.skyhunter.com/marcs/GentleSeduction.html
How would people remember everything?
How would you spend all that time?
What would everyone do?
Is this just for rich people or do poor people get to live for centuries too?
Haven't done the math but if 8 billion people lived for say 500 years each, plus new arrivals constantly, wouldn't we accumulate rather?
What about fertility? Should there be a window on that?
"centuries" is far too short-term; "forever" is the goal, and "centuries" just buys enough time to get there. And of course that lifespan should be available to everyone. If the solution itself doesn't already imply a post-scarcity world, then it'll help that once you have a cure for aging, it's more economical to supply that to everyone than to treat the myriad complications that arise from aging. It's hard to get people to fund such a cure, but it seems far simpler to get funding for "we have a proven cure, let's get it to everyone".
> How would people remember everything?
In the short term, curing aging seems likely to help greatly with many degenerative mental disorders. In the long term, I expect people will find increasingly successful ways to augment their own capabilities. I doubt I'll have the same brain structure a hundred thousand years from now that I do today, if only because I expect we'll eventually run out of effective ways to debug biology in-place.
> How would you spend all that time? What would everyone do?
What wouldn't everyone do? I don't have a finite "bucket list"; my list contains everything positive I can possibly imagine, with a sort order applied, and it will always grow faster than it shrinks. Quite apart from the rest of the universe, other people provide an unbounded source of novelty.
Do you think people thousands of years ago would have asked such questions about a 120-year lifespan, and think it sounded too long?
If you lived for ten thousand years by default, would you think it too long and decide to die at 120? How about if you lived indefinitely?
> "centuries" is far too short-term; "forever" is the goal, and "centuries" just buys enough time to get there. And of course that lifespan should be available to everyone. If the solution itself doesn't already imply a post-scarcity world, then it'll help that once you have a cure for aging, it's more economical to supply that to everyone than to treat the myriad complications that arise from aging. It's hard to get people to fund such a cure, but it seems far simpler to get funding for "we have a proven cure, let's get it to everyone".
You do know that every culture, since the beginning of time, has thought that they would live to be immortal in their lifetime. What makes you think you're different? Sure, you might have a better chance, but it's still a slim chance. Pining for a cure to aging rather than living your life is a sad way to spend something as short and precious as your life.
> > How would people remember everything?
> In the short term, curing aging seems likely to help greatly with many degenerative mental disorders. In the long term, I expect people will find increasingly successful ways to augment their own capabilities. I doubt I'll have the same brain structure a hundred thousand years from now that I do today, if only because I expect we'll eventually run out of effective ways to debug biology in-place.
> > How would you spend all that time? What would everyone do?
> What wouldn't everyone do? I don't have a finite "bucket list"; my list contains everything positive I can possibly imagine, with a sort order applied, and it will always grow faster than it shrinks. Quite apart from the rest of the universe, other people provide an unbounded source of novelty.
I don't think so. Wanting to live forever is a childish thing, it's a fear of death mixed with a type of greed. Actually living forever would be a greater hell than anything I can imagine. After the first few hundred years, when you realise that it's never going to end, after you've read every book and done all you've wanted to do, what then?
> Do you think people thousands of years ago would have asked such questions about a 120-year lifespan, and think it sounded too long?
No, because the maximum lifespan of a human hasn't fundamentally changed. The only difference is that more people are living to old age.
A slim chance is infinitely better than no chance at all. How many cultures had even the remotest chance of actually doing something about it?
And no, I'm not certain it'll happen in my lifetime. I'd say that I'd be sad and disappointed if that didn't happen, but really if that doesn't happen then I won't be anything at all. But I still consider it by far the most important problem that could possibly be solved, and worth putting incredible effort and resources towards. I also consider it worth advocating, to encourage others to push for the same goal, or at the very least discourage others from perpetuating arguments that shut down such efforts.
> Actually living forever would be a greater hell than anything I can imagine.
Then don't. But I'd suggest trying it first, or significantly expanding your imagination.
> After the first few hundred years, when you realise that it's never going to end, after you've read every book and done all you've wanted to do, what then?
With all the imagination you can bring to bear, and a universe full of possibilities, you can only think of a few hundred years worth of things to do before you'd not only get bored but get so bored you'd long for death?
To give even a minimal lower bound based on your own comment, books and stories are already being written today faster than they can be read. And that's only one of myriad possibilities. A few minutes imagination can easily produce far more interesting ones.
Do you currently get bored with life and want it to end? If not, then why do you expect that to change in only a few hundred years?
> A slim chance is infinitely better than no chance at all. How many cultures had even the remotest chance of actually doing something about it?
None, and we're no different. Why would we be?
> And no, I'm not certain it'll happen in my lifetime. I'd say that I'd be sad and disappointed if that didn't happen,
Well, no. You'll be dead. Dead people aren't disappointed.
> I also consider it worth advocating, to encourage others to push for the same goal, or at the very least discourage others from perpetuating arguments that shut down such efforts.
I don't agree that it's worth advocating. Yes, curing diseases and other such things is a worthwhile goal. But the goal of living forever is just selfish. Note that children couldn't exist in a world where people live forever (otherwise we'd run out of resources even faster than we are now).
> > Actually living forever would be a greater hell than anything I can imagine.
> Then don't. But I'd suggest trying it first, or significantly expanding your imagination.
I have a very vivid imagination. That's how I came to that conclusion. Also, how can I "try it"?
> > After the first few hundred years, when you realise that it's never going to end, after you've read every book and done all you've wanted to do, what then?
> With all the imagination you can bring to bear, and a universe full of possibilities, you can only think of a few hundred years worth of things to do before you'd not only get bored but get so bored you'd long for death?
Yes. Why do you think any differently? Evolution has placed a cap on our lifespan, because living longer than that wasn't better for our species. Have you considered that? Why do you think we'd be able to contribute anything meaningful to the world after we are 80 years old? Aside from helping younger generations (which don't exist in your world), we have nothing left to do.
More than 98% of people who ever lived are dead. It's incredibly arrogant (and akin to a tantruming child) to assume that you will survive.
> To give even a minimal lower bound based on your own comment, books and stories are already being written today faster than they can be read. And that's only one of myriad possibilities. A few minutes imagination can easily produce far more interesting ones.
I'm a scientist (as well as programmer). So I can imagine spending several hundred years trying to solve all of the scientific problems that exist. But after a few hundred years, I'll definitely get bored of that. So, I'll have to move on to something else.
> Do you currently get bored with life and want it to end? If not, then why do you expect that to change in only a few hundred years?
No. But that doesn't mean I won't get bored of it eventually. Not to mention that I can see myself being bored with <things I'm interested in now>, and no doubt I'll eventually get bored of all of the things that make me a productive member of society. At that point, I'm a drain on the world's resources. What benefit is there to keeping me alive?
LOL that is for sure. It'll be dirt within 1/1000 of that time.
As for how that might affect psychology: honestly, I'd love to see how the world might change if people adopted drastically different attitudes towards death, but I don't think it likely that this would produce far more risk aversion than we have today. Not least of which because I see no signs of tobacco companies going out of business.
For myself personally, I'm not going to stop leaving the house, but I certainly have no intention of taking up hobbies like hang gliding or motorcycle racing, any more than I plan to start smoking. (Side note: for an interesting measure of risk, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromort) I don't think that level of risk aversion qualifies as "a pretty frightened bunch not leaving home much".
Also the fact that life is only a fleeting moment in time is beautiful and again, I believe necessary.
People have done the modeling on what radical life span does to population growth. The answer is a lot less than you think. See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3192186/ "For example, we applied the cohort-component method of population projections to 2005 Swedish population for several scenarios of life extension and a fertility schedule observed in 2005. Even for very long 100-year projection horizon, with the most radical life extension scenario (assuming no aging at all after age 60), the total population increases by 22% only (from 9.1 to 11.0 million)."
Most of the objections of the type that you voice can be answered by moving you to 1850 and making the same objections to the progress of medicine, and then seeing that they are obviously false concerns given where we are today. You could argue in 1920 that the same objections exist to building treatments that prevent people dying from heart disease: isn't it just for rich people, won't there be too many people if the old don't die on time, what would they do with all those extra years, isn't the present length of life just right, etc, etc.
Why not? Veterinaries would love novel approaches. Plus the pre-research is always carried in animals.
You should ask Google's Director of Engineering (Ray Kurzweil) about that. Hint: within 25-30 years your brain could have x1000 capacity via cloud computing (mobile + brain-cloud interfaces).
