An intractable problem is one that cannot be solved easily, but does need to be solved. We frequently find them in the realm of engineering versus science. Where a scientist may have a difficult problem of building a unified field theory, that is different than the intractable problem of designing and constructing safe nuclear power plants because the solution must meet reality.
Unfortunately, today's startups aren't addressing the intractable problems of our time because there are far easier ways to create returns for investors and since most science is funded by corporate interests, our society spends more time focused on launching the next divisive social media platform rather than caring for the people using it.
Solving Intractable Problems
The process of solving an intractable problem differs from solving a theoretical problem in that it must work and it differs from solving a business problem in that a great solution is 1000x better than a mediocre one. So solving this class of problems takes a different mindset than what is taught in schools or is applied in the business community.
Ultimately minds solve these class of problems moreso than capital. Once the problems is solved the business community will be invaluable in deploying the solution, but business is not the right tool for finding the solution. Luckily, a new class of individual is emerging in our culture: the tech-wealthy who have created wealth at a young age by applying their skill in science and technology and now find themselves with many years remaining where they could apply their abilities to make progress on this class of problem.
Problems Worth Solving
I have made an attempt to identify and solve intractable problems so future generations will have it a bit easier.
Journalistic Credibility: Journalism has taken a beating during the past decade. Whether due to disruption by social media platforms, 24-hour for-profit news networks, elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, or simple greed; the general consensus is that journalism is dead. How do we create incentives for high quality journalism that is consumable by the population.
A world without fossil fuels: Despite the popular maligning of fossil fuels, they are a necessity in today's world with applications ranging from power generation, transportation, fertilizer and chemical production, down to the plastics we use every day. However, they will not always be available. Ignoring the highly politicized climate change argument, humans as a species must learn to live without fossil fuels if they wish to explore the cosmos or survive at home. Planning the use of the remaining fossil fuels is an essential exercise to make sure our species survives the transition away from non-renewable energy.
- How can you make steel at scale without fossil fuels?
- How can you build an electric car without fossil fuels?
- How can you grow enough food to support our population without fossil fuels?
Private Nuclear Deterrence: It may now be possible to restrict the ability of nuclear powers to deploy ICBM weapons in space through the use of swarms of privately operated satellites.
- How can private space neutralize the threat of muclear armageddon?
Durable Products: Products have become increasingly disposable due to the inexpensive labor from southeast Asia, which has all been powered by coal. In order to reduce pollution and make humanity more sustainable, a more durable products must be created. Incredible amounts of energy are being wasted by producing disposable products and transporting them to consumers.
- How can products last 100+ years so there is less need for the economic, energy, and pollution costs of disposable products?
Closed-Loop Habitation: Whether through exploration of space or due to scarcity on Earth, people must learn to live in closed-loop systems with minimal outside effects. For example, the island of Manhattan cannot sustain itself without importing energy, water and food while exporting trash and other pollution.
- How can we build systems that are closed-loop for energy, water, food, and pollution at the city, neighborhood, or building level.
Phosphaste Reclamation: Phosphorous is a limited natural resource on Earth, but it is essential for feeding nearly eight billion people. As with any unrenewable resource, scarcity of phosphorous will lead to conflict and starvation.
- How can we reclaim the phosphates already leaking into the environment to provide food security for 100 billion people?