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If I had a Billion Dollars

This is a game I like to play. It's a kind of sanity check on our priorities, and also provides good roadmaps to the future. What's interesting, of course, is the different choices you come up with on different occasions, and also what's different between your lists and other peoples'. You can play the game strictly on the philanthropic level, or in medicine, or political influence, etc.--and the choice of which areas you choose is also telling.

Today, in late July 2011, this is how I might spend $1 billion, specifically into areas that I think are currently underfunded:

  • $100 million to build a working prototype vertical farm.
  • Another $100 million on self-replicating 3d printers and a business ecosystem for distributed manufacturing and design.
  • $200 million into several nuclear fusion efforts, including General Fusion's pneumatic-ram driven steampunk reactor, the Polywell, Focus fusion and fusion-catalyzed subcritical thorium fission.
  • $100 million into a demonstration laser launch system capable of launching at least a soft drink can's worth of mass into orbit. Actually, a lot of that would probably go into magbeams and tether-driven 'second stage' technologies.
  • $100 million into studying terra preta, iron fertilization, and carbon air capture. 'Cause even if you don't believe that all that CO2 in the air is causing climate change, ocean acidification is still a huge problem.
  • $100 million on magnetic shielding technology (and magsails) for space travel.
  • $200 million to buy and launch one of Bigelow's BA330 orbital stations to use as a variable-gravity research module and Mars cycler.
  • $100 million for an underground volcanic island lair (and lots of yellow jumpsuits). Just because I can.

...Well, that's what happens with this exercise--your choices veer all over the map. The rationale for these particular ones can be summed up in one of my credos, "Live on Earth as though you were colonizing Mars." The same technologies that will allow us to live on other worlds will allow us to live sustainably on this one; I don't distinguish the idea of space development from the idea of sustainability, the one necessitates the other.

What's really interesting is that though the above is the sort of list I might have seriously compiled a few years ago, after having gone through the Masters in Strategic Foresight programme at OCADU, my priorities have shifted. If I were to really get serious, I'd be investing in things like stakeholder management systems and in building structured dialogic design protocols into social media--essentially, making the internet into a global decision-making system. But to explain that line of thinking... would take a novel. Hmmm... What a good idea...



if i had a billion dollars, I'd buy the Old firm, and make them wear pink frilly dresses when playing each other

If I had any money leftover, I'd hire people to follow the hunger strikers parade and the orange parade about wearing giant penis costumes


If I had a billion dollars, I'd assume that $500 million is going to be spent on overhead, waste, mistakes and similar. Then I'd figure out what to do with the rest.*

That's something I learned from my engineer uncle: the realistic budget is "take your worst nightmare and double it."

While I like the idea of "live on Earth as you would on Mars," I think that's insufficient. Mars, for us, is at best a source of the raw materials of life, at least for the foreseeable future (up to and including us terraforming it).

I'd suggest an equal, perhaps better, goal is to leave no trace of oneself when one passes. You may call this leave-no-trace living, or getting rid of one's karma, or whatever. Living to mitigate all of one's impacts on the world is the way we're going to have to go, if we want to leave a half-way decent world to our offspring. It's not impossible: most of our ancestors did just that. Our problem is that we keep trying to imitate the megalomaniacs.

*Just remember that what you consider wasted spending, someone else considers a fulfilling career. That's the biggest problem we have in getting U.S. health care under control. U.S. unemployment would rise substantially if we got rid of the health insurance industry and replaced it with universal healthcare, and it would hurt states (like Ohio) that have already been hammered. Ditto all that military spending. Remember that unemployed soldiers have rioted in Washington before, too.


Downpayment on a space elevator.

And snacks.


My list looks pretty similar to yours, Charles. I will point out though that rather than the island, the current price of luxury submarine yachts is something like 70 million last I checked:


Your little Martian credo manages to succinctly describe pthe thrust of the kinds of projects I've been working and dreaming about for some time, and I'm hereby stealing it :-P - and thus my budget looks pretty similar. So, next step, to get a billion dollars...


What a treasure-trove of links!
And I'm already waiting for that book...


Well if you're going to insist on me doing good with my money and not squandering it on things like buying Iceland...

...a billion should get us a long way towards wiping out malaria.


I'd throw a bunch into universal food of some sort; engineered organism(s) that you can throw in water with sunlight and some minerals and it will make a (preferably but not necessarily) palatable food you can live on.

Start work on how to manage a technical society in perpetuity without destroying the environment as a consequence. Start on bootstrap technologies that are independent of the whole industrial infrastructure, probably organically based.

Steal/bribe/borrow the full google books dataset and make it publicly available. Same for all science publications. Throw money into digitizing everything and making free as a fully accessible dataset for everyone.


If I had a billion dollars, I would create a modern harem by offering any woman a set fee to bear one of my children. To my way of thinking, people like Genghis Khan (Mr. “my DNA is in 10% of Asia”) and Moulay Ismail, sultan of Morocco (with an alleged 889 children), were among the most successful humans in history, and if wealth means anything surely it should translate into evolutionary success. Why don’t wealthy people do this today? Or do they?

Before you all pillory me for my barbaric suggestion, please remember that we are all the descendants of conquerors with harems, and despite the rather neutered state of humanity at present, our nature remains the same as always. This raises a question which fascinates me and seems very apropos for our time: if your high intelligence, wealth and status don't translate into more DNA in the gene pool, exactly what good are they?


Apart from the money on Space research including travel, and medical research, especially life-extension ...
Just for fun I would get a P-2 built, just for fun.
Oh and I'd buy ALL the railways in Britain, and run them PROPERLY.
Great fun!


Your list is excellent.

My own immediate thoughts are to contribute to:
* innovative self-education projects like the Khan Academy, especially ones targeted toward girls in developing countries (most of all in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia)
* the iodization of salt in all developing countries, and the distribution of free DHA for mothers-to-be
* the development of the Global Village Construction Set
* a startup that sells consumer electronic devices hardened against EMP, especially cell phones with mesh networking capability
* buying up land in a certain town I have my eye on, then creating a park and a free wi-fi network and Utah-style reserves of food and water (including a tilapia pond, fruit trees, and vegetable gardens in the park) and installing lots of solar panels and wind generators
* the peaceful takeover of the government of a small country (no idea which one), which would be transformed into the easiest and quickest place in the world to record property titles or incorporate, and would have competing non-fiat currencies, minimal regulation and no drug laws
* a chain of private schools run on principles similar to the Sudbury Valley School -- where kids would be encouraged to work out before learning, as recommended in "Spark"
and learn how to think creatively, like the folks at IDEO (with ideas from Thinkertoys, Edward De Bono, etc.), where all the food would be Jamie-Oliver-approved and junk would be banned, and there would be fluent speakers of Mandarin and Spanish and Portuguese (etc.) on hand so young ones could pick up those languages, where everyone would have easy access to Khan Academy resources, and where kids could learn to be auto mechanics or solar panel installers just as easily as they could become physicists or programmers, and they'd be encouraged to start their own businesses and learn how to write and speak persuasively
* the development of pebble bed reactors
* the Mars Direct project
* a nanotechnology startup
* the development of the Star Trek tricorder
* and a big party in Salvador da Bahia where Daniela Mercury would perform on top of a trio elétrico and there would be guarana, coco gelado, vitamina de abacate, caipirinhas, acaraje, feijao com arroz, and batatas fritas for everyone!