> Is this just for rich people or do poor people get to live for centuries too?
Your questions are quite common and have been answered hundreds of times in any of the SENS presentations. Answer: humanity as a whole will benefit from this research.
> Haven't done the math but if 8 billion people lived for say 500 years each, plus new arrivals constantly, wouldn't we accumulate rather?
The fact that we live twice as long, and we have duplicated the human lifespan in the last 100 years (in the western world), but now we have less natality tells you something? Overpopulation comes from the 3rd world and decreases as a country starts to develop...
> What about fertility? Should there be a window on that?
Ask Apple or Facebook why they are offering female employees to freeze their eggs for $20k...
I see many atheists carry on religious memes after they deconvert. Which is only natural, religion isn't just a single idea, it's deeply ingrained into our culture. One of those memes is that death is natural and ok. Which, if you believe in religion, it absolutely is. It's the way things are supposed to be according to a trustworthy higher power. There is a life afterwards that makes it all ok. People don't really "die", they just go to a different place.
I don't see anything ok about true death. It's natural, sure, but there's no law that says nature has to be good. We are the product of an uncaring universe and plenty of bad things exist that shouldn't. Death is one of those things.
So I came to the idea that if Heaven didn't really exist, we should build it. I was quite young at the time and influenced by science fiction. I thought that maybe future humans could invent time travel and come back in time and save people who died.
I've since come to the conclusion that time travel is very unlikely to be physically possible in our universe. But other advanced technologies, like curing aging, are certainly not. Perhaps even within our reach. And if backwards time travel might be impossible, we have invented a way to do forwards time travel with cryonics.
To be clear, this is pretty untrue of Christianity, the dominant religion in Western civilization, so I'm constantly puzzled about this claim. (HPMOR makes the same claim.) The central story of Christianity is that God takes human form, dies, and cannot stay dead. If it were just "Jesus died for our sins", there would be no need for a resurrection story; his followers would have had way more credibility saying merely that he was killed, which is far more objectively verifiable.
From 1 Corinthians: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (which, incidentally, comes up in canon HP), and, quoting the prophets: "When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'" From Revelation, also quoting Isaiah: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." From a 1500-year-old hymn: "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death."
Death is an enemy; death is not good, and should not exist. Perhaps other religions disagree, but Christians and atheists should be able to agree on this basic fact.
A species is basically self perpetuating genetic code stuck somewhere in an evolutionary local maxima. In our case there may be an advantage in adaptability by having individuals die and genetic code mix/change more frequently.
This still sucks and if we could figure out how the brain actually worked to prevent it that would be cool, but we'd start getting into identity issues (what makes you you? how does consciousness actually work?).
Sleep is interesting to think about here since it likely has something to do with re-calculating weights in a neural net, garbage collection, persisting memories etc. Though we don't consider going to sleep dying and waking up new because of the sense of continuity. If a copy of you was made and the original then killed though we wouldn't like that.
Sense of purpose difficulties still exist in our relatively brief lifespans, but at least we get an easy out with the biological one - we'd have to think more about this with death out of the way. Also the drive to have sex and reproduce would probably still be around since it's core to our existence, not sure how we deal with that.
Though I'd still prefer a star trek future where we're colonizing the galaxy and the goal is to learn.
Mostly rambling thoughts.
Evolution works at the level of genes. Genes that cause more copies of themselves to spread will spread. Even to the detriment of the group or the species.
An organism that lives longer will have time to have more offspring, and those offspring will carry it's longer living genes. An organism that lives shorter will have fewer offspring, and so fewer organisms will carry it's genes. Very rapidly these genes would be selected for or against.
A simple alternative explanation is just that evolution doesn't care. 90% of organisms will die of other causes long before they reach old age. Evolution will end up devoting almost all of it's resources on improving survival rates there, and none on fighting aging.
>This still sucks and if we could figure out how the brain actually worked to prevent it that would be cool, but we'd start getting into identity issues (what makes you you? how does consciousness actually work?).
Identity Isn't In Specific Atoms: http://lesswrong.com/lw/pm/identity_isnt_in_specific_atoms/
Heaven did exist, and our ancestors destroyed it; it was the Caribbean, and its inhabitants were all killed and/or enslaved to build... churches.
That’s a false dichotomy. Please disregard my one-liner, and watch one of de Grey’s talks instead — or read his “When Quality and Quantity Do Not Compete”:
Of course not! Why should you ever want to die? Why should you ever "get over" that?
It's a bug. We haven't fixed it yet. It should not be romanticized, and it should most certainly not be treated as inevitable. It's an abomination we have yet to eliminate.
What life never dies?
What non-living thing does not change?
For humans (or at least for me), I think the main concern is really more of continuity of experience than maintaining a particular body configuration indefinitely. I.e. I would like to run into an old friend in 10,000 years and reminisce about that time we did something hilarious. It wouldn't be very satisfying to undergo a procedure that resets my body but wipes out my memories in the process.
We whipe out memories every day. Your memory of your childhood is a half imagined highlight reel of moments. If you lived 10,000 years, you might only have a couple moments left from this century.
Do you think of degenerative mental disorders as inevitable? Or do you think humans can cure them someday?
I don't think of death as inevitable. I think of it as something humans can cure someday. Thinking of it as inevitable means giving up on all possible solutions.
> Do you think of degenerative mental disorders as inevitable?
Change, and thus, death, is inevitable. Also, if you want to prolong you then you are the result of countless deaths.
Lack of change seems closer to death than change does.
But in any case, whatever definition of death you've used doesn't seem to relate in any way to the ones that people in this discussion have advocated eliminating.
I mean the thing that everybody else means: ie "pushing up daisies", "feeding earthworms", "to dust", etc
If I understand this differently, then it's this perspective I am offering :)
If you 'survive' (say every cell is replaced) then what is "you"? I'd say it's more likely to be a set of linguistic & cultural norms than it is to be anything fundamental from the view point of physics.
So that raises the point: is 'you' conceptual or is there anything fundamental? It makes sense for evolution to have selected for organisms to believe there was, no matter what, something fundamental, existant & worth preserving about them, but really - we're this group of cells & the plants we ate for breakfast (and the efforts of the farmer of those plants and so on)
Of course, as a "manner of speaking" (that is, in common every day culturally contingent world), all this is bogus.
But from a fundamental, naturalistic point of view, I don't see anywhere else to go :) It's also a very parsimonious view as you get to explain a lot of stuff with less entities, etc :)
> Do we?
Yes, we do. Categorically. If you would prefer to die, then speak for yourself.
And of course, no one wants a longer life if they're miserable. We need to solve poverty as well.
Wanting more lifespan is a different thing. The claim that most people want to live longer is not as controversial as the claim that most people need to live longer.
Senescence and death costs the species and the planet a horrible price in lost productivity, social conflict, medical costs, human desperation and suffering. Even if you don't want to live beyond some fixed span, if you want to impose suffering and death upon others...well, I don't even...
If you can’t spare an hour, please watch Rosling’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_shows_the_best_stats_...
Since permanent growth comes from fertility and as "Don't Panic" shows we're getting to a sustainable average of 2 child per woman, augmenting our lifespan will only increase our maximum population, not our population growth.
However I think YC research would be better spent trying to find better ways to fight climate change, world stability and/or lift billions out of poverty. This way if we ever augment lifespans in a significant way it will be available to more people and in a healthier world. Also lifting billions out of great poverty will have the added benefit of allowing more minds to work on issues like increasing life expectancy.
Also, we should really focus on getting people on board with the life-preserving tech that currently exists (medicine, water treatment, doctor training, etc) before developing new (and potentially expensive) tech that will only widen the gap between what the rich can do that the poor can only dream of.
More importantly, "near-infinite" lifespans reduce the efficacy of natural selection — longer-living organisms evolve at a slower rate. While, perhaps, unappealing, the culling of species members well past reproductive age is necessary to allow for more resources and potential for competition and selection in their offspring. And humans are certainly still undergoing natural selection in many arenas; just look at sickle cell trait  or or CCR5-Δ32 .
Death is a feature, not a bug.
Reminds me of Seneca's De Brevitate Vitae, an essay about (as the title suggests) the shortness of life. He argues that what matters is not how long one lives, but what he accomplishes and/or how "well" he lives.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Brevitate_Vitae_(Seneca) (english translation in External links, worth a read if you have some spare time)
We can work towards both quality and quantity. That is the point of technology, to make everything better, to remove limits, to enable the human condition to be more than it was before, to give us choice where there was no choice. The choice to fly, to talk to distant people, to be healthy, to live rather than to die before we want to.
