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US Looks For Input On "The Next Big Things" 309

Posted by samzenpus
from the talking-fruit dept.
coondoggie writes "What are the next big things in science and technology? Teleportation? Unlimited clean Energy? The scientists and researchers at DARPA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy put out a public call this week for ideas that could form what they call the Grand Challenges — ambitious yet achievable goals that that would herald serious breakthroughs in science and technology."
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US Looks For Input On "The Next Big Things"

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  • by Casandro (751346) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:06AM (#41616023)

    And it's very hard to subvert that. Whatever kind of technology you give to them, it _will_ be used to kill people first, then maybe for other users.

    Other ideas which would be beneficial to the world will probably be ignored. I mean the US is spending close to $700 Billion on "defence". If you'd simply divide that by 7 Billion (number of people), you can give everyone $100 a year, enough to afford them basic education. Or we could probably even settle on the moon and work on interstellar flight.

  • by bertok (226922) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:18AM (#41616069)

    It would change things for the better, not worse.

    There might be some very short-lived havoc in the markets caused by the sudden devaluation of energy company stocks, but that's it.

    First of all, most energy consumers aren't using fungible energy forms like electricity, but specific forms such as coal (smelting) or oil (fertilizers, fuel). Even if electricity was made free overnight, petrol would still cost money the next day! Converting all factories to purely electricity and building plants to generate hydrocarbon feedstock from CO2 and electricity would require massive investment in capital works. The markets would recover, and the result would be a boom like no other. Engineers that lost their jobs in the oil extraction industry would retrain and find jobs in the oil generation industry, or the oil-to-electricity plant conversion industry.

    On top of that, whole new industries would pop up or get a massive boost. For example, recycling is mostly a question of energy. Currently, it's just not worth it for a lot of things. Given unlimited free energy, the local rubbish tip suddenly becomes an worthwhile source of rare metals.

    To see how stupid your statement is, imagine living on a Moon base. What if somebody proposes a new technology for the free production of Oxygen:

    "Because cheap (or free), clean, unlimited oxygen would collapse the economy overnight and the ramifications of that would change the world as we know it. I'm all for unlimited clean air because I'm sure that stuff is great for people, but not at the expense of my life style. So if someone does come up with this, it better cost a few hundred million (or more) bucks to build a reactor and get it online."

    See how stupid that sounds?

    Is the Earth's economy endangered by an endless supply of free Oxygen?

    How about the endless supply of free sunlight?

  • Re:simple things (Score:1, Interesting)

    by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:22AM (#41616081)

    Easy.

    Thorium motherfucking reactors. Goddamn we've had this technology for how long and it isn't used because of some asshole president? Yeah I'm mad as hell. Practically free energy right at our fingertips -- completely free, virtually clean -- AND WERE NOT USING IT.

  • The Metric System? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Everything Else Was (786676) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:30AM (#41616113)
    Enough said...
  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:14AM (#41616303)

    Breakthroughs cannot be planned. You can put a whole lot of smart people to work, give them everything they want, and maybe you will get lucky. But any attempt to plan and direct breakthroughs will only serve to prevent them. That was one of the lessons from the soviet economy. Don't people ever listen?

    I think the Manhattan Project and the Apollo Program worked pretty well. Ditto for the oodles of federal dollars targeted at semiconductor technology in the mid 20th Century. Anti-retro-viral drugs were most certainly the result of large amounts of targeted funding. There are entire foundations dedicated to funding research for a specific type of cancer and survival rates have gone up dramatically as a result. I'll grant you that you cannot predict where or when a major discovery will occur, but with finite resources, research must be directed. Research funding is, in every country, highly targeted because a breakthrough will never occur in a field in which no one is working.

  • Re:simple things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:16AM (#41616567) Homepage

    I'd settle for a cheap and easy male contraception pill. If that came on the global market soon then I think the other 5 problems you mention would disappear within 25 years.

  • Re:simple things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarenN (411219) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @06:25AM (#41617331) Homepage

    I personally think that the great breakthrough that would change everything is energy storage that is significantly more energy dense (orders of magnitude) than the batteries we have today, chargeable, and stable.

    Think Heinlein's Shipstones and you've got the idea. Anyone who managed this would need to spend the first half of the money to build somewhere big enough to store the second half of the money.

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