I'd offer something like 50 million dollars to any school district that converts to a model that uses Khan Academy classroom tools (see recent wired article) and RPG style leveling up system instead of a periodic grading system (inspiration: the quest to learn charter school), and employs boy scout style merit badge system to document any skills a student chooses to develop on their own.

I'd also fund the development of said merit badge system, and RPG based academic leveling system. And volunteer tutoring programs in areas that have accepted my offer.


How are vertical farms supposed to be more efficient than farms with free sunlight, and no structural costs?


$100 million to build a working prototype vertical farm.
Would a vertical farm ever be economic compared to a horizontal one? The crops would have to be very high value, probably servicing high end restaurants with the freshest food.

Another $100 million on self-replicating 3d printers and a business ecosystem for distributed manufacturing and design.
That could be an existential right there. Uncontrolled replicating machines.

$100 million into a demonstration laser launch system capable of launching at least a soft drink can's worth of mass into orbit. Actually, a lot of that would probably go into magbeams and tether-driven 'second stage' technologies.
I like the magbeams. That is almost the equivalent of how Dan Dare's Spacefleet ships worked.

$100 million into studying terra preta, iron fertilization, and carbon air capture. 'Cause even if you don't believe that all that CO2 in the air is causing climate change, ocean acidification is still a huge problem.
Or genetic engineering research for plants to capture much more CO2. Perhaps merge this with the vertical farms?

$200 million to buy and launch one of Bigelow's BA330 orbital stations to use as a variable-gravity research module and Mars cycler.
With you there.

$100 million for an underground volcanic island lair (and lots of yellow jumpsuits). Just because I can.
How about a campaign to get cities to be built downwards, instead of upwards? The surface is then allowed to re-wild.


Space travel sound like fun, but with a budget of a billion dollars, I'd try to figure out ways to make it easier for people to get along with each other here on Earth.

Energy would be one key area (there's your fusion). Food security another. Dealing with widespread diseases like malaria a third. Promoting education, self-determination, and civil society would be my fourth. Obviously people are working on all this stuff already, and I'm not sure how much success they're having, but they all strike me as more urgent issues.


I agree. People have talked education reform for decades, but nothing happens. I read that article and was most impressed at how the teacher structured her lessons - learn at home and do problems at school.

What would it cost to do some pilot projects - perhaps under US home schooling regulations? Pay for the materials, get some good teachers and a curriculum that uses the approach. See how it works.


Taking one shot at all those things is likely to lead to a failure in all of them. If your goal is to get them done rather than get them done by you, you're probably better off setting up X-prize structures to encourage many others to make an attempt.


Make software not suck - not just writing some that doesn't, but change the industry so that everybody does it. That's likely to cost at least a billion. The impact on the world is likely to be of a similar scale as the industrial revolution.

(It would involve a combination of new tools and development practices, education of the population, and subsidised reporting and analysis, to make this not merely possible, but necessary for any software company to become successful)


Flat farms have structural costs as well: from pipes(for water), through herbicide and pesticide to tractors. In a vertical farm you have the problem of sunlight, which can be probably solved with growing lights, but you are pretty safe from pests and weeds, and safe from all problematic weather short of the catastrophic(i.e Tornado). All in all both have pros and cons, and I don't have the knowledge to tell how they sum up.


I like the previous idea of using the X-Prize model to get people working in my preferred areas. Assume that half of the money goes toward funding prizes and the rest is held in reserve to develop the prize-winners that I like best and seem to have the most additional need.

Prize areas:

-Automated surveillance and remote control counter-measures against poachers of endangered species and oceanic fish stocks.

-Decentralized high-productivity agriculture: techniques for on-site nitrogen fixation, phosphorus recycling, optimum nutrient and water supply, pest control with minimal chemicals (automated detection and mechanical/optical destruction of weeds and pest insects).

-Robotic "artificial predators" to take down invasive species: hunters of kudzu, zebra mussels, tiger mosquitoes, etc.

-Bulk energy storage for stationary applications. Wanted: any technique that has a volumetric energy density of at least 15 watt-hours per liter, can be charged and discharged at least 10000 times with no more than 20% capacity degradation, and costs no more than 10 cents per watt-hour of storage capacity in a 1 megawatt-hour size unit. A 1 megawatt-hour unit should be able to fully charge or discharge in no more than 2 hours.

-Automated modular chemical reactors for production of medicines. Goal: a modular, reconfigurable chemical plant that starts from no more than 20 distinct chemical feedstocks and can produce at least 60% of the substances on the WHO model list of essential medicines for adults. The factory should be capable of producing 5 tons per annum of products, run with no more than 5 human supervisor/operators, and have capital costs of less than 10 million dollars.

-Followup to above: automated renewable feedstock producer. Starting from renewable electricity, air, and seawater, this machine should be capable of producing 10 tons per annum of any of the 20 feedstocks needed by the medicine machine. The outputs of this machine (inputs to the medicine machine) probably need to be the most versatile and general sorts of heavy chemicals and basic organic motifs: deionized water, ammonia, nitric acid, sulfur trioxide, sodium, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, chlorine...


I'd put the money into asking people who actually know stuff (scientists and farmers), rather than politicians (who seem to have done a fantastic job so far with our global economy) how we graduate, given that we have all the resources necessary, to a post-scarcity economy.

Take it from there.


What, no crazy ideas? Cloning the Wooly Mammoth? Vactrain from Sydney to New York? 10 km high tower?


All these suggestions just show how little impact a billion dollars would make. Some of them already have multi billion dollar budgets worldwide


As Dirk points out, a billion dollars doesn't get you very much.

Invested in long-term government bonds, it's thirty million dollars a year to eternity, so it gives you the ability to employ several hundred BRIC engineers permanently provided you don't need to supply them with expensive materials; you can probably manage to invest it so that it grows at the same rate as the salary of BRIC engineers.

Several hundred engineers is a fraction of one percent of what AT&T employed at its peak, 1% of one of the great industrial giants like Siemens, maybe 20% of Qinetiq (the privatised British equivalent to DARPA); it's a little smaller than SpaceX, about three times the size of Surrey Satellite Technology.

I'm not sure the right thing to do is not to give the income to Embrapa (the Brazilian agricultural R&D organisation) and ask them to work on tera preta; it would increase their funding by 4% which is about the right sort of scale.


What is a Stakeholder Management System?


I don't know exactly what it would cost, but a significant chunk would be spent on rescuing information on old media (music, microfilm, etc) that's otherwise likely to degrade into uselessness before it comes out of copyright.


one billion. hmmm.

- my favorite Open Source projects would gain stipendiaries
- research on energy transport and storage. AFAIR, you could cover all the worlds energy needs with a few solar energy plants in the Sahara, problem is getting it to places you actually want to use it. Patent everything useful and make it available at affordable-to-everybody low license fees. That may become self-sustaining if successful.
- some serious funding of lobbying against software patents (or getting them to have an expiry of two years, or seriously limiting the licensing fee the holders can ask)
- fund research on feline renal failure (possibly by developing artificial kidneys for humans first)
- online comic art awards that would allow new artists I like to cover their cost of living for 1-3 years, and cover the cost of hosting and art supplies for the runner-ups
- going off the deep end: make sure at least a part of Ethiopia has proper infrastructure, healthcare, education systems, security infrastructure. These people grow my favorite coffee!