But, why? Nothing about "AI safety" is remotely useful. It would be like researching "alcohol safety" (something everybody has access to and nobody can restrict) or researching how ants can influence "human safety" (tiny things trying to influence massive things). It's nonsense no matter which way you think about it unless you just want to write SF novels.
Sadly, we don't need "research" to study how it works, we need direct payments to contributors. As a "startup culture" we need to stop the trend of billion dollar companies using free open source labor to reduce corporate costs and boost corporate profits while paying highly skilled professional volunteers nothing.
A key part of _research_ is you need to have a plan of attack. Saying "We're going to fund research into antigravity, time travel, and zero point energy" sure sounds like fun, but it's an absolute waste of time.
This is a problem of ancient outdated patent and copyright law, not scientific innovation. Its in the field of politics since the industry is entirely built on state enforced IP legislation.
Iterating those concepts don't seem to fix the issue of Twitter running 50,000 copies of an application developed by 3 open source volunteer people and not paying those 3 people anything.
They just don't correlate that to proprietary software at all, which is understandable because most people cannot internalize concepts related to information transfer, scarcity, transformation, or preservation. They exist in the real world and more easily relate to the physical and ignore the implications of ignorance in all that is not presented to them in that medium.
That still remains a political problem, one with your system of economics. I guess since YC is funding that UBI research it may also be relevant to research alternatives to US IP law that can optimize for productivity and social utility of the results, because we are obviously not close to a maxima right now.
We still don't know what long-term exposure to highly condensed, highly customized information does to our brains and social systems as a whole.
For example, there are signs that social network users are actually unhappy - in other words - are experiencing all kinds of mental health issues.
It is well known that programmers experience "burn outs", which, from personal experience, is a terrible and debilitating state sometimes even leading to suicide.
There is addiction to gaming, chat, porn, social networks.
Mobile phones have exposed everyone to the infinite stream of information/communication and I think this will lead to many more mental health issues.
I think we are not yet prepared for the kind of impact that current and future tech will have on our minds, so this would be a worthy field to invest in now.
The idea of people spending 10+ hours in VR per week scares me, but it's probably pretty similar to video game and smartphone usage. Maybe that would be a good place to start research.
A little over a month ago I started working on forming new habits, severely limiting use of network tools. I now only check email/sms/etc twice per day. At 6pm I put all technology away. I'm asleep by 9:30pm, awake at 5:30am, and try not to look at any network tools again until 10am. I'm considerably happier and more productive now. It's a tough habit to maintain and I'm pretty sure a few of my friends think I'm nuts.
A couple good, related reads:
If YC or anyone else wants to fund me, I'd be fine with that.
Everyone knows it's broken,not effective anymore and literally a waste of time and money. More so if you had the oppurtunity to experience what education means in third world countries.Spoiler alert : it's a joke that will make you cry.
It needs to be fixed as quickly as possible and research needs to be done for alternatives to help people in the process of learning.Online education is a good start, but we need something more effective.
By not fixing education, we are creating generations of people with just pieces of paper(called degrees), having no real knowledge or even the thirst for knowledge. Maybe I am not vocalizing my thoughts well enough, but you just need to look at the state of education in third world countries to understand my depression about education.
Education: We've had teacher-run schools. We've more recently had test/metric run schools. Let's (in the US) finally try and effectively fuse those two into better outcomes per dollar for kids in public schools. My personal pet peeve: develop a modeling technique that predicts an "average" educational outcome for a student given his or her family's socioeconomic status and other inputs. Then at least we have a basis for a fair measure of teacher success -- no teacher can turn every child who grows up without a single book in the home into Albert Einstein or Marie Curie.
Economics: Post-scarcity minimum / basic income, as mentioned.
Democracy: Follow on and unify the various open-* voter information efforts (example: http://votesmart.org/ ) and find the best and most unbiased way to communicate that. Democracy only works with an informed electorate, and we can do much better than throwing our hands up and letting the most ad buys have the strongest influence.
Nutrition: There's a huge amount of bogus advice out there. Synthesizing this into actionable, individualized suggestions and helping people eat healthier by unifying food and recipes with budget. Eating healthier for one day does you no great help -- eating slightly better for your entire life does.
Training more and better teachers is the way to go, especially in "third world countries". Not only is there big issues with motivation and the whole social/interactive/distant aspect to moocs; what do you do when you don't have internet, or your device breaks? Now your education depends on a machine that costs a couple hundred bucks, instead of a notebook, pencil and early morning.
Idk, I don't see online education as any more than just a sometimes-useful alternative.
Let's suppose you open-sourced education, so rather than it being controlled by an elite and passed down to the masses in varying degrees depending on how much money the recipient has, it's controlled by everyone. People can design their own courses in the same way you make a Linux distro or other open source project. Courses could be stored somewhere like Github and downloaded, forked and merged like we currently do with software. Suppose people taking those courses could contact the developers or their helpers if they don't understand something, or just want to discuss it -- email, Skype, Slack, etc. So many people want to learn, and so many others (like me :) would be happy to help them if there were the right structures and support systems to make it possible.
All these things could come together to become something far more than just "online courses", just as open source software is so much more than software you don't have to pay for. Imagine we're at the Apple II stage of online education, but the iPad version (30 years down the road) will be unimaginably cool and powerful. Let's just imagine a world where you expect people to be educated to a decent level, just as we increasingly expect a base level of computer literacy. You're right that the infrastructure is not there at the moment, but let's not get hung up on that -- it will spread and increase, so what good things do we want to follow it?
If online education stays where it is, you're right -- it's not good enough. But, respectfully, I hope you're wrong, and we're seeing the start of something extraordinary, the next phase in the democratisation and distribution of knowledge. I hope universities start to look more and more like museums, and education becomes a lifelong endeavour for everyone: learners, teachers, and all points in between.
Personally I think this would be a tremendous thing for PG&Co to research. Hopefully, we're just getting started :)
In many instances the benefit of having an in-person instructor has much to do with the social interaction/interpersonal support that they can give to a struggling/minimally motivated student. That said, motivated learners don't always need that kind of personal interaction and would benefit from self-guided learning opportunities. This is obvious, but is hard to manage well.
In the end, I believe students will learn along a fluid spectrum from 'one-on-one' to 'fully distributed online learning' - both of which will heavily lean on better tools.
There are tens of thousands of lessons, activities, individual interventions and curriculum modifications created every day by instructors in this country - but all of that knowledge and all those artifacts are effectively lost (as almost nothing gets distributed) and the same creative labor is repeated over and over.
So - we should be looking for better ways of mediating in-person instruction to both improve that kind of instruction and as an engine for the creation of universally accessible learning materials. Students who have the ability/proximity to a physical schools get the benefits of personal interaction, while students who cannot get to school (or are underserved by that school) can get the benefits of time shifted lessons/activities/etc. from anywhere in the world.
Tech should be a tool, and not a replacement for teachers IMHO.
I read recently that the teacher failure rate in Maharashtra is about 15% - i.e., on a given day, 15% of Maharashtrian teachers just don't show up to work, and there is a famous case of an MP teacher who's been absent for 23 years. 
Further, even if the teacher shows up, the student may not be able to. Consider the "town" in this pic: https://imgur.com/mjWcEZZ Hiring a teacher for the 5-10 kids who live there is unaffordable, so the kids there need to climb the "mountains"  whenever they want to attend the closest school. Of course, the kids don't actually do that every day; work and family obligations often interfere.
A 5-10k s mobile phone with a (worst case) 250rs data plan works far better than 85% of the time, even in that rural town. It works on the student's schedule, so if a horde of visitors require the student to spend the day in the family restaurant, they can catch up at night.
The real thing which would help a lot is better devices. E.g., something closer to a kindle in terms of battery life an readability.
 Unfortunately I read this stat in a paper copy of the Pune mirror a couple of weeks ago, so I don't have a citation offhand. The 23 year absence is easy to google, however: http://www.hindustantimes.com/indore/action-against-teacher-...
 That's the Marathi term for the hills in that region.
A good teacher will inspire kids, will get them to work together, will be a person to go to. I do believe in the motivation of students, but sometimes you need someone to spark that motivation in the first place.
There will always be bad teachers, and outrageous stories about them making way around the internet. You hear about good teachers much less often, but their impact in a community can be much, much greater. Teachers are viable; they worked for the developed world, back when they still weren't "the developed world".
