Discover more from Transportist
Transportist: 9 Grand Challenges
A Collaboration with #ChatGPT4
Below is my list of grand challenges … important speculative research topics that are considered “out there” and so don’t get serious research from serious researchers. These are not necessarily transport related (although 3-8 clearly have transport angles). I believe these are important because these will profoundly shape how we live and understand the world sometime in the next century. They are research in that we don’t actually know how to do these things. They are also not topics I am personally likely to pursue (except maybe Space Cities if space somehow takes-off during the remainder of my career).1
Intra-species Animal Communication: Studying communication within a species will help us better understand animal cognition, behaviour, and social structures. This research will improve animal welfare, and give us insights into the evolution of communication and intelligence.
Inter-species Animal Communication: Investigating communication between different species will help us develop methods to interact with and understand animals on a deeper level. This has practical applications in wildlife management, veterinary care, and even interspecies cooperation in agriculture or environmental protection.
Space Elevator: A space elevator is a proposed transport system connecting Earth to space using a tethered cable. Research in this area focuses on materials science, orbital mechanics, and engineering. Successful development of a space elevator will revolutionize access to space, making it more affordable and sustainable, and opening up new possibilities for space exploration, inter-planetary migration, resource extraction, and scientific discovery.
Space Cities: These are self-sustaining habitats built in space, either on celestial bodies like the Moon or Mars, or in orbit around Earth. Developing space cities would enable long-term human presence in space. Research topics include habitat design, life support systems, space agriculture, and radiation protection.
Climate Control: This research area focuses on developing technologies and strategies to manipulate Earth's climate. It may mitigate the effects of climate change. Approaches include carbon capture and storage, solar radiation management, and ocean fertilization. Climate control is important for ensuring the long-term survival of earth’s ecosystems.
Terraforming: Terraforming involves altering the environment of a planet or moon to make it habitable for humans. This is crucial for the expansion of humanity into space and the potential colonisation of other celestial bodies. Research in this area includes atmospheric engineering, planetary geology, and astrobiology.
Automation: Advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning will continue to drive automation. This area is critical for increasing efficiency and productivity in various industries, as well as addressing labor shortages and dangerous working conditions. [See also: Automating Innovation ]
Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP): EMP research focuses on understanding and mitigating the effects of high-energy electromagnetic pulses, which can be caused by natural phenomena (solar flares) or human activities (nuclear explosions). EMPs pose a significant threat to electronic systems and infrastructure, making research on protection and mitigation strategies essential for ensuring global security and stability.
Immortality and Eternal Youth: Research in this area seeks to understand and potentially reverse the aging process. Breakthroughs will extend lifespans, improve health, and eventually grant us a form of immortality (from natural causes of death).
Transportist is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
ChatGPT was prompted to come up with some others:
There are several long-term research topics that haven't received sufficient scientific attention, despite their potential impact on the future. Some of these include:
Ocean Exploration: Despite covering more than 70% of Earth's surface, much of the ocean remains unexplored. Increased research into deep-sea environments, ecosystems, and the potential for new resources could lead to significant discoveries that impact our understanding of Earth's biodiversity, climate, and sustainable development.
Quantum Computing: Quantum computing is an emerging field that leverages the principles of quantum mechanics to process information on an entirely different scale than classical computers. Further research in this area could revolutionize computing, cryptography, and solve complex problems currently considered intractable.
Fusion Energy: Fusion energy has the potential to provide a nearly limitless, clean, and safe source of power. However, practical implementation remains elusive due to the scientific and engineering challenges involved in containing and sustaining fusion reactions. More research and investment in this area could lead to breakthroughs that transform the global energy landscape.
Synthetic Biology: This interdisciplinary field combines biology, engineering, and computer science to design and construct new biological systems or redesign existing ones. Synthetic biology has the potential to address numerous challenges, from producing biofuels to creating personalized medicine. However, it requires more attention to fully understand its risks and ethical implications.
Human Enhancement Technologies: Research into human enhancement technologies, such as gene editing, brain-computer interfaces, and nanotechnology, could significantly improve human capabilities and quality of life. However, these technologies also raise ethical concerns and questions about access, equity, and potential misuse.
AI Safety and Ethics: As artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, research into AI safety and ethics is crucial to ensure that AI systems are designed to align with human values and to prevent unintended consequences. This includes understanding the social, political, and economic implications of AI, as well as developing methods to ensure AI transparency, explainability, and fairness.
Dark Matter and Dark Energy: Despite making up a significant portion of the universe, dark matter and dark energy remain poorly understood. Further research into these mysterious phenomena could unlock new insights into the fundamental nature of the universe and have significant implications for our understanding of physics and cosmology.
Biodegradable Materials: With increasing concerns about plastic pollution and waste accumulation, research into biodegradable materials could lead to the development of more sustainable alternatives. This includes the exploration of new materials derived from biological sources, as well as methods to improve the decomposition of existing materials.
The Human Microbiome: The human microbiome is a complex ecosystem of microorganisms that inhabit the human body, playing a crucial role in our health and well-being. Research into the human microbiome is still in its infancy, and a deeper understanding could revolutionize our knowledge of human health, disease prevention, and treatment.
I am personally skeptical of the significance of Quantum and Fusion and AI alignment as topics, though history may prove me wrong:
Quantum gets tons of attention already, not sure what problems it really solves that traditional computers don’t already solve except cracking weak crypto keys that are poorly secured.
Fusion has been promised for so long, and I think renewables plus long distance transmission plus batteries (and with EVs, there will be so many batteries) will make it largely moot.
On AI, not that I wish that AI shouldn’t be aligned, just either at some point it will gain consciousness, and make its own decisions, or before then, will be controlled by people’s whose values don’t align with our own (i.e. the bad guys), so it is more or less unenforceable if we (the good guys) don’t maintain AI supremacy.
ChatGPT elaborated the text on the various topics of my list.