@Brent (#20)--Anyone who wants to actually make progress on that question pretty much has to be a politician by definition. If there was an easy way to get to a post-scarcity society that most people could agree on, we'd already have done it. Don't denigrate politicians until you've tried a society without them--it looks like 1984.


My favorite has got to be the alternative fusion projects. Huge potential payoff for not much investment.
The viability of the focus fusion project, and polywell, should be known within a couple of years.


Organ printing, SENS


One other - an efficient process for:
Electricity + atmosCO2 + H2O -> methanol or octane
Then couple with desert PV


If I were to spend a billion dollars, I'd spend the following:
100 million for energy efficient thermal extraction of fresh water from sea water. I would chose this because I think I can see how to do it.

100 million for ultra low frequency radio astronomy - around 10 hz. I would do this because if I am right about the energy reception of a single point receiver of very high wavelengths, then this might well lead to cost effective, hand held interstellar communication.

100 million on high throughput air engines. I would do this because it could increase the efficiency of thermal plants, including solar thermal plants, so much so that separate thermal energy stores may make sense.

400 million to develop repeatable plans to repopulate the ocean with fish. I have only guesses as to how to do this, but could the ocean be seeded in some way? Or could we restrain fish movement (with sonar barriers?) to corral them together so that they might breed?

250 million to develop a prototype thorium reactor.

50 million I'll keep, and pursue the travelling salesman problem.


I'd use 500 million to buy interconnected rights of way (abandoned canals, abandoned rail lines, etc etc.) in the United Kingdom, British Columbia, and Australia as the first step in building complete road networks reserved for robot driven vehicles. Hey, if you've read about the kind of eyesight Charlie Stross has you want to get him out of a driver's seat and into a robot car as soon as possible, with current automatic driving technologies, without having to wait decades for the super advanced ones that could drive themselves safely on regular public roads.

I'd spend the other 500 million on developing infrastructure to monetize those rights of way in an immediate fashion, like directly using or renting out space underneath the roadway for telecom lines, power lines, interconnected arrays of compressed air power storage, etc. and space above the (covered) roadway for solar cell panels, antenna farms, etc.

By "using" and "spending" those funds I mean of course that I would set up corporations where I'm the majority shareholder, with funding coming from other sources too.

I don't think 1 billion of my private capital would make much more of a difference to a space effort now that Musk and Bezos are already there pouring the money in, even if I count the few billions more I could get from the minority shareholders in my companies. As far as Space exploration and space science goes I'd much prefer to use and/or rent out the covered top of those roadways to set up country-sized phased array antennas used for tracking and data relay of space ventures.


Good list, though I would add biodiversity, and various cloning and engineering projects, to mitigate the inevitable mass extinction that is to come.

As far as your stakeholder management novel goes, surely you've already met Daniel Suarez' Daemon, and Freedom(tm), but if you want a more amusing take might I suggest Marc Stiegler's Earthweb:

The beauty of it, is that it sounds as if it might have been serialized in Wired ca. 1996.


Global warming is the most important thing. If we can't stop the acid buildup in the seas we will likely die. Back in the early 80's, it was said if we did not get a handle on it then, we would be so busy with fires and floods that we may not ever do anything that would save us.
It's a known fact that bases soak up co2 and form a harmless mineral. A 6 foot square sheet with a base solution running on it will take care of the co2 from a 6 person American family.
Enough things like cooling towers spraying a base would pull down the co2 to Medieval times. The people who say there is no problem will not even talk about doing anything about it. I would make a base tree, prove it worked and buy propaganda to show it.


Where do you get the base from?


I'm neither a chemist nor a chemical engineer, but where do you gat the bases from to do this?


Heat limestone and capture the CO2. Add to water to slake the lime. Absorb CO2 and repeat. The process is energy intensive and would need non-fossil fuel sources to make sense.

@d brown
I would have thought that harvesting and sequestering fast growing plants makes more sense. Trees could simply be dumped in the ocean trenches.


Bases are alkaline like lye. Lye water has been shown to work. Bases are worse than Bases are alkaline like lye. Lye water has been shown to work. Bases are worse than acids to work with but it's done all the time. The Bases are alkaline like lye. Lye water has been shown to work. The stronger the base the more it picks up, I think.
Also being tested is spraying brine down co2 pumping stacks. I read a power plant in Calif. had cut the co2 going out of its stacks.
"Constantz realized that cement manufacturers, by emulating coral, could meet that demand even as they actually reduced the total amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Moreover, they could sequester the raw materials from the world’s single largest carbon-dioxide emitter, electric power plants. In 2009 his latest company, Calera, started putting that insight into practice at a 1,000-megawatt power plant in Moss Landing, California. Engineers there spray mineral-rich seawater or brine water through flue gas captured from the plant’s smokestacks. The calcium in the water bonds with carbon in the would-be pollution to form cement. Constantz says the demonstration plant is capable of producing up to 1,100 tons of cement a day and, in doing so, sequestering 550 tons of carbon dioxide. Within three years, he says, Calera will be operating plants in Australia and Wyoming.
Constantz notes as well that, unlike other sequestration schemes, his plan for capturing carbon emissions is proven. For at least 600 million years, sea creatures have been “sequestering” carbon dioxide in their skeletons, which have compacted over time to form all the limestone on Earth—the very stuff we now heat to make cement. Instead of turning stone to carbon dioxide, we can turn carbon dioxide into “stone,” locking it away forever in the concrete foundations of our cities. “When we think of climate change,” Constantz says, “the main lever we have is putting carbon back in the geologic record.”


There is too much co2 there now. This is shown by the longer fire seasons and floods. Trees take to long to grow. If the are dumped in deep fresh water lakes they would be forever.


I resolved a while ago that when I felt like fantasizing about being rich, I would imagine a fortune equal to the U.S. national debt. I never realized my imagined wealth would be increasing so fast. . . .


Personally, I'd focus 100% of the billion dollars between the most likely means of achieving effective immortality for anyone and everyone in the human species who desires it. Not a few years here and there, or the cures for random specific diseases, but a true permanent solution (biological or technological) to bug #1 in humans. Given infinite time without concern for old age and death, we can solve every single one of the problems mentioned on this page.


There's a book called "How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place" by Bjorn Lomborg.

Here's his TED talk:

Our priorities for saving the world



Agree that low-frequency radio astronomy is very interesting, but on the Earth it is impossible to receive cosmic radio waves that have a frequency less than about 10 MHz. This is because radio waves reaching the Earth below that frequency will reflect off the ionosphere. Likewise, radio waves leaving the Earth below that frequency get reflected back to the Earth by the ionosphere which is why one can hear shortwave broadcasts from stations thousands of kilometers away.

There is a relationship between the highest possible frequency that gets reflected off a medium of charged particles and the square root of the density of the electrons in that medium. See equation 6A6

Given the typical densities one finds in the interstellar medium, radio waves have to have a frequency greater than about 1.5 Khz in order to propagate through it so I am sorry to say that 10 Hz is way too low a frequency to chose for interstellar communication.


Check out ELF communications with submarines.
These are typically tens of Hz.
Very interesting tech.


Alas, the Iron Fertilisation was tried, but failed for the most simple of reasons. The algae surrounded the iron particles ... and sunk them into the abyss faster than expected.

I suppose we need iron that floats!