What evidence do you have that even a fraction of teachers do this? And what evidence do you have that teachers "worked for the developed world" (i.e., had some measurable beneficial effect)?
There will always be bad teachers, and outrageous stories about them making way around the internet.
The stats suggest lots of them are bad. Rather than more teachers, maybe what we really need is a device to ensure that teachers actually come to work and the political will to stop paying them if they don't.
I don't think we will reach the point where we have great teachers everywhere. That is just not practical and too idealistic. That's exactly why we need to start innovating in the field of education to try and make it a more meaningful experience and one which positively impacts society.
I see online education as one of the pieces of the education puzzle.
How much do you think teachers cost?
Every advanced society faces an aging population. This population will put massive strains on healthcare expenses. It could also strain the economy as the elder population collects public sector pensions and slowly depletes its savings (i.e. retirement funds). The latter effect could be mitigated by automation.
Paradoxically our success in treating diseases that kill us now will merely make us victims of potentially more terrible diseases in the future. Look at the experiences of centenarians in the last decade:
Alzheimer's will become increasingly common as will cognitive decline in general. What happens to all those people who don't die of cancer or heart disease? They will often succumb to slower acting chronic diseases involving long-term states of suffering and mental anguish.
The way out of this mess is to treat aging itself, not just the diseases that currently kill us. SENS targets the underlying mechanisms of aging.
Research into negligible senescence can also lay the foundation for potentially profitable therapeutics. Unlike the disease-centric model the total addressable market is nearly everyone.
Derek Lowe (who knows drug development better than any of us) made a very interesting comment recently on the cancer research "moonshot" funding presented in the State of the Union speech:
Trying to cure cancer in this way would be like trying to go to the moon without really knowing how rocket engines actually work, without being quite sure if Newton’s laws of motion would hold up, and with some real uncertainty in the position of the moon.
The disparity between what we know today, and what we would have to know to "cure" cancer, is quite unfathomable to us computer hackers.
Since those other researchers are definitely advocating progress towards the use of telomerase therapies in humans, and it is inarguably the case that telomerase gene therapy extends life modestly in mice, probably by stimulating stem cell activity, your point still seems incoherent. See for example this position piece by Maria Blasco: http://dx.doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.7020.1
From my position telomere length looks a lot a measure of aging rather than a cause, and telomerase therapies are something I'd consider risky at this point in humans - our telomere dynamics and telomerase setup is very different from that of mice, and I don't think it is safe to assume that slowing of aging and induced regeneration in mice without cancer risk is necessarily going to happen in humans. You don't know until you try, of course, and there is a contingent that will be trying. Note that at least one human has already disagreed with that assessment and had telomerase gene therapy, the CEO of BioViva.
From the SENS perspective, telomere length is something that will take care of itself if you create rejuvenation by repairing the causes of aging. Average telomere length in tissues is a product of stem cell activity and cell turnover rate, and aging diminishes the former, and that is a reaction to rising levels of damage. Get rid of the damage and stem cells should get back to work because the signaling environment will revert back to how it is in youth.
Sure, so they need to just keep in mind that the goal is not to lengthen (or protect) telomeres for their own sake. But telomeres could at least help serve as a metric or proxy for therapies that do slow or arrest aging overall.
Meanwhile, Metformin is crazy cheap.
Here is the link http://www.computationalhealthcare.com
We have access to almost 130 Million de-identified medical records from approximately 36 Million patients (~10% of US population) this includes all Inpatient, ED, Ambulatory Surgery records between 2006-2011 from California. To put simply if you lived in California and went to a hospital there is 95.9% chance that we have your data. This data has been available for quite some time but its use has been hindered due to lack of good software. The data has led to significant research, e.g. my collaborator (not me) published a paper showing risk of strokes following pregnancies in New England Journal of Medicine last year.
At Cornell Tech & Weill Cornell Medical College, we have developed a Search and Aggregation engine that will revolutionize how researchers and physicians use this data. Imagine your mother with Leukemia in Remission just got admitted for Pneumonia. With our software, the Physician will be quickly able to asses likelihood of this occurring and rule out any confounding adverse events. Or consider that there is a rare combination of diagnosis e.g. Graves Disease and Clotting disorder that is indicative of a unique genetic mutation likely to offer novel insight into disease process. With our software questions like these can be answered within second, Today & Right now.
The Data, Legal structure and fully functional prototype are available right now. We were counting on support from AHRQ, but sadly the agency has run into trouble due significant budget cuts.
Most importantly, I think a system like this must be non-profit and freely available for global usage. Privacy issues can be solved with careful ETL process. Ideally a single global platform...although political realities may force multiple instances.
Regardless of implementation details - this seems to fit the YC Research charter in terms of medium/long horizons and big 'change the world' payoffs.
Today a physician suspecting novel association e.g. Adverse event particular to a co-morbid condition. Usually has to wait multiple weeks for Ordering data from US government, Developing SAS scripts and finally conducting the study. Wrth our stack the underlying question can be answered within seconds. With enough legal permissions we can modify it to deliver only the required data, for further statistical analysis. Sure such a system might not be completely public, but there is nothing that prevents us from giving access to say all board certified physicians globally.
Not to put a spanner in your works, as I agree your goal is worthy of a lot of effort from the general public. But, how exactly did you get access to this data, and is it legal?
Additionally, from my point of view, even if my medical "records" were de-personalized and made anonymous, I still want to have full control over who/what get's access to it.
Regarding your point second point, the patient ownership of the data is not very well understood legally. Since most of it is transactional in nature. E.g. consider the Sorrell vs IMS Health judgement by the Supreme Court few years ago.
Following paper in Harvard Journal of Law and Technology gives a good overview of the issues.
Building a database which can be locked down to differentially private primitives (differential privacy composes) would allow researchers to partially unlock this data while ensuring that your medical records are private.
As long as we choose epsilon (the privacy parameter) sufficiently low there is then no ethical need to ask a bunch of fickle data points for permission.
Differential Privacy cannot be directly applied since the underlying assumptions are too strong. An important consideration is that the error/noise added is independent of the answer. Which means that the system becomes unusable for almost all queries other than general trends.
By restricting the query structure, we no longer need large amount of noise. Privacy of hospitals and providers is also very important and cannot be encoded in the Differential Privacy framework. Again this is still a hotly debated issue. But even the most vocal supporters of differential privacy agree that it might not be directly applicable for healthcare domain.
Following are some of the paper that discuss this:
I.e., if you don't have differential privacy, then by definition there is a de-anonymizing query and you can get PII out.
Privacy of hospitals/providers is a separate issue, and yeah, it's pretty clear that differential privacy doesn't work for them. Thanks for the links, I'll check them out.
Edit: after reading your second article, it's deeply misleading. They assume that to compute a mean, one must compute 2 queries - sum(x) and len(x), each of which must be differentially private. But that's totally wrong! You can in fact run the query mean(x) + noise, and this last query itself can be differentially private.
The article also notes that queries on small data sets require more noise to be differentially private, which is totally true, and obvious.
This also, however, ignores the fact that most statistical inference drawn from such queries will be nonsense even without differential privacy. See, e.g., this article for an example of why: https://www.chrisstucchio.com/blog/2015/ab_testing_segments_...
This is a very bad critique of differential privacy.
"""This also, however, ignores the fact that most statistical inference drawn from such queries will be nonsense even without differential privacy."""
This is not true. Just because the number returned by a count query on a very large dataset (~100 Million visits) is very small (~100) does not automatically means that the result is nonsense or can be disregarded as error. Doing that requires understanding the query and a hypothesis with good prior on expected outcome. E.g. intersection of two rare diseases. Where you would otherwise expect it to be very small, but there might be an underlying genetic reason / physiological process which might lead to higher prevalence. Or a group of hospitals using tainted batch of medicines leading to unexplained increased mortality.
Consider this paper where there were only 1000 cases (only 248 strokes) per 1.6 Million patients (even larger if you consider the entire 20 Million patients present in the data). However in spite of the small number the authors showed that the increase was statistically significant by comparing with same period a year later.
Again I am not denying what you wrote in the blogpost. But in medicine and the analyses for which such databases are used, the investigators have access to very good priors.
The companies formed don't have to be start-ups per se: they could be as simple (and low risk) as a group of people who build web sites and apps for clients, but would like to have a stake in it rather than just "working for the man."
Since it is research, it is ok if things are explored that would require changes in laws.
I can imagine a site (or better yet, a standard protocol) -- sort of Kickstarter-ish, but different -- where people start projects, gather contributors, "pay" those contributors by giving them equity (or actually pay them, if the company is bringing in revenue).
