Erik McClure

19 Problems For A New Generation


Seth’s Blog made a post about Hilbert’s List, a list of 23 problems David Hilbert proposed in 1900, which served as a guiding light for mathematical research throughout most of the 20th century. Seth proposes we create a list of problems to guide us through the 21st century, as a way to drive forward research in computer programming and science in general. I was inspired to create my own list of fundamental problems that should drive our research in the coming decades, in the hopes that some of us believe that pushing technology forward is about attacking real issues, instead of finding ways to deliver coffee via drones.

One key aspect of this that people tend to miss is that the items are not always intended to be “solvable”, or even necessarily well-formed. They are designed to make us think about the future, to invest in long term scientific research. Several of Hilbert’s own problems were proven to be un-answerable or not meaningful in their original form. We cannot afford to become so blinded by current events that we lose sight of the future. We must constantly be imagining a brighter tomorrow to work towards, even as we fight for more mundane improvements in the present day.

Most of the problems in my list are designed to be solved or at least indirectly assisted by improvements in computer science and increased automation, although some are more sociological. In the spirit of the original post, I encourage readers to use this as inspiration for their own list.

  1. A foundation for computing that is architecture-independent, cross-platform, extensible and adaptable to a wide range of user interfaces.
  2. An international digital identity that enables a “digital object” ownership system which replaces passwords and DRM.
  3. A fully automated and interconnected network of automated cars, trains, and planes that make personal transport across the country simple and easy.
  4. Logistics as a service, creating on top of a layer of trucks, drones, freight trains, and cargo ships.
  5. A standardized digital “overlay” on top of reality that can interface with all augmented reality devices, enabling people to create a shared digital world.
  6. Fully automated at-scale vertical farming for both cities and individuals.
  7. Successor to the internet that is distributed, robust against bad actors, and suitable for a modern interconnected world of billions of devices moving around.
  8. Complete security overhaul of all internet enabled devices, creating a granular, tier-based national cybersecurity standard for IoT devices, infrastructure, medical software, cars, and other safety-critical devices.
  9. Distributed, verifiable digital voting system that operates at scale and is resistant against bad actors or hostile states.
  10. Verifiable, memory-safe, easy to use programming languages that compile quickly and produce near-optimal machine code on all architectures, for both high-level and systems programming.
  11. Post-capitalist economic system that decouples basic survival from free market participation (should remove the free market from basic necessities, health care, food, shelter, the internet and other utilities, but allow it to operate on other goods and services).
  12. Replace all modern democracies with mixed-member proportional representation and single transferable vote via ranked choice voting.
  13. True digital neural interface that allows organic neurons dendrites to connect to digital neurons.
  14. Large scale, cost-effective carbon sequestration and satisfying 100% of our global energy budget via renewable energy.
  15. Aggressive biosphere reconstruction that reverses catastrophic loss of biomass.
  16. Cost-effective arcologies, or city designs that minimize dispersal to eliminate commutes and create more natural human neighborhoods.
  17. Programmable bacteria or nanotechnology, combined with CRISPR or stem cells to treat genetic disorders, disease, and allow repairing biological systems.
  18. A safe Friendly AI, or at least a properly constrained AGI that is capable of unbounded, undirected learning while preserving human values.
  19. Permanent space port in orbit around earth or as a lunar colony.

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