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Why aren't there blue sky research labs funded by curious billionaires? Xerox PARC's key computing inventions cost a total of US$48 million in today's dollars [1]. There may not be so much big cheap low-hanging fruit now, but there is still plenty within reach. Bezos could be doing this instead of or as well as Blue Origin (which he's been funding at US$1 billion/year [2]).

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2012/08/01/the-lesson...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Origin

Think of what the Vision Fund could have achieved with this mindset.

I’d love for a billionaire to offer 18-25 year-olds, $25k for a summer to explore new projects.

You could fund 1000 kids with promising projects for $25 million.

If the next great innovation will start as a toy, we need to encourage people to make more toys.

A few do.

- There are three Allen Institutes (Brain Science, Cell Science, and AI), funded by Microsoft's Paul Allen in Seattle.

- The Gates Foundation (also funded by Microsoft, I guess) funds research, though mostly at existing institutes.

- The Howard Hughes Memorial Institute funds a bunch of research at its Janelia Farms Campus, plus provides lavish support investigators at universities.

- Eli and Ethyl Broad put up about $700M to endow the Broad Institute at Harvard/MIT.

- The Michael J Fox foundation funds a lot of Parkinson's Disease research.

Don't forget:

- Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

- Simons Foundation

- Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation

- Sloan Foundation

You can even put companies like Numenta on this list, which is pretty much blue sky research, even if nominally for profit


I was actually just looking at a job posting at the Simons Foundation, which makes its omission that much more embarrassing. The Schwartz Foundation also paid for some stuff (and a lot of pizza) in grad school,so I should give them a nod! CZI and Simons/Flatiron have their own buildings. I think GBM and Sloan are more grant-making organizations.

There's also DE Shaw Research, which is particularly interesting since the billionaire in question works there himself.

I mean, isn't that what Peter Thiel is doing? Giving college age people $100k to drop out and do a startup?


With a startup, there's a very strong profit motivation. With blue sky research, you're just exploring and discovering and inventing, and doing that without a strict goal of profit leads to unexpected things that wouldn't easily be found in other settings.

Not just startups (though the focus might have shifted toward them in recent years, not sure). The Wikipedia article says that Fellows are funded to "drop out of school and pursue other work, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement".


In some ways, yes. I was advocating for something a little smaller and tied a little less directly to commercial products.

More of a mashup of the MacArthur and Thiel Fellowships.

Isn't this what universities basically do with graduate students? They tend to be a bit older, the pay maybe a little less, but universities does allow pretty high level of freedom.

Of course there are lots of problem with academic culture, like overemphasis on maximizing citation count. But the setup you describe will also require some form of simple metric to track progress- to ensure that 25k isn't going down the drain.

A lot of academic research is locked into a particular model where every project has to be doable by 1-3 main people, most of whom are "trainees", and produce a (positive) result in 1-3 years. It's not totally impossible to do other things, but the career incentives push pretty hard in this direction: trainees need 1st author papers, it's harder to fund postdocs after a few years, etc.

Proper staff scientist jobs would help break out of this mould and might even be more cost-effective by reducing churn in the lab and providing people with more guidance.

==But the setup you describe will also require some form of simple metric to track progress- to ensure that 25k isn't going down the drain.==

Maybe. I don't think MacArthur tracks the spending of their Fellowship (a much larger amount).

==According to the foundation's website, "the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential". The current prize is $625,000 paid over five years in quarterly installments. This figure was increased from $500,000 in 2013 with the release of a review of the MacArthur Fellows Program. Since 1981, 942 people have been named MacArthur Fellows, ranging in age from 18 to 82. The award has been called "one of the most significant awards that is truly 'no strings attached'".==


The article claims that university is research is primarily curiosity driven rather than commercially driven, so ultimately discovers fundamental solutions instead of practical ones that can be sold.

University research is strongly optimized to please grant commitees.

> Xerox PARC's key computing inventions cost a total of US$48 million in today's dollars [1]

This sounds like a form of suvivorship bias. If you know which research pans out it wouldn't be research. You need to also include the cost of research done by other companies that led to nothing or something less impactful.

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