There would be ways of holding votes (presumably voting power is weighted by how much you have contributed), and various checks and balances to prevent participants from gaming it. Everyone would probably be able to weigh in on the contributions of others, in a carefully designed way that encourages everyone to be productive, cooperative, and creative.
The idea is that there are a huge number of people out there with talent, creativity, and a willingness to take some risks, but most of them aren't really entrepreneurial types per se. This would be both a matchmaking site for getting people with complementary talents and personalities together, as well as a service for handling equity calculations as people contribute hours (and various other things that streamline the process so people with talent can spend their efforts using their actual talents).
Obviously there is some overlap with what Y-Combinator does, but this is a way of scaling it out much larger, in ways that could dramatically increase innovation as well as increasing job satisfaction.
Also, as the companies grow a bit larger and mature, they should be fine for the "just want to be paid" folk, as that is basically how it would work.
Also, I would hope that most of the mechanics would just be handled by the system. At least the tedious stuff. Stuff like voting on company/product direction, and rating your peers seems like something everyone would like to participate in, especially if it doesn't become political (in a bad way).
While reading "The Dispossessed" and thinking about the way syndicates work there, I had this (generic, not-worked-out) thought about some form of protocol for creating co-ops of the kind mentioned, and then running and enforcing the rules (including e.g. equal dividend payment / whatnot).
I wonder if someone has considered implementing some kind of a co-op system in Ethereum (where contracts are transparent and enforced and no single node is responsible for running the code). :)
Hmm, taking ideas from anarcho-syndicalism and implementing them in Ethereum....
: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dispossessed - this is a nice book indeed.
Its allows any arbitrary ownership rules, so it works for co-ops as well as shareholder corporations
Interesting architecture in regards to their "General Hook Middleware" and other ways of implementing "middleware contracts" (for things such as company payroll). Curious stuff...
edit yeah, this is interesting. Do you know how close this is to a working implementation? I see some "pre-alpha" screenshots etc.
I think there's a lot of ways housing could be made cheaper via building materials and techniques, architecture, technology, policies, and processes. One of the issues with extremely cheap housing is keeping it safe and desirable for tenants, e.g., dealing with drug abusers and dealers (which frequently make our current low-cost housing dangerous).
Also, I remember that there were a few companies in China and Australia that were experimenting with 3d printing of concrete homes. Perhaps that could use a little help as well?
Of course if one could build anything anywhere, it would be unreasonable to demand the water/el/internet/sewage grid to be extended there at no costs, so some alternative mechanism to ensure such services would be necessary.
Same goes for other communal services like healthcare and education, I guess.
My wife won't live in an apartment ("high-density") area because groceries are hard to get inside. Car-->fridge distance matters a hell of a lot to her.
But we can solve that problem.
That's interesting, is there a particular reason for this or is this a nice illustration of 'first world problems'?
To have both a car and a fridge, the money to stock the fridge and then to trip over the distance from the car to the fridge (which can easily be made light enough by using a luggage trolley or by asking the s.o. to assist) as a major stumbling block in the selection of housing is something I never considered possible. I see a lot of good reasons for wanting to live in an actual house rather than in an apartment building (I'm living in an apartment building at the moment for the first time in 40 years) but that one never occurred to me.
Worrying about the distance between car and fridge sounds silly when most of us are used to walking half to one kilometer (.7 miles) to the nearest supermarket and taking everything back by foot. Several times per week.
Not to mention that many apartment buildings don't have elevators...
Wait what? As European students, my girlfriend and I already do groceries by car. My parents and her parents as well. My grandparents as well. Unless you happen to live next to the supermarket, everyone does as far as I know. What country are you from?
To me it doesn't sound luxurious to do groceries by car, it sounds like poverty to have to go by foot for a kilometer while carrying heavy grocery bags.
Until cellphones, most of the world didn't have reliable communications, because nobody could build the necessary infrastructure. Wireless changed that. We need the equivalent breakthrough for water treatment.
Dean Kamen is doing interesting stuff in this area (a stirling-engine based system for water distillation ), but his approach is still limited by costs and distribution.
Solving this problem would literally change the world, and unlike many of the suggestions here, it's an area where there's hope that a small research team could make a dent (for example, Kamen wanted to raise $1M for Slingshot.)
There's a ton of money that goes into research of well-known plant species like rice, wheat, maize etc.
However, there are myriads of species where we know not much beyond the taxonomic assignment and getting funding to research these species is a drag ("How do you want to monetize that?"). Yet there's a wealth of novel resistances, food sources, medicines, biochemical pathways etc. hidden away in these species, there's just no funding.
There are some companies which sponsor small research projects into organisms like that (edit: mostly for advertising purposes), for example PacBio awards one genome assembly project of the "most interesting species" (read: underfunded). This species won last time: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/natu...
It's a weird tiny grass which can completely dry out and then come back to live, imagine what we could do when we'd take this pathway out and put it into wheat! Completely unresearched (Google Scholar has 122 papers mentioning the name, edit: Oryza sativa (rice) has 387,000) yet massive potential.
It may not be the best fit to your funding scheme because research like this goes far beyond 5 years.
Disclaimer: I work in plant bioinformatics (canola)
Later Edit: There's also experiment.com for crowdfunding research, but it's really hard to get a project crowdfunded if it's unpopular (compare: "We have this tiny plant we know nothing about" vs. "We have this tiny plant that may cure cancer", maybe the plant you know nothing about does that too?). YC could fit its funding scheme above "single project" and below "decades long funding"
Having just finished a master's in material science in applied bio-mechanical research I am personally aware of the lack of basic equipment and tools. Machine learning techniques for example could be applied to many areas of experimental research in biological settings but most labs do not have the time, money, or expertise to apply it. Another possible option would be a sort of "professional software development co-op" for scientific research. Being able to buy (subsidized) development resources might be incredibly helpful. The cost could possibly be offset by forming partnerships to commercialize valuable research, similar to a YC model where the few successes could fund the other.
The system for basic scientific research also seems broken. Much of the data used in many fields (especially nuclear research) is based on (very excellent) research from the 50's. We're essentially riding on accrued capital which will likely reach a limiting point in the coming decades.
I think that's kind of the goal of YC research in a narrow sense, but it'd be interesting if there was a way to align the incentives so scientists collaborated more instead of hiding research so they don't get 'scooped'. At this same time this could get rid of the academic journals that charge huge amounts of money for access to publicly funded research by selling prestige to desperate researchers (so they can get more funding).
If research was somehow more like open source development where people got credit for their contributions and hypothesis, experiments and papers were worked on in the open (all open access) maybe science and research would be better.
I think scientists want this and universities would want this - there needs to be a better way to get credibility than publishing papers in famous journals.
Scientists want to be published in 'Nature' because it's good for their career (citations) and respect from peers. If there was a way to fix that incentive where it was more prestigious to do the research in the open and by collaborating (like FOSS development) that would be a big win.
The tricky part is that the current system may act as a filter where the best people will still try to hide their methods and get into the existing Journals because it's best for their career - so you'll get lower quality requests for funding.
I don't understand why Universities don't work together to push towards open access, but I guess they're interested in Journal prestige too.
As a side note there's also the issue with papers hiding critical components of their research so they can't be reproduced (so they can make companies later) - this is really not in the spirit of science.
Yes you could be right about that. It's possible that in the short term an individual funder could see a drop in the quality of applicants -- but I think this will be offset by massive increase in overall impact. I think science funders underestimate how much power they have to compel change.
I think preventive care in general is a great area to dive into, and this seems like a good place to start.
If I ever have enough money to dabble in my own research, it'll be there. How great would it be to be able to distribute nutritional advice to the world that was actually true, rather than whatever fad diets are being dreamt up or common-sense "wisdom" is being passed down.
I personally think this has the potential to be a moonshot - if an unbiased entity (with no ties to entrenched interests) would spend money on research.
Solar powered (or wind etc) little machines that communities can buy (e.g. the local surfing club) and we can let lose into the problem area.
I realize this is out there, but I also think it's something that's viable from a cost perspective, and also has the ability to capture people's imagination like few other things. I'd also like to see an emphasis on promoting fungi in the ecosystem. Right now there isn't a single park in the entire world that's actively managed to promote the growth of edible mushrooms. And while setting that up would take 20+ years, it wouldn't be that expensive and again I think there would be something kind of magical about it.
Bureaucracy is responsible for a lot of corruption. Getting things done in the government is meeting a lot of people and filling a lot of forms. Bribing is sometimes the shortest path to get work done.