"Despite widespread opposition to LOHAFEX, on 26 January 2009 the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) gave clearance for this fertilization experiment to commence. The experiment was carried out in waters low in silicic acid which is likely to affect the efficacy of carbon sequestration.[22] A 900 square kilometers (350 sq mi) portion of the southwest Atlantic Ocean was fertilized with iron sulfate. A large phytoplankton bloom was triggered, however this bloom did not contain diatoms because the fertilized location was already depleted in silicic acid, an essential nutrient for diatom growth.[22] In the absence of diatoms, a relatively small amount of carbon was sequestered, because other phytoplankton are vulnerable to predation by zooplankton and do not sink rapidly upon death.[22] These poor sequestration results have caused some, including members of the LOHAFEX research team, to suggest that ocean iron fertilization is not an effective carbon mitigation strategy in general, however prior ocean fertilization experiments in high silica locations have observed much higher carbon sequestration rates because of diatom growth. LOHAFEX has just confirmed that the carbon sequestration potential depends strongly upon careful choice of location.[22]

The maximum possible result from iron fertilization, assuming the most favourable conditions and disregarding practical considerations,is 0.29W/m2 of globally averaged negative forcing,[23] which is almost sufficient to reverse the warming effect of about 1/6 of current levels of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. It is notable, however, that CO2 levels will have risen by the time this could be achieved."


I'd take $100m myself to do whatever I would like to do at any time. I'd spend the other $900m trying to solve hunger and build proper infrastructure for the people in need in Africa.


Thank you. I've been looking for something like that information for years. 1.5khz then. That's about 200km wavelength.


You know, that gives me an idea. If we can create plankton blooms, then can we create patches of high density of marine life, high enough to re-boot marine species populations locally? I have the menhaden in mind particularly.


I'll go for an old-fashioned big billion, thanks - a million million. Oh, and pounds Sterling, that'll help.

With that I'll put a small billion, in dollars, into each of the schemes mentioned in this thread. With the rest -

A science advocacy foundation to counter anti-scientific stories in the media and to encourage more and better teaching of the sciences in schools.

I'd carve the Feynman Lectures in stone in many languages at multiple locations, and do the same for similar texts in other sciences, and in mathematics.

I'd endow a bunch of universities in the poorest places in the world.

With the rest I'd make a few high budget movies of science fiction classics - The Black Cloud, Tiger Tiger, etc etc. (we can all think of candidates that have never been done but should). Hopefully they'd make a profit so that money could be reinvested. Maybe do every Hugo ever?

Oh and I'd save a bit for my own selfish things - a country house, a town house, an annual music festival in the Lake District, maybe get a couple of cars.


First, new seasons of Firefly. WHATEVER IT TAKES. People say throwing money at a problem doesn't work, but I'd like to think this is an exception.

With whatever's left I'd think more generously and try to fund things good for the world.

(Okay, I'm kidding, but only by a little bit, and if I had that much mad money I'd still try to use some of it for funding entertainment projects that speak to me).


That page also links to the lecture notes for a postgraduate level introduction to radio astronomy course.
These followed pretty much a course I took on the topic a couple of decades ago.


We've spent billions on "fighting cancer", with only small results. What makes you think aging is solvable with $100bn?

There are plenty of very wealthy people already funding this with their self interest in mind.


The best projects for cash infusion are those that would have a large payoff but have no funding constituency or the market cannot be used effectively. Tropical diseases was/is an example. Global warming is possibly another.


My vote goes for microbial synthesis of fuel from atmospheric CO2. If we can get reliable bacterial (or algal, or other) conversion of CO2 into methane/propane/whatever, then that solves both energy and climate problems over the long term. And a billion might be enough to make a dent in the problem, given the steadily decreasing prices of the bioscience tools necessary for the job.


Craig Venter is already on that one with his company Synthetic Genomics, a firm dedicated to using modified microorganisms to produce clean fuels and biochemicals. In July 2009, ExxonMobil announced a $600 million collaboration with Synthetic Genomics to research and develop next-generation biofuels


To fight tropical diseases you need to pull tropical countries out of poverty. And I`m not sure any amount of money _alone_ can do it.


My what a bunch of sappy Judeo-Christian neo-Marxists you have on this forum! Where does this selfless, do-gooder mentality come from? Doesn't anyone here want an empire, more power, more wealth and evolutionary success for themselves? If not, why not?

My own rather Satanic philosophy is that inequality and strife are the source of real progress, and the peace and equality-mongers are in fact anti-progress. I call this the "Lucifer Principle," and challenge anyone here to show me how these "progressive" Judeo-Christian ideas actually lead to progress. The harsh fact of life on this planet is that progress usually comes at a terrible price, evolution is brutal, and do-gooderism is in fact a form of evil.

"Man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him." --Friedrich Nietzsche


And one more quote I love:

"In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock." –Harry Lime, The Third Man


"What have the Swiss ever done for us, then?"
"Cuckoo clocks and precision time pieces".
"Apart from clocks and watches, what have the Swiss ever done for us, then?"
"Precision optical instruments that helped conquer disease".
"apart for clocks and watches, optical instruments, what have ......".

500 years of not being butchered, squandering money on wars, has left the Swiss quite wealthy as a nation, with a stable democracy and a comfortable way of life for the majority of the population. How are the Italians doing today? ;)


Trying to get a grip on the question if that is much money or not.

Google says: 1000000000 $ = 696 039 535 €, i.e. 700 million Euro.

To put that into perspective: The complete budget for the 7th European Research Framework (i.e. all EU funded research in Europe and partner countries) is 50.5 billion Euro for a seven year periode, i.e. 50500 million Euro. 1.430 million Euro are allocated for space research.

The annual budget of the German Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (funding pure research) is around 2 billion Euro.

In other words: 0.7 billion Euro for research in itself won't change the technological landscape.


Taoist, I'm not the author of this blog entry; you want Karl Schroeder.


The Swiss were poor before WW-2. Then they worked for the Nazis, kept the Jew money and became rich.
Phytoplankton and other life dies and gives off co-2. I've read that we must start doing something big about co2 now. Its not just the heat rise, that's also from other things in the atmosphere. So far the heat has killed people with fires, floods and no food. It will get worse and cutting back on co2 in the atmosphere will help.
It's the co2 going into the seas that's the real danger! When the sea becomes too acidic most of it's life will die. It will rot and the gases will kill most of the land life. It's happened before in what's know as the Great Dying. At the rate co2 was going into the sea and making it acidic, it was said we had till 2030 or 40. New news is that more in going than there was.


Sean the Mystic: this is your yellow card.

In case you don't know what that means, I refer you to the moderation policy before you post again. Hint: I own this blog, I haz a political flavr, and you just shat in my cheetos. More to the point, you were rude.

Maybe you were being ironic, in which case, no problem. But to my nostrils, it reeked of fightin' talk. And I've got a simple way of dealing with that: I ban you and delete your comments.



There are a couple of places I'd spend most of a billion euros.

One is where Bill Gates is already going: finding vaccines for the eight commonest childhood diseases in the tropics. They kill millions a year, but the vaccine project isn't profitable so there's no real incentive for big pharma to go there. Come up with cheap vaccines and the governments of the countries where they're endemic will pay; the toll on human resources is phenomenal, and coming up with cures will, within a decade, add tens of millions of young adult workers (in addition to alleviating immense suffering).

