🌎 I've Got Questions

What it feels like inside my 8 year old's brain before I've had coffee

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Welcome back, Shit Givers.

I am traveling this week so this week’s essay is 1) a little late and 2) not an essay. I opted instead to share my to-do list, and I’m sorry/you’re welcome.

Please drop your constructive/thoughtful responses in the comments (click the “Comment” button below the essay and then scroll down to the comments section) so we can get down to business.

I’m Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit.

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So I have previously shared some of the (unhinged but productive) ways I think about today’s problems and opportunities.

I have even written — twice, kind of — about the most important meta question of all (probably worth reading before you dive in today). This question is the foundation of my work, and usually the first question I ask people when they come to us asking “What can I do?”

Today, in lieu of an essay, I am sharing a completely unorganized, non-exhaustive list of the big questions which bounce around my brain and off each other like pinballs throughout my days and nights.

I do not work on many of these directly, as longtime readers know I’m dangerously unqualified to do so. But I do help other people work on them, or fund existing or new efforts to fix them. That’s Compound Action.

Though I began tracking this list long before I read it, a slightly modified quote from MIT undergirds many of the items below:

“What are the hardest problems at the intersection of technology and society that deserve most of our attention?”

I will warn you that I have not edited this list in the slightest — some of them are a single word which you, reader, might understandably read as a “problem”, while another could be taken as a “solution”.

They are neither here nor there, they are both at the same time, one does not exist without the other. They are written the way you see them here because those are the original words that fell down the stairs, out of my rickety brain, and into an unformatted Apple Note.

I have explored, challenge, connected, and mind-mapped many of these — it’s my favorite party trick to perform live — but I won’t share that chaos today. I’ll let you connect some of the dots for yourself (more on that below, though).

None of these are new ideas or questions. Many, if not most, boil down to how we have made our four most fundamental needs — air, water, food, shelter — more expensive, less accessible, less reliable, and less healthy.

Even more fall into one or (usually) more of our shared secondary needs: power, education, health care, public health, family planning, land-use, etc.

We have been deliberately misinforming each other for many thousands of years, but have somehow also closed a lot of very dangerous and scary loops like horrific childhood life expectancy, or the o-zone layer. Only recently though have we become more self-aware that most of these issues exist because we are who we thought we were.

Clearly some of these can and should be prioritized over others (from urgent potential impact to political feasibility — pragmatism is the name of the game), should be in direct support of already-engaged stakeholders, and developed and/or expanded to reflect current evidence-based policies and the political/policy landscape.

I am an idealist but we have to actually get shit done.

The other more practical reason I am sharing these with you today is because I am curious for ideas about how we as a community could make this list, and related problems and opportunities, into some sort of relational wiki or something. I am profoundly disinterested in moderating UGC, but there may be some way to keep it from getting out of control, and still collaborate to make progress through a living, breathing foundation of our great challenges.

Ok, so, here we go, and please again remember this list is not in any particular order and not at all exhaustive:

  • Clean energy and storage mineral replacements

  • Energy storage

  • Energy transmission

  • Medicine supply chains and storage/delivery infrastructure over new medicines

  • Food supply chains

  • Young white men education

  • Affordable & accessible (drastically expanded) mental health services, especially in the context of technology-related stressors

  • Indoor air standards

  • Public sector AI research and compute capabilities

  • Groundwater

  • Digital public infrastructure

  • Baby bonds/wealth gap/Reconstruction

  • Sponge cities

  • Micromobility incentives, rebates, etc (units and infrastructure)

  • Reverse Citizens United

  • Algorithmic bias and discrimination in AI used for public services and decision-making

  • Sea level rise and infrastructure (airports, saltwater intrusion to freshwater, etc)

  • AI copilot vs autopilot

  • Rainwater storage/flooding

  • Aging China

  • Digital inclusion and literacy programs for marginalized communities

  • Heat-driven migration

  • TB

  • Alignment problem but on steroids

  • Microplastics

  • Really all plastics

  • Age limits for elected officials

  • Societal change before new tech tools

  • Trains

  • Drought

  • Modern nuclear power

  • Over-collection, storage, and sales of personal data

  • Disability reporting as Long COVID base grows

  • Recycling isn’t real

  • Baseline cultural, ethics, and psychological preparation for AI (and universal coding of self-AI)

  • Bird flu

  • Humanities training for VC’s, technologists, founders

  • Search engines that produce their own answers and not results

  • Flooding

  • Dynamically taxing driving distance to replace gas tax revenue

  • Localized solar and geothermal networks

  • AI-enhanced persuasive messaging

  • Agrovoltaics/more sheep/end lawns

  • Rice

  • Local journalism

  • Non-profit journalism

  • Community-owned and operated solar, battery storage, and broadband networks in underserved areas

  • Voting rights

  • ASML-TSMC bottleneck

  • Unlocking systemic structural inequalities and inequities

  • Food waste - penalties?

  • Loneliness

  • High skilled immigration

  • School lunches

  • School breakfasts

  • Climate migration

  • Long COVID

  • Teaching probabilistic thinking/numeration

  • Groundwater supplies

  • Unions (gig economy protections too)

  • Cognitive liberty from AI

  • Coffee crop/farmers

  • School bus drivers/participation incentives to reduce car dropoffs

  • Chocolate

  • Cigarettes

  • 120v heat pumps and heat pump water heaters

  • Alcohol

  • Disaster/emergency info post-Twitter/public API’s

  • Meat

  • Generative disinformation

  • Battery mineral recycling

  • Dismantling factory farms

  • Dwindling South Korea

  • Trade schools

  • Insular Japan

  • Policy intersection of maximizing innovation and usefulness with proactive reducing societal harm

  • Burying power lines

  • Gen A personal LLM’s

  • Funding more basic research

  • Primary care

  • Replacing lead pipes

  • Interoperable smaller online forums

  • Breaking up the FDA so both parts actually work

  • Clean concrete and steel

  • Rural broadband

  • Leveraging skills of elders

  • Paid homeworkers

  • Clinical trials

  • Community health clinics/workers

  • Recruiting and training electricians, especially women

  • 5x US teacher pay

  • Wastewater capture, monitoring, and recycling

— Quinn

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