Having interoperable data systems, forms that can be filled online and an easy way for citizens to understand the law and fill the papers without a human touchpoint would make things much more seamless and transparent.
P.S. - Low level corruption might not be such a big deal in the developed countries but is an efficiency drain on about 70% of the global population living beyond that.
Long term solution is to improve the fundamentals - education, inequality, access to basics.
I think you should research urban agriculture. Take Detroit as an example because I grew up there and return often. Detroit currently has hundreds of vacant acres of cheap land that you could leverage to boot a new city. I think there are large opportunities in urban agriculture. Parts of the city are a food desert, until three years ago there wasn’t a single supermarket in a city with close to 700,000 people.
While best practices are pretty settled for regular farming, it’s decidedly not so for urban Ag. Detroit has a quite high rate of unemployment, especially for teenagers. There’s an opportunity to provide those kids with their first job and create value for the community where currently there is none.
There are people who want to do it, but the risk is too high because there are so many unanswered questions. Create a handbook of best practices and I think you could use it just as easily in Los Angeles, Philadelphia or Chicago as well as in Detroit.
On the other hand, I'm very interested in studying the very long-range evolution of cities (500+ years). It fascinates me that Detroit was kind of this pre-Silicon Valley area with high concentration of a single industry and tons of wealth, and after that's left, what happens now? How does a city reconfigure itself when its tax base drops by, say, 50%? How does it deal with its pension obligations, massive infrastructure bill from all the now-not-needed roads, parks, water pipes, city lights, and buildings? In short, how does a city "scale down" in a way that isn't damaging to its institutions or retirees?
As Sean Parker said, the problem is essentially hackable... (the problem is in the process). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFqovaiSfJI
PS: Peter Thiel funded SENS, but clearly it won't be enough...
The food production is not keeping up with the boom in population, specially in the developing nations. In India, where I come from, farmers are running away from Farming. (Because it's not profitable enough to even feed a family and pay for school fees). We desperately need ways to increase the food production, without increasing the land or water usage.
A way of doing it can genetic engineering (Supercharged Photosyntesis?), but even this solution looks like a distant reality. May be not enough people are working on it or there is a lack of funding here...
Food is the most basic requirement for survival for any life form. Fund this research... YC will be eternally blessed! :D
Vertically plane production within vertical farms, low-watt high-luminance light-emitting plasma bulbs, full-spectrum plant health monitoring systems, fully automated growth (from seed to crop) and harvesting, highly-efficient HVAC systems for cooling and CO2 regulation, aeroponically grown foodstuffs, and electric self-driving delivery vehicles.
A six-storey, 64m^2 (approx. 1 acre) vertical farm can sustain 1,000 people using ~1,500 kilowatts (assuming certain inevitable leaps in lighting efficiency). Or approximately 1,200 homes. New Jersey has a population density of 1218.1 people per square mile. A $2.7 million geothermal power plant would provide sufficient energy for the farm's annual lighting, to give an idea of costs. That power would not be enough to provide the energy for automation or recharging delivery vehicles.
Plants don't absorb much of the green spectrum. If they could be biohacked to use more of the spectrum, the energy requirements could be cut substantially. (Another option is to dramatically improve either laser light or plasma light in the optimal spectrum for a particular crop.)
Additionally, a lot more research needs to be made in finding out how to grow food aeroponically. Currently, I think it's limited to tomatoes, greens, and possibly some tubers.
To introduce minerals into the aeroponic water supply (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Sulfur, Magnesium, Boron, Chlorine, Manganese, Iron, Zinc, Copper, and Molybdenum) requires fish (salmon, catfish, tuna), seawater, crustaceans (crab, lobster), shellfish, fungi, seaweed, and captured elements from an open-loop geothermal plant. Nickel might have to be mined. Ammonia can be coaxed from air, water, and sunlight.
It should be possible to grow, harvest, and deliver food based completely on renewable energies.
Furthermore, certain food crops (cotton [dual-carbon batteries], moss, corn, small citrus fruits) can be used to remake infrastructure components. Like a newt that eats its own tail to grow a new one. Moss and corn waste, I believe, can make carbon fiber or stretched carbon nanotubes. Small citrus fruits, if I recall, can be used as a completely organic (cradle-to-grave) polymer substitute.
Social media is quickly becoming a powerful parapolitical means for distributing resources, but it's also broken. It's subject to balkanization, waves of outrage and other attention span-related problems, and authentication is hard.
Figuring out how to improve democratic resource management for even small (<10k pop) communities would be an interesting problem.
Bitcoin is one example of this. So is the IoT space, both in APIs and in actual hardware designs.
Another situation is things that are fundamentally valuable yet unprofitable. Like drugs that are out of patent and have multiple uses but are not FDA approved for all those uses. Or figuring out how to make more existing research actually public and shared as widely as possible.
Another situation is areas where the existing research establishment is busted. Reproducibility is a big one here. Try finding articles in Nature or Science that you can't reproduce and then make a big stink about their results being false.
Overall though I think every answer to this question should include an answer to, "why is this a better fit for YC Research than for a new startup".
Nukes. I know YC has funded a few nuclear power companies, but this seems like an area that still needs a lot of basic research, especially with newer reactor designs. Maybe even some more speculative stuff like fusion.
Developing new types of antibiotics. Nobody is really trying, and iChip style devices seem pretty interesting. Even with that, there's still be a ton of work needed to bring new drugs to market. New tools and techniques for evaluating efficacy and pharmacology? For something more exotic, you could study phages.
"I think figuring out how technology can encourage empathy is one of the
more interesting and important open research problems in the world right
now." -- Sam Altman, July 10 2015 
There is one group at Stanford that's been working on the empathy-tech problem. I don't know any of them, but I've read a few of their papers. I've submitted a few of their papers/projects to HN in the past six months.
The main site for the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab is here:
Most their papers can be downloaded from the "Publications" page.
If you need more lightweight/mainstream news coverage, CBS, NPR, San
Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and similar have all done
articles on the VHIL work/people. Most of these are available through
the VHIL "News" page.
I submitted a few of their papers to HN, but they all received little or
It's ridiculous that we spend so much money and time dealing with legal issues - both in terms of creating new laws, and in terms of enforcing those laws. Because of the delineation between those who create laws and those who enforce them, we came up with a way of encoding law so as to avoid misinterpretation errors. What if we were to automate the enforcement by programming law into a computer rather than writing down the rules in a book? How would we go about accomplishing that? Would we always struggle because computers lack "empathy"? Is there a middle way that automates 90% of the cases while retaining some human control?
I spent a year at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The number of statutes and regulations for just CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)  for example fills 425 pages. The department also oversees building codes, liquid pipeline infrastructure, wildlands defense, fire & rescue, etc.
Whenever a new or amended statute is introduced it takes months to evaluate if it replaces or conflicts with existing code. If passed and signed into law it can take a year or more to integrate.
Every year a newly-elected legislator introduces a bill akin to simplifying existing laws. Every year these bills never make it out of committee (i.e., they are shelved) because it would require years of pulling committed resources (SMEs, analysts, support personnel and millions of dollars) out of threadbare operations.
Every department in the State draws up a similar analysis, and the cumulative cost scares the legislature/governor. But it's a good way to introduce the green legislator into how the state government works.
The joke in the halls of the Natural Resources building is that there are too many rules and regulations, but there are not enough resources to correct the situation.
F&FP had no central repository of its own codes. Analysts had to use keyword searches of the public California Codes website!
Millions across the world, especially in developing countries, drop out of school because they (and/or their guardians)
see no benefit from long-term investment in education. Others who somehow manage to stay in formal institutions are exposed to decontextualized education that they cannot realize their full potential.
There will be many different solutions to it. One of them could be a large-scale, technology-immersed learning system that teaches a broad range of topics to students through a vocation. The vocation could be decided based on the learner's interest and the local resources. For example, in northern Nepal, child walk through perilous snow-covered hills and mountains to recover Yarsagumba ("Himalayan viagra"), a fungus with aphrodisiac and medicinal value. Instead, the kids can be educated progressively in details about different aspects surrounding Yarsagumba - mountain climbing, biological systems, business, marketing (where they could sell the collected Yarsagumba), greenhouse and high-tech farming systems, technology, etc. - without disturbing their Yarsamgumba collecting activity.
This is a simple example. Since a diverse topics are being taught and practiced, learners would not be restricted in the same vocation.
