We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Eight Grand Challenges for Humanity
Here are a goodly selection of
challenges that appear worthy of great prizes.As usual, what is missing is a financing plan that is believable.And the proposed challenges are largely
unbelievable and need fundamental rethinking to make anyone care.
A proper challenge must appear reachable.The best that I know is the promise of a continuous
mechanical transmission with no prize, but every mechanic understands the
benefit so none is needed.One century
and no tomato is the result.
As one can see it must be a
challenge that is plausible to attract real effort.
It is presently plausible that
smart engineering will give us a bird able to get into orbit.Even better, work on the problem will
certainly drive down the costs.There prizes
work and targets are been met.
In this list, we start of with a
bore hole to the center of the Earth that for starters will require a vastly
better understanding of gravity.Curiously, I do not dismiss the possibility but need to do a lot of lab
work before I would want to even comment on the topic.I know somewhat of what we do not know.
Most of the problems listed are part
of the gravity problem.
There are other great problems
that need attention.Start with the
successful fabrication of a magnetic field exclusion vessel which is also
likely a UFO.The physics is now in
place and it is about the materials now.A working device is possible, even if it failed in a few minutes, as
proof of concept.That certainly
deserves a huge prize because it opens up the entire solar system.
On Sunday I gave the closing keynote at the World Future Society’s
“WorldFuture 2011″ event in Vancouver,
BC. It was an energized crowd of
inspired thinkers from around the globe, and I felt quite honored to be part of
As I took the stage, my goal was to introduce the crowd to a series of
Eight Grand Challenges, incentivized competitions designed to push humanity to
But as with many crowds, there was a formidable issue in the minds of
attendees, a hurdle of acceptance before these challenges would be deemed
At issue was our obsession with solving all of today’s problems before
we dare think about advancing humanity. How can we possibly justify advancing
humanity when the money would be far better spent solving today’s massive
Answering this objection first, was critically important, so here is
the way I presented it.
If we only focus on solving today’s problems, we become trapped in the
past. Every solution leads to another set of problems. Much like the whack-a-mole
game at video arcades, as one problem gets pounded down, another pokes its ugly
The only real way out is to advance civilization. By advancing
civilization we change the nature of the problems we’re dealing with, and that
is exactly what the Eight Grand Challenges have been designed to do.
I began by setting the stage with a series of questions. For this crowd
the questions were framed around the vast areas of white space, what we don’t
know, compared to the tiny areas of certainty, what we do know.
The three questions were as follows:
“If you could live on any planet in the universe, where would you
live?” Asking where we want to live on earth is a perfectly reasonable
question. But as we all know, we know virtually nothing about the other planets
in the universe. To some, this is merely a question too absurd to fathom. But
to others, it demonstrated the very real limits we place on our thinking.
“If you had a choice of living at any time in the past or in the
future, what would you choose?”Hmmm. Turns out that we don’t know anything
about the future, and when we look backwards, we only have a very crude
understanding of the past. For all our claims to brilliance and ingenuity, we
remain a very unenlightened species.
“In a non-religious context, who is the world’s most famous
The answers I got from the audience to this question ranged from Leonardo
DaVinci, to Isaac Newton, to Michael Jackson, to Thomas Edison, to Gandhi, to
These are all good answers. But
my assumption is that the world’s most famous person has not been born yet.
Using that assumption, the logical next question is, “What is the
accomplishment that will make that person so incredibly famous?”
Put another way, what are the big things that still need to be
Answering this question is exactly what led the DaVinci Institute to
develop the Eight Grand Challenges in the first place, as well as our work on
the Museum of Future Inventions project a few years
ago. While still a work in progress, the Museum serves as the long-term guiding
vision of what we hope to accomplish in the years ahead.
History of Prizes
In the middle 1800s one of the most popular sports in the United States
was billiards. Restaurants and saloons were quick to pick up on the game’s
popularity, using it to attract new customers, and soon after the concept of a
billiard parlor took hold, with many communities feeling left out if they
didn’t have one.
One of the driving forces behind the sport was Michael Phelan, an Irish
immigrant, who wrote one of the first American books on the game, and was
influential in setting rules and standards of behavior for the game. He founded
the Phelan and Collender company, which developed new table and cushion designs
and heavily promoted the sport. Later, in 1884 his company merged with the Brunswick.
However, billiards was a sport that created a huge demand for ivory,
the only known substance at the time for manufacturing billiard balls. By 1860
the demand for ivory had grown so intense that industry experts estimated over
100,000 elephants a year were being slaughtered to fill all the orders. To make
matter worse, because of the imperfections in the ivory, they were only able to
extract around eight billiard balls per elephant. A truly sad commentary on
Michael Phelan recognized the problem and in 1863 offered up the
$10,000 Phelan and Collender prize for the best ivory substitute for making
billiard balls. Six years later in 1869, John Wesley Hyatt came forward with
his invention of Celluloid, the world’s first practical synthetic plastic.
Although he was never paid the prize money, he went on to found the Albany
Billiard Ball Company and the prize inspired a major milestone in the early
days of the plastics industry.
Throughout history there are many examples of incentive prizes that
produced amazing results.
