Harder Than They Think

by Dave Schuler on May 16, 2014

On a pretty routine basis these days you’ll hear someone or another say that the only reason we don’t have X is money when the even greater problems are technical. In some cases the things that are being proposed may even be impossible or at least not possible for the foreseeable future. Let’s develop a little collaborative list of such things. I’ll start.

  • New antibiotics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Better batteries, i.e. smaller, hold more charge, hold charge longer
  • Human travel to other solar systems

For the purposes of this list let’s stick to things that are hard from a scientific or technical standpoint not things that are hard from an economic or political standpoint.

This post was inspired by this exchange:

starting about 5:20 in. I think that developing a new antibiotic from a standing start in just ten years is much more difficult than they’re making it sound. I think we’ve already picked the low-hanging fruit and from here on out it will be increasingly difficult to develop new antibiotics that work. Maybe in geometric time.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam May 16, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Algae derived bio-diesel
un-intrusive wearable tech
“the next big thing” – too many smart companies not spending money cause they don’t know what to do with it

PD Shaw May 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Nuclear Fusion power

steve May 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Suspended animation
Pain medicines without side effects
Viable neural regeneration, especially spinal cord or brain
Real time non-invasive monitoring of body chemicals
Computers and smartphones that old people can understand
In vivo regrowth of new organs, or parts of new organs
Diet pills that work, that dont kill you
Alzheimer cure
Quantum computer

Dave Schuler May 16, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Algae derived bio-diesel

Despite how rosy that looked five or six years ago, it still appears to be out of reach. They’re now saying 25 years. Since the research began 30 years ago I think that translates into “never”. Sort of the equivalent of a Friedman unit. Another that might be on the list: commercially viable cellulosic ethanol.

Computers and smartphones that old people can understand

On the other hand I strongly suspect that in 30-50 years we’ll have old people who are able to use computers and smartphones.

In vivo regrowth of new organs, or parts of new organs

In vitro or printed may be closer.

Ben Wolf May 16, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Nanoscale assemblers

Artificial limbs and organs fully powered by glucose or ATP

Ending cancer

Commercial software that isn’t a jumbled mess of code layered upon blown apart code

Responsive representative democracy.

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