One thing that really bothered me during my PhD is that even at the Stanford math department it felt like academia is not set up to encourage work on big questions, nor is it optimal for any objective function I can think of. Is it any wonder that many of the recent breakthroughs (Perelman with Poincare, Zhang with prime gaps) came not from establishment mathematicians, but ones who couldn't or wouldn't play the academia game and ended up almost destitute on the fringes, working away at these problems that they knew inside could be resolved.
Now, why specifically is the Riemann Hypothesis a great place to start? Math problems are like a maze. There are many paths to take, and while you can take satisfaction in exploring one part, you won't know your progress until you see the exit in front of you. In the case of RH the branch factor is absolutely massive, but once you pick a direction, it doesn't take long (relatively) to get to the forefront of what's known. But as it stands it is very hard to get perspective on the problem, or know which ways are good or bad. A mathematician who is not an expert in the field may experiment with various ways of bounding Zeta away from zero, but a domain expert would right away point out positive vertical density results for all a-sets, and bounds on moments of 1/zeta(s). Worse: if you have an idea for a new approach, there's no good way to share it because it will likely be too small for the quantum of academia: the academic paper. Building a collaborative atlas for the Riemann Hypothesis would help solve both of these problems, and could provide a more structured way of working on hard problem than even the polymath projects. It'll be a challenging use-case but at least with 150 years' of work there will be no cold start problem. And I've seen many analytic number theorists who are incredibly smart, hard-working, insightful, great with programming, happy to get their hands dirty, eager to teach others, but neglected by the system and lacking an outlet for their skills. PS: There's still no clear reason to believe RH to be true rather than false.
Our current model of the internet is some kind of hierarchy, and access to it is controlled by a few selected players. While some celebrate their new hipster web programming language libs, the underlying Internet is dying.
The Internet used to be a place where you can pick a remote address, invoke connect() and have a TCP connection. Now you need a Phd to be able to connect two computers on the internet. If you want an address, so that other computers can connect to you, you have to pay. This money goes to people at the top of the pyramid, for real estate they have invented.
Internet companies recently began "protecting us from bad websites", but this is just the beginning of a larger scale censorship, of governments that tell us what is good for us to read and see. I don't know if this applies to you, but at the place where I live, this has already begun.
In my opinion the main unsolved problem of this domain is how to route packets in unstructured big networks. We really don't know how to do this, and this is one of the main reasons for the current structure of the internet. Solving this problem is a game changer.
I summarize results about this subject at
Frankly, and somewhat sadly I might add, I think even if you somehow proved - proved - to a nation's voting population that they would be better off economically (in aggregate) by opening their borders, the perceived cultural and political effects of such a policy would prevent it from ever passing into law through any democratic process. Culture and politics are intertwined in a feedback loop, and it will take many more generations to have grown up in the globalised, internet and cheap-air-travel connected world, where almost every person interacts with, makes friends with, works and does business with people all over the world, for this default to finally go away - only when it does can we ever hope for an open borders policy to even be a remote possibility politically.
With that said, I think aiming directly for an open borders policy might be missing the wood for the trees slightly. Might I instead suggest that we pile research resources and efforts into things like better remote working technology, practices and protocol that might eliminate many of the problems (certainly not all - and mostly economic - but many) that an open border policy should aim to solve in the first place?
In my view the world would be a much better place if we did simply have an open-borders policy throughout much of it, but we can get a very long way towards that goal by allowing people to work from anywhere, for anyone, in a completely effective manner. Not only will this actually solve some of the problems that you talk about a lot more quickly and easily, it should have the effect of flattening out the global distribution of wealth somewhat, such that open borders actually do become more palatable politically, simply because the figurative pressure on the borders of the wealthiest nations would be reduced significantly.
In other words, open borders is not something that can ever happen all at once as a result of a policy change. No matter how much research we do into those policies, they just won't succeed politically as a step change. Rather, it's a positive feedback loop of gradual cultural and political change that has to start somewhere. In many ways of course it's already begun, because of the internet, and I believe the next stage to chase is better, really effective, remote working. I think that's where research effort towards the solving the problems you talk about would be most effectively invested.
Open borders is the classic pre-cursor to a worldwide Tragedy of the Commons. Currently, we have problems keeping public parks clean. Imagine if all of the earth was a shared commons, and no group of people could restrict access to any plot of land. It would be chaos. I can think of no better way to destroy the world than open borders.
Look into tragedy of the commons, and see why this idea will never be feasible due to human nature.
YCR should fund a longitudinal study of a cohort of say 100 entrants into the tech field, and watch them over the course of 4-5 years. Periodically subjecting them to fMRI scans. Of particular interest would be the relationship of motivation/reward pathways (I'm thinking the striatum) during the transition through burnout. Burnout could be quantitatively measured through techniques such as tracking with body motion trackers, etc.
A follow-up study could attempt to use knowledge gained in this with several treatment strategies.
SamA: If you are interested in something like this I know the right researcher, she has incredible scientific integrity, IMO important for cogsci/socsci research especially of late, although she and I have not been in personal touch for years.
It's not clear that the current processes for writing code and then patching security holes will bring us into the future. Powerful governments and companies are routinely hacked.
Can we move all this code to a secure future without rewriting it all?
On the other hand, there are existing efforts, like https://www.coreinfrastructure.org/
I'm not sure how well they are funded.
Meta-Research. +1 for @mietek's Meta-research; creating a distributed, open ecosystem (not a website, but a protocol) for publishing and navigating interdisciplinary research.
Medicine. +1 for Bacteriophages @mietek & open-medicine (e.g. Counter Culture Labs - Open Insulin) https://experiment.com/projects/open-insulin. Additionally, cancer and heart disease research.
A distributed, persistent, interoperable world wide web. (e.g. IPFS)
A sensible distributed DOI and identity system for people.
A meta exploration to determine the world's hard problems and impending catastrophies (e.g. www.metaculus.com)
Alternative energy and renewable energy.
- What are the most effective ways to retrain people of that age? I don't know of any techniques to motivate people that are not lifelong learners to acquire skills. Is it a demographic thing? This can be warped into 'what's the best way to make expert users of that category' that leads to gamifaction and other things.
- What is the barrier to entry to start businesses as a platform?
I feel there isn't enough innovation in pooling the resources to make starting a business. Yes money can solve a lot of problems, but how do you make it so there is a shared stack of resources of logistics, space, pension/benefits to let businesses of <$1MM gross revenue (basically cottage industries). How do we mitigate the risk of the individual to try? What is the best settings for a particular region to accelerate the progress? What can we remove from the equation to increase the growth of wealth of individuals?
This is something that I was partially pursuing as a research topic- how can we make the transfer of technical information (CAD drawings, models) easier to convert between. A UNIX system works wonderfully because of how piping works, but for highly complex program there is not a wonderful model to build such pipelining without serious grunge work. A lot of value gets lost plugging these things together, and sometimes this work is done by very nontechnical people. There is a lot of work for this in message processing but less in the context of file processing, but really it's a knowledge representation and transfer problem.
The thing is, as artificial general intelligence advances, everyone is going to be left behind. Give it 4-6 decades. Anyone essentially Human 1.0 at that point will be irrelevant.
But a few decades out, you can count on your OWN skills to become outdated, and regardless of whether you are a motivated learner or faster learner, it will quickly become very difficult for anyone to keep up. Even the young.
The fact that it is difficult to keep up is the problem I want people to look at.
Ask a non techie how much they spent at Amazon last year, and you'll get some mumbling about mint or their bank offering a search option, ask a UNIX neckbeard and get an answer via awk and col, and ask an overworked, underpaid administrative assistant and you'll get an excel spreadsheet that crudely but effectively provides the answer.
Drilling down even further, if the Question is "what is the _single_ most useful thing that can be done to increase future scientific literacy and accelerate technological progress ?" .. then I think the answer must be to teach multiplication by drawing rectangles.
vis : https://quantblog.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/distributive-rule...
Its a really good antidote to 'math is magic, a set of rules you apply without knowing why'... its based on physical intuition we already have, and it leads very naturally to deeper more abstract thinking :
You can go quickly from counting out areas of integer sides via grouping, to multiplying fractions and decimals, to expanding (a+b)*c, to (a+b)(c+d), you can introduce 1+3+5+7+...+n = n^2 and 1+2+3+..+n=n(n+1)/2 , you can introduce primes as 'non-rectangle' numbers .. all the while improving facility with basic computations, and developing better math intuition.
Kids who believe they are dumb at math can relate to this kind of physical/visual construction - if you play tennis or basketball or fold paper or saw wood you already have a good intuition of area.