In 1714 the British Parliament offered a cash prize for reducing
shipwrecks by creating a precise method for determining a ship’s longitude. The
prize of ₤14,315 was won by John Harrison for a specialized precision clock: a
In 1919, Raymond Orteig, a New York
hotelier, announced a $25,000 prize for the first person to fly nonstop between
New York and Paris. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh won that prize,
opening the door to transoceanic air travel.
In 1980, a $100,000 prize was created by computer science professor
Edward Fredkin, for the first computer to beat a reigning world chess
champion. The prize was awarded to IBM’s inventors of the Deep Blue
machine in 1997. Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in the
final game of a tied, 6-game match in May, 1997. The Deep Blue
inventors were Fang Hsu, Murray Campbell,
and Joseph Hone.
Launched in 1996, the Ansari X Prize was a space competition in which
the X-Prize Foundation offered a $10 million prize for the first non-government
organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two
weeks. The prize was won on October 4, 2004, the 47th anniversary of the
Sputnik 1 launch, by the Tier One project designed by Burt Rutan and financed
by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, using the experimental space plane called
These are but a few of the many prize competitions used to shift public
Project, an effort spearheaded by the Brookings Institute, endorses the use of
prizes to stimulate technological innovation. It states that technology prizes
are “an old idea whose time has come again.” The project went on to state,
“Prizes can also generate public excitement and enthusiasm for science and
technology, and encourage more young people to pursue careers in science,
engineering, or technology-based entrepreneurship.”
Our Need to Compete
The most famous prizes in the world today are the Nobel Prizes.
However, those are backward-looking prizes intended to reward some of the
world’s best and brightest for past accomplishments.
Incentive prizes are different. They serve a vastly different purpose,
to incentive people for future accomplishments.
Our need to compete is something that has been instilled in us at an
early age. We compete with people physically in athletic competitions, and
intellectually in academic competitions. But when it comes to science and math,
the fundamental building blocks needed to advance civilization; we have very
few finish lines.
Eight Grand Challenges
The Eight Grand Challenges have been framed around incredibly difficult
fetes and at stake will be a combination of national pride, personal legacies,
and laying claim to unprecedented achievements in science and industry.
Here is an overview of the “Eight Grand Challenges”:
Race to the Core: First
team to build a probe that makes it all the way to the center of the earth with
a communication system capable of sending real-time sensory data to the
Viewing the Past: Create
a technology capable of replaying an unrecorded event that happened no less
than 20 years earlier in actual-size, in holographic form.
First team to reduce a solid block of granite (2’ cube) to particles no larger
than molecules in less than 10 seconds, using less than 500 watts of power
without causing an explosion or physical damage to objects more than 10′ away.
The Gravity Challenge:
Demonstrate gravitational control over an object weighing no less than 2,000
lbs. by doubling the force of gravity to 4,000 lbs., reducing the force of
gravity by 50% to 1,000 lbs., and creating negative gravity by lifting the
object 1,000 ft and returning it back to the original position with no
explosions and in less than 10 minutes.
The Ultimate Small Storage Particle: Create an electron-based data storage system no larger than 10
millimeters cubed that can be manufactured for less than $1 per 100 terabytes
and is capable of uploading, storing, and retrieving a volume of information
equal to the U.S. Library of Congress in less than 10 minutes using less than 1
watt per TB/month.
Travel at the Speed of Light:
Create a scientific probe capable of traveling at the speed of light for a
distance no less than the Earth to Saturn with information sensors to capture
stresses, impacts, and details along the way.
Swarm-Bots: Create a
swarm of 10,000 synchronized micro drones no larger than 10 millimeters across
(height, width, and depth) capable of lifting a 250-pound person to a height of
100 feet and gently returning him/her to the ground.
The 10-Second Interface:
Create a direct-to-the-mind interface that will allow 25 average people to
answer a series of questions within 10 seconds with no harmful side effects to
Unique to these competitions, only countries will be allowed to enter
teams, and each country will be limited to no more than two teams. All teams
will be required to maintain accurate records of their personnel, research
data, and stages of progress.
Similar to the Olympics, members of the winning team will each receive
a gold medal. However, the true value will come from the accomplishment. Each
has the potential to unlock vast new industries.
More importantly, the team that wins will have carved out their own
legacy with a permanent place in the next generation of history books.
The cost of managing competitions of this nature will be significant.
For this reason the entrance fee for each team has been set at $1 million USD
per team. The money will be used to fund an endowment to insure the long-term
viability of each competition.
As the competitions ramp up, an entirely new organization will be
created. The resulting organization will require a highly skilled management
team and staff members who possess extraordinary technical expertise. The
management team will need to be in place for many years, perhaps even decades.
The entrance fee represents a tiny fraction of one percent of the
amount each team will need to budget for their efforts. Team budgets for each
competition will likely be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Each competition will also require its own governing body. Since each
will be a venture into the unknown, pushing the limits of science and
technology, there will need to be an international governing body responsible
for oversight and dealing with unforeseeable circumstances.
The exact makeup and responsibilities of the governing bodies will be
determined over the coming months. But minimally they will include one
representative per team from the countries they represent.
Some competitions may not be completed in our lifetime, and each will
be constructed around a framework that will allow it to evolve with our
understanding of science.
They are designed to stretch human thinking and push the envelope. More
than just a series of competition, we view them as a turning point in world
history. Our hope, at this stage, is that they will stir the imagination of
people around the world and incite a global conversation.