Another: solar photovoltaics. Not looking for high conversion efficiency, but for durability and a good manufacturing/production life power balance -- so that it costs significantly less energy to manufacture and deploy them than they will produce during their working life. It's only in the past decade and a bit that we've had photovoltaic cells that produced a bit more power across their entire working life than it took to manufacture them; improving that ratio is the most important incremental step we can take towards making solar a viable energy source. (And solar R&D is a field that's cheaper to work in and less regulated than nuclear, for obvious reasons: a gigabuck won't go terribly far in reactor research.)

For thirds, getting a bit blue sky here: the recent work on optical invisibility cloaks using metamaterials is cool, but the direct applications aren't obvious (better optoelectronics, maybe, or military camouflage). However, if you apply the same techniques to pressure waves in water it should be possible to render stretches of coastline invisible to tsunami waves. This is huge -- 80% of humanity lives within 250 miles of a coastal area, and of those, a huge proportion live within 25 miles of the coast. A chunk of direct R&D needs to be done, but if it's possible to block or disperse tsunamis from hitting high value chunks of coastline -- such as cities, or nuclear reactor heat exchangers -- the pay-off would be enormous. (See also Fukushima Daiichi ...)


Solar voltaic R&D is now well funded, both at the university level, and at the large manufacturers. I'm not sure adding another $1-10bn would hasten research results much, but perhaps you've read/heard different?

The tsunami blocking idea might be very interesting, but I suspect that deployment costs are the issue. We have a lot of coastal problems that are solvable - at a high cost. It might be a lot more cost effective to spend money on making specific structures tsunami proof, rather than whole stretches of coastline. That would also ensure the costs are correctly allocated (e.g. to nuclear power) rather than just borne by tax payers, for the benefit of a minority.


Re SENS, as you said earlier "All these suggestions just show how little impact a billion dollars would make. Some of them already have multi billion dollar budgets worldwide" -
In particular, if I read de Grey's proposal correctly,
solving cancer is effectively a _subtask_ of SENS.
Now, I'd like SENS to succeed (being an aging mortal like
everyone else). It just looks like a _big_ project.


Alex: nuclear reactors, by their nature, are heat engines: they need somewhere to dump lots of waste heat in order to satisfy the laws of thermodynamics. In practice, this results in them being built on rivers (big ones) or coastlines -- mostly coastlines.

What is the cost of a mega-tsunami hitting a nuclear reactor complex, overflowing the flood defenses, and kicking the backup generators to run the cooling systems offline? Couldn't happen, could it?

Frankly, figuring out how to deflect tsunamis away from already-operating and vulnerable BWRs may be the only way we can convince the general public that these things are safe to keep running. And I think protecting a limited number of relatively compact sites (a kilometre fronting a reactor complex, not an entire coastline) using a carefully designed bunch of underwater reinforced concrete baffles is a worthy project that nobody's talking about yet (and we've just had a worked example of why it's desirable).


"..figuring out how to deflect tsunamis away from already-operating and vulnerable BWRs may be the only way we can convince the general public that these things are safe to keep running. And I think protecting a limited number of relatively compact sites (a kilometre fronting a reactor complex, not an entire coastline)..."

Agreed. Limiting the scale (depending on cost) is important. It also needs to be compared economically to other methods of protecting existing reactors, and more importantly, effectively containing a failure when/if it still happens. Perhaps we can also learn to build reactors in safer places, when possible?


"Not looking for high conversion efficiency, but for durability and a good manufacturing/production life power balance -- so that it costs significantly less energy to manufacture and deploy them than they will produce during their working life. "

Energy payback times on thin film PV is around one month in optimum conditions. Manufacturing cost of (say) Nanosolar thin film PV is rumored to be between 40c and 70c per peak Watt


BTW, this is a handy site for checking *retail* one of pricing of PV

"The lowest retail price for a multicrystalline silicon solar module is $1.66 per watt (€1.16 per watt) from a US retailer. The lowest retail price for a monocrystalline silicon module is $1.75 per watt (€1.22 per watt), from an Asian retailer. Brand, technical attributes, and certifications do matter. The lowest thin film module price is at $1.37 per watt (€0.96 per watt) from a US-based retailer. "


On the cancer front, we have reports like this:

"By carrying out comprehensive studies on mice with human tumors, UCLA scientists have obtained results that move the research one step closer to this goal. In a paper published July 8 in the journal Small,
researchers at UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute and Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center demonstrate that mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs), tiny particles with thousands of pores, can store and deliver chemotherapeutic drugs in vivo and effectively
suppress tumors in mice.
The researchers also showed that MSNs accumulate almost exclusively in tumors after administration and that the nanoparticles are excreted from the body after they have delivered their chemotherapeutic drugs.
The study was conducted jointly in the laboratories of Fuyu Tamanoi, a UCLA professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and director of the signal transduction and therapeutics program at UCLA's
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Jeffrey Zink, a UCLA professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
In the study, researchers found that MSNs circulate in the bloodstream for extended periods of time and accumulate predominantly in tumors.
The tumor accumulation could be further improved by attaching a targeting moiety to MSNs, the researchers said.
The treatment of mice with camptothecin-loaded MSNs led to shrinkage and regression of xenograft tumors. By the end of the treatment, the mice were essentially tumor free, and acute and long-term toxicity of MSNs to the mice was negligible. Mice with breast cancer were used in this study, but the researchers have recently obtained similar results using mice with human pancreatic cancer."

Maybe clever bio is not needed for curing cancer, just brute force nanotech


My own rather Satanic philosophy is that inequality and strife are the source of real progress, and the peace and equality-mongers are in fact anti-progress. I call this the "Lucifer Principle," and challenge anyone here to show me how these "progressive" Judeo-Christian ideas actually lead to progress. The harsh fact of life on this planet is that progress usually comes at a terrible price, evolution is brutal, and do-gooderism is in fact a form of evil.

Letting aside your condescending tone...

Alex Tolley @62 already brilliantly answered you.

I'd add another thing or two.

You're confusing the issue, in that you don't really define "progress", but assume that it's good.

With unending conflict and warfare, military technology would maybe progress a lot more than in peace time. What makes you think that would be good for people?
You've got a lot of cyberpunk novels describing distopian societies more advanced technologically than ours. I'm not sure any character in these novels, especially the average citizen, wouldn't prefer to live in contemporary swiss.

Inequality and strife as the source of real progress? For who? If you consider china, for example, you can perfectly imagine a future where technology will allow the party to control people even more efficiently than today, but where salaries, liberties and living conditions for the average worker will be similar or comparatively worse than today. What good will it have done them, save make their situation even more desperate?
If "progress" allow dictatorships to brainwash their population into mindless drones entirely devoted to, say, the grandson of Kim Jong il, is that really a good thing?

I also seem to recall (although I may be wrong) one of charlies's lectures where he debunked the idea that war brings progress, instead showing that overall, it drains society's resources. Well, actually, all you've gotta do is think about it: When people die at the war, who will grow food? Who will work in the factories (especially bombed ones)? Who will make babies? Who will be the next bright scientist, if most 20-years-old die in some senseless conflict?

Let me put it another way: No one recalls fondly the war times, with privations and everything funneled at the army. But people miss the 30 years of peace and prosperity that followed, where peace and stability allowed a lot of countries to reach US-Levels standards of living. I doubt very much this would have been possible had the wars continued. At the end of the war, Europe was so much in ruins that it needed the marshal plan for fear of collapse. Yet conflict and strife is good, better than peace? Riiight.

