Fundamental Problems

A series of problems I want solved within my lifetime

I have this notepad in my Google keep called “The next 100 years”. It’s a little odd, but I think there’s huge value in laying out what you’d want to work on/where you think humanity should be placing it’s big bets, so I’m here they are. Years ago I thought giving away ideas was asinine, but I’m realizing more and more that it doesn’t matter; these aren’t so revolutionary as to suffer from someone stealing them. And if they do, who cares, it means the thing got done and there’s one less thing I have to worry about.

Before I start though, I want to give a little background. I well and truly believe we have the capacity, within this lifetime, to have a digital renaissance powered by automation. I also believe that we’ll start eliminating jobs at an accelerated rate, resulting in an accelerated transition of manual work to knowledge work. The goal with these is to work backwards from this world. A world where everything that’s required to survive is taken care of (I call this escape velocity) and we have the time, money, and abilities to create moonshot (maximize launches). All of the ideas in this post aim to give people either the stability to create their dreams, or help in channeling their creative prowess to unlock something completely new. We’re either going to blow ourselves up, having a great depression x 1000, or we’ll move towards this renaissance. I think the singular focus of this generation should be making sure we get to the latter.

Without further adieu, here are some of the ideas:

Universal Basic Everything: One of the largest barriers to entry for building something new is “Well, I need healthcare/food/etc”, especially for those who have families. Currently, only those who are immensely privileged have the opportunity to attempt to build truly crazy shit (or even anything at all). People need to know they’ll be safe from outside forces so they can focus on building their art, science, etc. For us to arrive at a digital renaissance, we need to be 100% focused on what we’re doing on not how we survive. This means providing a base level of food, water, healthcare, and housing for those who lead an average life. An emphasis on average though.

Neural Interfaces: The verdict is out on whether this one’s possible or not. I went over it within my blog post about Auditory networks, but the ability to read thoughts and distill them into something useful. The largest problem with this is the skull acts as a natural high pass filter, blocking out a lot of the signals that would make granular operations like typing useful. However, in it’s current form it’s not impossible to encode macros, which we can associate with commands (Volume up, volume down, etc). At some point I believe the hardware will get small enough for us to carry around effectively, at which point it’ll be critical to refine those waves into commands.

True AR: This one and neural interfaces are pretty coupled, given that they’re almost read/write counterparts to the same feedback loop. If you can unlock the ability to create using neural inputs, and AR can surfaces those creations you’ve made the same jump from PC as we did to iPhones, except it’s iPhones to your minds eye. Lots of this relies on getting hardware small enough to work efficiently, but hopefully we can push battery and silicon tech far enough to make some smart glasses. This will be the mobile phone moment of our generation, I well and truly hope

BiOS: Access everything about yourself. Realtime Biological Monitoring. I want to tracking when I’m most efficient, and what compounds, foods, levels of sleep, etc are when I’m hitting my stride. But more than that, the body knows we’re sick before we do. We’re already seeing indicators like HRV, average body temperature, etc change before we know we’re infected. If you can track this data, you can not only know what is and isn’t working for people from a diet, exercise, health, sleep, etc perspective, but also how to mitigate the spread of diseases. These are likely going to require implants, which I’m bullish on but I understand really isn’t for everyone.

City “Printing”: As places like San Francisco become more burdened by NIMBYisms and tech debt, transportation gets better and remote work becomes more feasible, the last “big rock” is getting cities to critical mass. Nobody wants to move somewhere that’s in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store/bar/etc. If you can preprocess demand and mobilize resources to quickly create cities, you can unburden yourself from legislative issues and everything that plagues current cities (Terrible design, roads, legislature, etc).

High Speed Travel: Again, this one and the above one are really coupled. We need to be building high speed rail. Maglev trains. All that amazing stuff. We need to be able to go farther, faster. Not because I want to spend weekends in New York and weekdays in San Francisco, but because we need affordable housing.