It seems not much math is being taught in school before age 12 .. We don't have to wait or invent anything groundbreaking - we can take concrete steps now, we know what works - ie. we have the vaccine, we just need willpower to get it to everyone.
An important aspect of organizational building is to structure it in a way that enables free flow of information, while at the same time, enable people to accomplish their productive best. Having a good understanding of what sort of organizational structures enable such goals, and what policies and procedures in such organizations can be automated and improved upon, can bring in significant improvements. One of the big reasons as to why poor countries remain poor is that there aren't enough people to employ and build large organizations. The small number of talented and motivated people are handcuffed because of lack of human resources to power their ambitions. Enabling even those small number of people to accomplish something great will lift everyone else from their dire situations.
There are many areas that third-world citizen can tap into and work remotely: Programming, Community Management, Writing, Design, Translation...
Most of third-world workers do cheap work (less than $10/hour), with unfavourable terms and unstable revenue. This kill the potential for growth and savings.
I think the challenge can be summarized to the following point:
- Helping them get opportunities to start.
- Embracing a growth and continued learning mindset.
- Helping them grow their skills.
- Helping them open doors for more opportunities.
- Helping them setup simple and safe structures to save, invest and grow their capital.
A rigorous survey of what the current possible carbon sequestration tech and methods would be really helpful. Another organization might already have this survey done, but I haven't seen anything online (in my admittedly trivial search efforts).
On this topic it would be great if someone could take my idea for solving GHG emissions via some simple financial engineering and flesh out the concept . Glory awaits :)
So how do we build a more decentralized economy ? What are the missing building blocks ?
2. Our current remote-work isn't good enough from the psychological perspective. No eye-contact, no body language, isolation, etc.
But solving this is one of the only things thing that can bypass politics as a way to decrease housing costs and transportation costs , which are ~50% of our living costs.
3. Is it possible to go to some empty space in the u.s , and establish a city from scratch , a city that would be purposely designed for low living costs ?
4. There was a study , in 2004, measuring happiness, which showed the Amish we're considerably more happy than regular people , and as happy as the "forbes 400" billionaires. How do we create such happy communities, while still living in a technological world ?
Venture capital companies are normally in the opposite business, they want to create monopolies.
As for '4', this report might shed some light on that:
If you agree that technology promotes various kinds of efficiencies (e.g. Uber), then companies who can invest the most in their technology platforms will win the market. Net result: when more investment is required for market participation, capital intensity goes up and you get industry concentration.
I think about this a lot as a matter of personal career planning. A lot of my friends work at Apple/Google/facebook and I don't, and I can't help but wonder whether many sectors of the American economy are going to be dominated by megacorps vs. clusters of small (inefficient, but where I prefer working) firms.
For example, ebay, a mostly decentralized business, keeps Amazon in check and somewhat limits it's power and offers an alternative - and it probably forced Amazon to become a platform for others. Same goes for solar panels, Android roms, forums/blogs vs news, etc.
One of the hardest skills to ever master is the art of putting oneself in others shoes. It's hard to imagine how it feels to live like a woman in a man dominated world because you can never experience that. Our solution to most crimes is to restrict ones freedom and hope that somehow that person will figure out why what he did was wrong. Does it have to take 15-30 years in order for someone to learn from his mistakes? Can we do better?
I believe we can. We should be able to put someone in an entirely different life by using hypnosis, VR, drugs, etc., and let them live a life so s/he can see the other side of world and learn things on his/her own. What sort of technological changes do we need to enable this? How do we model that virtual world to make people believe that its real? How would it impact someones life after such an experience?
Send us mail at email@example.com if you want to talk about any of these. We're working on fixing "we never see research with unexciting results" and a few others.
We've set up an email list, we're hoping to get some conversations started soon at satifer.com
For example, what would a school for children look like if it was re-imagined without the century of cruft that's built up. What do we do with children and how do we judge what we've done.
Another project might be re-imagining a hospital. Due to economics, advances in technology, current scientific advances, etc, we've come to a rather agreed-upon notion of what healing looks like that is only one answer in a huge space of possibilities. What would it look like if people truly, actually healed and maybe weren't worked on solely as the "medical bodies" they are now.
Hillary Cottam's career (link to TED talk, sorry: https://www.ted.com/talks/hilary_cottam_social_services_are_...) points in the direction of the type of thing I'm thinking of. These kinds of services seem fundamental to how humans work (we have to learn, we have to heal), so we should really use this opportunity to understand these things deeply.
- As another poster mentioned, how do we suck the carbon from 150 years of burning fossil fuels out of our atmosphere?
- Cognitive enhancement
- Re-wilding - rebuilding devastated ecosystems in the Anthropocene with engineered biodiversity
Currently in US there is a problem of buying political power that is hard to counter with standard democracy instruments (e.g. voting). When the specific political problem is discussed (like finance regulation or incarceration rates) there will usually be some corporations or interest groups that will have much higher incentive to lobby for a specific solution than average citizen. Also, they have much more resources than average citizen. This means that in long term there is a trend of political decisions that are not in the best interest of majority of population (you and me).
How to counter this? We can wait until ~50% of population realizes that this is a problem and votes for someone that will solve it. Or we could start a fund that would work relatively transparent and in those cases would lobby for solutions in the best interest of majority. Fond would be mostly financed by community (donors) - people that realized that the only way to tackle this is to group. Most of us have high incentive for making better society and together we have a lot of resources...so let's use it to make our societies better.
I think this is the next big thing after basic income (especially when the question of how to pay for basic income comes up).
The land value tax is universally seen by economists as the most fair tax, yet for whatever reason we continue to ignore it in favor of income, sales, and property taxes - all of which distort markets (unlike the land value tax).
The lack of research and real life case studies on this topic is a huge obstacle to this entering the mainstream.
1. Open source advocacy on why it matters (in the end, it's because human brains will rely on software more and more, and if we cant self-inspect 'it'... bad things). In the short term, OS distros that make the user experience slick. Custom distros that wrap all the best astro/bio/fea are excellent to show others what is possible and get people involved.
2. Things that give power to individuals. All individuals. Even ones we label to say they are not us. Dont rely on adding laws to accomplish it. Closed source self-driving 'connected' cars being an almost exact opposite.
3. Open source hardware. Really, not just hardware we can hack, but hardware we can replicate. (hard problem)
4. (to make #3 happen) Bounties (which others can chip-in to) for 100% open small scale lithography (a goal at a time; 8088@home) and biological computing (pie in the sky, but will happen, maybe faster than is generally assumed; 22k Rat neurons can pilot a F-22 sim).
5. Promote information sources that make the raw data available.
Admittedly I have no idea how something like that could be quantified, and the study of economics has been trying to figure it out for decades. But if YC Research is looking to make maximally impactful investments, it seems like studying investing itself would make sense. There's a high risk of not producing anything useful, but also a huge upside if you get just a little better at figuring out who to fund. YC Research is in a position to bring together people from the worlds of business, machine learning and economics who might be able to make a dent in the problem.
Practically, it seems like navigating the financial investment process is the core skill of YCombinator, so you'd already be pretty far down the learning curve. And you don't have to convince people to adopt your ideas right away, you can try out whatever ideas your research produces simply by making investments. Better capital allocation of all forms could have a really big impact on society at large, if the right systems can be developed.
Creating working, cheap, mass-produced rejuvenation therapies is the best way to save the most lives and eliminate the greatest amount of human suffering.
The most exciting areas right now are senescent cell clearance (and oh look there's a startup called Oisin Biotechnology seed funded by the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation), and glucosepane cross-link clearance, which I recently wrote a long blurb on the current state of at Fight Aging! That is at a point at which research is highly parallelizable and even small investments above the current funding will greatly speed the process of finding either a small molecule drug candidate or bacterial enzymes at the Spiegel lab at Yale.
Other areas making real progress and which could be further diversified and sped up are transthyretin amyloid clearance, where the current best approach there is locked up in the glacial GSK development process, and mitochondrial DNA repair, which is another one subject to great gains in speed due to parallelization of research.
Any of these are only a couple of years away from low-cost seed funded startups, and all are and have been dependent on philanthropy to move ahead in the lab. None of these incredibly promising lines of research are in any meaningful way supported by the existing funding establishment, which is crazy when you look at the data in mice and the supporting evidence. E.g. senescent cell clearance even in its first few animal studies has already produced better and more compelling benefits than any of the alleged calorie restriction mimetic or other age-slowing drug development efforts that have consumed billions over the past decade or so.