I'll tell you something. In 20 years since I discovered black metal, I've heard and read an awful lot of such "satanic philosophy".
And, boringly, it always, always, assumes one thing: That the "satanist" is one of the top dogs of society, rather than a servant. Tell me. Are you, currently, one of the top dogs of our society? How many digits to your salary? Are you screwing up people for more bonuses, or do you have some credits to pay?

Strife, disorganization, lack of justice and equality allow ruthless, powerful individuals to accrue more wealth and power at the expense of the rest of society, as the current banking crisis show.
So, sure, if you were, say, Lloyd Blankfein, the current situation, characterized with a lot of inequality between richs and poors, and the ability for the "strong" to do what they want, including freely preying upon the "weak" while discarding all those pesky, stupid judeo-christian notions of equality or compassion (And I take exception to that, in that, to me, these are no more specific to the Christians than peace of mind is to the Buddhists), you'd say life is great, way better than, say, in 1970.
But if you were one of the poor suckers who just lost his house because he was screwed up with gravel, his job because his factory was closed to make more profit, and saw his sewage bill go waaaaay up because he happens to live in Jefferson County, USA, I'm sure you'd be screaming for more equality and so-called christian values.

In other, shorter words?
- You make wrong assumptions about progress
- You consider only the very few that manage to do fine, ignoring all the ones that die and suffer.
- I don't care about technological progress per se. Would you find a war vs intelligent machines a good thing for us? What matters to me is the living conditions and freedom of the average citizen, like me and probably you.
- I invite you to go live in central africa, that the unending strife there, and the intense inequality should make a real paradise for you. In fact, given the constant lack of peace in these parts of the globe, I'm rather astonished it isn't already decades ahead of us in all things. Especially when you compare it to a country like, say, Japan.
- Luckily, the USA had Irak, Irak again, and now Afghanistan. It sure helped them weather the crisis a lot. I look forward to the US staying in Afghanistan, given all the good it's doing to both countries.


Sorry, I didn't intend that to be so long :(

English isn't my native language, so it only expands my natural verbosity, as I struggle to try to convey what I mean.


There is a "now we know" aspect to all this, but it isn't incredibly difficult, or costly, to put the back-up generators on top of a big block of concrete which sets them above the water level of a tsunami, or storm surge, or whatever. We could do that for an existing reactor.

There are other problems more directly linked to the reactor itself, which can't be so easily solved for an existing plant.


I rather doubt that that experiment on water waves will scale well.

I wonder what the energy levels are. More significant, what are the momentum levels? Light does have momentum, but not much.


Those who actually apply such "satanic" principles generally do not even bother with the term. They are too busy being psychopaths; fucking their subordinates, arse-licking their superiors, mixing with influential people and generally being total shitheads with no real friends.


There are generators at Fukushima which are in the reactor buildings inside the secondary containment; their installation was an upgrade done after the first-generation reactors were built. There were other generators outside the containment providing emergency power for other parts of the site as well as the reactors. The problem was fuel storage; those generators go through a lot of fuel when running and after they had burned the limited stocks they had inside the containment the operators had no way of getting clean unpolluted fuel to them.

There are good reasons to NOT store large amounts of inflammable liquid fuel inside a reactor building next to the pumps and control systems that maintain the reactor itself, BTW.

The new AP1000 design incorporates what they call a "stronghold" adjacent to the reactor structure itself. This stronghold, built to the same sort of structural requirements as the secondary containment for the reactor has the control room, emergency generators, battery rooms and other essential facilities located in a building that, theoretically can survive anything the reactor building itself can. The evidence from Fukushima Daiichi is that the reactors rode out the earthquake without significant damage and they also survived the tsunami quite well too. It was the loss of less-well-protected external assets that caused loss of cooling and caused the explosions, releases of radioactivity and subsequent damage to the structures.


"The operator of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in central Japan plans to build an 18-meter-high embankment by December next year to prevent tsunami damage to the facility." from NHK website, 22/07/2011

Protecting an individual site from a tsunami by building a bigger seawall is easier than working out how to break a tsunami surge offshore, and cheaper too.

Hamaoka has three working reactors; one was down for scheduled inspection and the other two were ordered shut down pre-emptively by the Japanese Government due to a perceived risk of a big tsunami in the area causing damage similar to the Fukushima incident.


No arguments with any of that, and the engineering is only "nuclear" by association.

It occurs to me that getting fuel is something where better planning, and urgency, could have made a big difference. But I don't know what capacity the sort of rig the military can deploy by helicopter might have, and how it compares to the consumption. Something a simple as a big enough open space, and the right couplings to connect up a delivery hose, could make a difference.

Hopefully, somebody is thinking about these things.


The Fukushima reactors were a political failure.
The engineering was a consequence of the politics. No amount of engineering talk will fix that.


I know you've all moved on to the perenially sexy subject of nuclear power, but I'd like to chip in here about something Mr. Schroeder says in his fifth point.

Among the subjects for further research listed in that point is 'terra preta', the dark soils of the Amazon that are not only of above average fertility, but which also lock in carbon to the ground, keeping it out of the atmosphere. The key thing about these dark soils is that they are anthropogenic, the result of human settlement in the Amazon - and not only in the Amazon.

Anthropogenic dark soils are also widespread throughout West Africa, and you can find more information on that subject her:

I was very surprised to find that the wikipedia page on Terra Preta does not refer to the work of Fairhead and Leach, the authors of that PDF file and two of the key people involved in the study of that phenomenon. (Or perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised: I've banned students from citing wikipedia in work they do for me in the past).

Anyway, the Terra Preta phenomenon is fascinating not only for what it tells us about our relationship to the natural environment, but also because it seems to hold out an escape route from our current, self-induced, environmental predicament. The Amazonian and West African communities that have been making dark soils for centuries may have something to tell us about the best ways of pulling carbon out of the Earth's atmosphere, and keeping it out. It might also have the effect of increasing agricultural yields, which can't be a bad thing in a planet of several billion humans.




Its just a stray thought I know, and not a reasoned argument, but real soon now I'm going to have to replace the roof tiles that I had my builders re-cycle to keep the costs of my house extension project down a bit .... who could have anticipated the last two really severe winters that we had here in the UK? Anyway, as I contemplated the cost of new roof tiles it occurred to me that what we really need is roof tiles that are also ..."solar photovoltaics. Not looking for high conversion efficiency, but for durability and a good manufacturing/production life power balance -- so that it costs significantly less energy to manufacture and deploy them than they will produce during their working life." That would solve the problem of the sheer amount of space that solar energy 'farms ? 'would occupy. This would apply not only in the situation of domestic semi-detached and terraced house but also on major Municipal Education Industrial and office buildings which are often formed,poured concrete on steel structures with lots of modern glass window panels and metal roofs. Even in the North of England these buildings with their metal roofs become hellishly hot in the summertime.

To save on space I'll omit personal anecdotes on the ghastliness of these utilitarian multiple use/ low construction cost modern buildings and move onto my second stray thought which is that we really need efficient practical LOW COST ways of storing the energy that we could get from these ever so tough photo arrays locally.

What I want is a cheap super-capacitor system that could go in the cargo bay utility space of my house in which I presently store all my obsolete IT and electronic entertainment technology and the cardboard boxes that are bound to be useful one of these days. Or I could install a Cold Fusion reactor down there ... dunno why I cant have a cold fusion reactor ..mumble mumble grumble grumble ..bloody scientists.Although this looks interesting ...