Sending Money Still Sucks: This one I have to include. Personally, I think crypto’s greatest contribution will be to skirt legislature around banking, money, etc. The mechanisms in which it act don’t matter, and I suspect centralization/transaction rollbacks is a bug not a feature. Cryptos lack of “idiotproof” means that it’ll never get mass adoption without something standing infront of it. TL:DR You might not like it, but XRP is what peak performance looks like. The best shot I have with this is a payment app aggregator that let’s you put in all your Venmo, CashApp, etc as well as a direct bank wire. Sending from one user to another is allowed provided they share a common network or have a banking app associated. Then again, this xkcd basically covered it

Universal Botnets: Memoized cronjobs as a service. I need to be able to retroactively perform an action that I’m about to perform, or have already performed, generically. Think IFTTT on steroids. Think models hosted in the cloud that I can just borrow out of a searchbar that pops up when you need it. “Summarize this”, “Post this later”. Assitants like Siri and Google home are getting there, but I think this ends not with a 1st party solution, but with a series of models hosted on lambda functions that you can call or contribute to. The fact of the matter is that humans have an enormous incentive automate away the boring and mundane shit from their life; the Product Manager at Google less so. If you give people the tools to create these automation models and share them with the world, we’ll get covering pretty quick.

The Matching Engine: Search is solved, Discovery is not. It’s one of the reasons I’m bullish on Pinterest despite getting razzed every time I bring it up. Finding your tribe, your people, your mentors, etc is still an exhaustive search of your network graph and beyond. Right now, the best way to do this is have a friend who:

1) Knows both of you
2) Has the extroversion to shove you together
3) Both of you overcome your awkwardness and figure out you’ve got lots in common

I fantasize about a website where I put in everything I want to work on (Similar to this list), it vectorizes the words, and performs a similarity search on it. As of present day, if you want to build rockets you have to figure out where all the rocket people are, show enough clout to get into SpaceX (If you can even, foreigners are completely out of defense businesses), work your ass off at some big company where 80% of your job isn’t what you’re wanting to be doing, and FINALLY maybe get to building some rockets. We need a way to get 50-100 people together making jet fuel out of etchasketches. Sure, maybe some will blow their fingers off, but it’s sorta the risk they signed up for when they started building rockets with random people from internet.

Building Software Sucks: If we’re to transition from the world of atoms to the world of bits, building software is gonna have to get A LOT better. How do we provision databases, how do we migrate data, how do we deploy new changes without blowing up our old system. These, and an absolute shitload more, are problems every non-entry level engineer has to think about. Tools like AWS and GCP give us so much, but with the upfront cost of figuring out brittle schemas, data access patterns, security rules, how to write a dockerfile, etc. The ideal development flow is “I need X. Ctrl + Enter to open search. Find X. Start using X”. We need to build better infrastructure for people to do this without leaving their environment. We need to be building infrastucture that makes our lives easier, that’s so braindead we can give it children and they’ll build shit we’ve never even thought of. If you can take all the development complexity away from building/deploy/etc, maybe we’ll get less document apps like notion and more crazy shit. Building software shouldn’t be the limiting reagent in building dreams.

The Habit Engine: The disconnect between doing productive vs consumption oriented tasks is getting too large. It takes 10,000 hours to be a professional violinist, but it takes <1 second to open TikTok. The fact of the matter is, for most of us our lizard brain is more powerful than our thinking brain. Technology has the capacity to change that in either direction. We often know exactly what we SHOULD be doing, and can encode it into rules which we SHOULD be following (e.g don’t play videogames until you’re done laundry), but there’s no real cost to putting most things off. If we can develop these rules when we’re feeling strong and get an assist when we’re feeling week, we can naturally gravitate towards progress. In this category, I dream of some sort of “accountability network” where everyone can keep people honest about their goals and their progressions. Maybe using programmable money like ETH, who knows.

I have lots of other problems that would be great to work on. I want a tailor/stylist in my pocket, I want to take a photo of a room and have someone decorate it, but these don’t advance society. They don’t get us to that digital renaissance.

I think every great idea has given people a bit of a “sandbox” to live within. If you can give your application a smidge of the creativity that exists within the real world, they’ll do shit you’ve never even imagined with it. Look at Minecraft, look at Figma, look at the operating systems. These platforms so to speak, are what I want to focus my time on. To me, building platforms is probably one of the most impactful things you can do in your lifetime. Unlocking that smidge of creativity let’s you travel from a world of bounded gains, to the realm of the unbounded. Each fundamental problem outlined here has the capacity to unlock something entirely new, whether it’s creativity, economic growth, or saved time.

There are many, MANY more, but these kinds of problems are the one’s I want to be working on.