Our Open Research Questions

Robin Hanson (hanson@hss.caltech.edu)
Thu, 8 May 1997 16:34:01 -0700 (PDT)

We are a community, and this community has different aspects. We are
a social group, in that we share a history of socializing together and
knowing each other. And we are a community of commonality: In some
way we are people who share certain values. In other ways we are
likely people who share certain beliefs. And we share common
interests in what sorts of new developments elsewhere we'd like to
hear about.

But in part at least, we are also a research community. And as such a
community we must share some core open research questions. These are
questions where we not only want to keep each other abreast of
research done elsewhere, but where our interests and abilities are so
strong that we consider contributing to such research ourselves. And
where we would likely turn to each other first for criticism and
comments on this research.

I think it would help if we could just collect a list of suggested
research questions. Then we could talk about which we think are more
interesting and important, so we could create a common impression of
our core questions. Knowing that our community knows it is interested
in these questions would help inspire people like me to actually go
research those questions.

Here are some that come to mind, biased of course to my interests:

What does the Great Silence tell us about our future chances for expansion?

How does the brain encode long-term information in neurons? What
devices could read this information with enough accuracy for uploading?

What would be the labor and population economics of a post-upload
world, or a post AI world?

What are the primary causes of economic growth, and how will upcoming
technologies such as nanotech, AI, uploads, WWW, affect growth rates?

What new tech transitions pose the most risk for sudden destabilizing
changes? How could we best avoid such problems?

How strongly does/will evolutionary pressures change values, and in
what direction? How plastic are our values now?

Why are we such a minority? Is it our values or beliefs or
intelligence, or what? If our beliefs, we can't we persuade others,
and how sure are we that we're not wrong?

Would new institutions, such as fact forums, hypertext debate, or idea
futures help much to persuade others?

How can a cryonics organization remain stable for as long as required?

What are the real limiting factors to large scale space colonization?
E.g., how cheap a launch to get to support energy or mining colonies?

What are the real limiting factors to large-scale crypto? Do we want it?

What core "constitutional" contract would best support the widest
freedom in private law and elsewhere for a long time?

What would be good private law contracts to consider to deal with:
defense, scale economies, privacy, slavery, marriage, intellectual
property, restitution, pollution, children's rights, etc.?

What now limits freedom? People's perceptions of how much freedom
they want, or structural failings of our forms of government?

What are the prospects for getting more freedom via intentional
physical communities vs. cyberspace vs. political advocacy?

How should one best define property rights in near solar space?
Can these be profitably sold before "mixing labor with land"?