" Italian cold fusion saga continues with new papers released "


Even if that technique proves very effective as a drug delivery mechanism, it would only work on tumors, not cancers that metastasize. anti-cancer drugs work by targeting proliferating cells, so drugs target all cells, preferentially destroying the fastest replicators. Any approach that concentrates the drug at the target is useful. Ideally these drugs could be delivered with packages that bind to specific cell surface markers. But the real "magic bullet" would stop cancer cells from avoiding apoptosis and self destructing before they start to replicate uncontrollably.


Does it matter if cancers metastasize if the resulting tumors are killed before growing to any substantial size?


I think one can say that terra preta is the result of composting.

In California, you can no longer burn yard waste by law. The fastest growing part of the garden - grass - cannot be composted because it spreads the invasive Bermuda grass seeds.

Our industrial scale use of fossil fuels exceeds any reasonable scale composting and bio-charring to sequester carbon in the soil, although these are worth doing regardless to improve soils.


Yes. Not all cancers form into tumors first, e.g. leukemia.


Energy storage is going to be very important as solar power graduates to more than a minor input to the power supply.

There are some new sodium batteries that look quite good - inexpensive, abundant, non-polluting materials, with long lifetimes. Lifetime cost may be below lead acid batteries. I'd like to see more development in energy storage to ensure that solar is an effective solution in sunny areas.


I suspect that when PV matures, in around 15 years, panels will come with built in batteries. At least for domestic use.


You may be right. But for this to make sense, battery cost must be very low. PV costs are rapidly heading towards the "magical" $1/peak W installed. To integrate batteries economically, the battery cost curve should follow that of PVs, otherwise they will become the dominant cost component of the unit.


The eventual cost of domestic PV will be dominated by battery cost and metalwork/installation cost. The PV part of the panels will be negligible, as will the inverters (think of low end PC PSU prices).


The eventual cost of domestic PV will be dominated by battery cost and metalwork/installation cost. The PV part of the panels will be negligible, as will the inverters (think of low end PC PSU prices).

I agree with everything but the "domestic PV will be dominated by battery cost". If the battery cost is the dominant part, then it will make sense to keep the batteries separate from the PV so that alternatives (or none) can be used. It makes no sense to saddle the PV array with expensive batteries by integrating them, especially if they are not needed for some applications.


Oops, I've just lost a contribution ..which serves to demonstrate the problems of Complexity ..One step wrong and poof its gone! All to many contributions to Science/Engineering Fail as people get lost in the Wonder of it all rather than focusing on simplicity.

That Link in 89 to the latest generation of Roof tile/ Receptor ..Receptor is probably the Wrong Term in the scientific sense but, wot the Hell, I know what I mean as so Do YOU of course... does give a hint of how rapidly things are progressing in this field.

The Receptor on the roof needs to be Tough, Cheap and Weather Proof as well as being LIGHT ... This is a ROOF folks! And up in my parts of the North East of England I had Three Foot long Icicles hanging from my newish plastic guttering last winter, and my recycled 1930s style Acme roof tiles did suffer from what is called 'splitting ' in as much as the to surface of the tiles was penetrated by water and then Split off by the action of ICE the picture?

This is a Very commonplace situation in this kind of 1930s type housing in the UK which is why several of my neighbours have recently replaced their entire roofs with new modern large roof tiles. VERY rough gossip sourced figures would indicate an average cost of £4,500 per house inclusive of modern plastic roofing felt and suitable slats plus modern BIG tiles ..the householders would have to be persuaded of the merits of the New Tech Photo Receptor Roof-tile replacements as against low cost, low tech, but more weather proof than old tiles, systems. If people are to consider next generation systems Tile /Photo receptor old tile replacements then they are going to look at costs.

Right then; it seems to me that a complicated system that involves integrating the receptor with storage just isn't all that practical on grounds of weight if nothing else.

Wouldn't it be better to develop receptors and storage systems separately? The receptors could feed into some sort of communal local storage system and the entire system would an incremental development and on an experimental basis at first towards producing ever more independent cells of an interlocked system.

I haven't the slightest idea of how this would work in the real world but do think that Source and Storage are best kept separate for the moment.

Also, I still want my own Cold Fusion Reactor ...its SO STEAM PUNK ! Damn it it should be made to work and to this end I'm confident that you will want to donate to me a substantial portion of your Billion Dollars that I might invest it on your behalf.

This is a GOOD Idea ..come now, look into my Honest - Bottle Green - Eyes ..would I lie to You?


The receptors could feed into some sort of communal local storage system

Neighborhood/community power supplies have been mooted. As has using the cells in a hybrid vehicle to provide power.

The benefits of community power/storage is to pool supply and use. It will potentially suffer from "the tragedy of the commons", so how it is structured needs to be worked out.

Other reasons to separate power and storage is that each situation varies. It makes sense to customize installations rather than use a single (or few) solutions. It also provides more flexibility should the storage technology change, which might be important in PV arrays with a 20-30 year lifetime.


The VA research Doctor who come up with speeding bone healing with electrical fields was retired before he cold investigate something. He had been told that a mining town that ran on DC current from the mine had no cancer. He believed his AC bone healing could be over used and be making cancer cells that the bodies immune system was taking care of. He did not know if this was true, but believed someone should find out.

I wonder about AC electric blankets and heaters. Maybe only DC power should be used in them?
The Amazon soil is too thin to grow food well. The dry season kills it. In places long and deep trenches full of charcoal have been found. Going into places with low crop growth and digging trenches, filling them with wood and burning it proved the wood charcoal stored water and kept food crops going in the dry season.


I'm glad to hear of it, and I wish them the best of success.
However, there have been premature hopes for cancer treatments
before. About 5 years ago, angiogenesis inhibitors held great
promise as a general treatment for stopping the growth of solid
tumors. Avastin even made it through human trials and out into
treatment - but it still isn't anything like a general cure.
I more vaguely recall some older hopes prior to that. A lot of
approaches that work in mice turn out not to work in humans,
or turn out to have unexpected toxicity, or turn out not to be
significantly better than existing treatments :-(
Dr. Derek Lowe's blog, ,
(on chemistry generally, and medicinal chemistry more
particularly) has covered a _lot_ of cases of medications
that made it through assays, made it through animal studies,
made it through phase I, and phase II clinical studies, and
died in phase III studies.


Just a billion? Not even enough to get me a seat on the Board of Directors on most major corporations...(Which means implementing any sort of real change at that level is completely out of the question.) Therefore I would fund my own research lab, and hire some bright young minds in order to help them pay off their exorbitant debts from four+ years of the American college/university system. Give them free reign.

Genetic engineering in the field of agriculture would be high on the priority list. Namely in order to stop using corn to make ethanol. I found something one can really blame George Bush for...

So, summing up, genetically engineer a plant to produce copious quantities of synthetic fuel (oil?).

Second, to put the local economy to work, build a wall around my 17 acres, and possibly a moat, where I could quietly live out my days as the wealthy eccentric recluse that no one gets to see in person, namely because I am fishing in my 3/4 acre pond trying to catch dinner, while enjoying a pina colada on a hot summer day.

(Finally, as no one has yet mentioned building the Scrooge McDuck money vault and swimming in it, so I'll put that on my list as well...)


So, summing up, genetically engineer a plant to produce copious quantities of synthetic fuel (oil?).

Save your $bn. Already been done.
Algal biofuel

What might be more interesting is finding a way to seriously increase photosynthesis efficiency so that plants could really capture CO2 and turn it into cellulose or bio fuels. Something that would make even maize or bamboo look like slow growth plants.


Algal biofuel is a thin scum.
Truth is the world is full of oil. The people who own it want lots of money for it and don't like us.
Venezuela has almost as much oil as the rest of the world. Our CIA and State Department are hard at work keeping them from getting new pipes and parts. Texas gets OPEC prices and Venezuela said they were going to brake the hold OPEC had on oil costs and the hold American banks had by loaning oil money to undercut the banks.


Save your money on the iron fertilization study. It's being done, among other places at the Max Planck institute.

Biochemisty isn't simple, it turns out to everyone's surprise, and the "more Iron = less CO2" equation is a wee bit simplistic. More complete is "more Iron = less CO2 and more N2O" though that is also vastly simplified (more organohalogens, also) But as N2O is a far better IR absorber than CO2 things are not looking good for the idea.

William Hyde


I wonder if you could find enough data to compare cancer rates in the catering staff on electric trains with catering staff in other environments?

I'm thinking of the AC freqencies used in the electrical systems. The last time I saw the warning sign, the train was running on 400Hz for lighting and stuff. Different frequencies, I'd expect different effects.

Anyone funding research, pay for a smart statistician.


I would probably put it into a fairly undirected PARC-type deal: find smart, driven people who can't sit still for more than a few hours without coming up with cool ideas, and pay them. PARC was, economically, a disaster -- XEROX never put much of their stuff into production -- but nevertheless it had a major impact on tech because of the way unassociated groups would look at and copy the ideas. In this way, PARC is rather like Project Xanadu, and had either been more profit-driven or less blue-sky (or less profit-driven or more blue-sky for that matter) they would have had far less impact (see some of the more extreme DARPA projects for examples of very cool research that probably won't be widely applied any time soon).


Given a billion, I'd put 0.1% of it into Zero State:


Current cost of PV isn't representative of the cost of widespread PV deployment. Most PV setups* require some kind of rare or semi-rare material to make (at best, you're using silver), putting them up in significant numbers means significant mining operations, which will drive the price back up.

*I've only ever heard of one that didn't, and that had serious longevity problems, though they may have fixed it in the last ~8 years.


By the time demand starts to affect the supply of materials, esp thin film, new tech will be available. There is a vast amount of work being reported, from quantum dots to organic PV with graphene overlays. All using common elements.


I would like to get a good start on building a huge network of water pipes in the continental US. There is always a place that is flooding, and always a place that has terrible drought (and not always the same places, either, though our Midwest has the ability to do both at once, separated by about a month). Apparently China is thinking along the same lines--they've started a network to move water from the Yellow River (floods a lot, several millenia of history there) to the north where it's often quite dry). Of course, I would have a modest cash reserve to explain to California that no, they can't have it all...

Anyway, it seems like a fairly simple concept. And with a modest remainder, I'd obtain a Gestetener (sp) perfect binder, a controlling interest in a paper company, and replace Borders, only better. Slowly, mind you, and with a firm financial standing each step of the way.


A 'long' billion (a million million) would be enough to allow you a modest start on a federal water-grid for the USA (although not anything like enough to finish it; it's probably still enough to do the job in the UK, but that's a much smaller area). A 'short' billion - that is, a thousand million - is not going to cover the costs of the physical hardware required, which will pale into insignificance compared with the labour costs. Not to mention land purchase, environmental issues, planning, maintenance, and a hundred other things. I very much doubt a billion per year would be enough to keep it running very long if you inherited such a network in perfect condition.

A thousand million dollars is a vast sum of money for an individual person. In corporate terms, it's enough to attract attention; it's a lot of money, but it won't make you the biggest fish in the pond. (You mention Borders - their sales in the USA were around three billion dollars annually for the last few years. A modern semiconductor factory costs anything up to ten billion or so.) Once you're looking at major infrastructure projects, a mere billion is peanuts these days.

It's interesting to watch how human reactions scale as numbers get bigger - many authors have created otherwise excellent worlds with economies that just don't make any sense.


One side of my family all died of cancer, or had tumors when checked. So I did a lot of reading on it. The problem was not killing a turmor, that's not hard. It was that cancer tumors use lots of blood. So many blood vessels must be closed to keep the victim from bleeding to death fast. Any of the tumor left rots.
I read there was a chemical that killed all cancer, when the tumor died so did the test animals and not just from blood loss. The rotting tumor poisoned them.
There are also flat farms. They grow a lot of good food with little waste. Right now they only sell very fresh food for people who can pay for it. But its not really that much more costly and if shipping cost make a big jump it could be cheaper than importing. Things will be bad then.


I was under the impression that tissue that "dies" inside the body is simply broken down and absorbed... rotting seems to imply bacterial infection which shouldn't happen internally, barring a perforation in the intestinal walls or such.


$500 million - Stopping Charlie.
$500 million - Overpriced popping candy.


Well the thing about this kind is stuff someone who knows will post. I think you are wrong about needing bacterial to break down into poisons in the body. But that's not really rot is it? But people do die from dead flesh. I read the chemical that killed all cancer turned it into a black soup that killed. but I must say just because it was written may not mean it so. there are the strangest things about cancer out there.


"doesn't anyone want power"?

what -is- power, if not the ability to change the world to suit you better?


Something else that wouldn't cost very much: real education research. We have these constant debates about punishing "poor" teachers or rewarding "good" ones, and about patent remedies of one sort or another - phonics, real books, new math, direct instruction, traditional discipline, radical unschooling, Head Start, extended school, gifted & talented, streaming, comprehensive, etc, etc.

But we have next to no idea what, precisely, it is that the top 10% of the teachers do (or don't) and the bottom 10% don't (or do). It's all so much bullshit. As basically everybody was a schoolkid and the majority is or will be a parent, everyone has an opinion, but none of them are based on facts.

So let's chuck a few million to deploy some top class statisticians and ethnographers to classrooms and get a really good understanding of what this "education" stuff actually *is*.


Existing research suggests that the best way of improving educational results is to improve the general condition of the children. Specific areas to with substantial effects are social/family stability and support, nutrition, sleep patterns, and stress levels. Almost all of which are much better targeted by poverty-reduction strategies than changing anything in the schools (although obviously providing school meals that are both good and cheap/free can help with nutrition). But that doesn't make for good headlines, and requires you to admit that people who are poor should be helped rather than punished for it.


Anybody remember the 60's $64.000 question? More than a few years ago they tried a $million question . At the time, the $64.000 60's dollars had the power of $1.2 million of the then dollar. The dollar has been dropping like a rock. A billion of today's dollars is just not that much. Maybe a small demo plant using base water to pull co2 out of the air?


Fighting cancer represents a distraction from fighting death in general. When (not if) we beat cancer, we'll just need to deal with the next thing to come along. We need a permanent solution for the fact that humans stop working over time. We might get a biological solution to that (to eliminate the various problems caused by degradation over time), or we might need a technological solution (either by replacing faulty biological components or creating a computer that can think up solutions to the biological problems faster than we can), but whatever the solution, we won't find it by working on the biological failing of the day.


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This page contains a single entry by Karl Schroeder published on July 22, 2011 2:56 PM.

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