Important questions for humanity

(note: this is a list of questions; but for a list of goals, i think there are two main things that need to be fixed: war and poverty)

In descending order of priority. The earlier questions tend to be more practical, and the latter ones more deep. Note that many of the last questions are very IMPORTANT, but they are still of lower PRIORITY because they may take a very long time to answer and in the meantime we need to deal with some other practical issues.

1) How can we improve our societal decision-making systems? 1a) How can we foster more experimention to societal decision-making, so that we can find and test better ones before setting them in stone in e.g. a country's constitution? 1b) Is democracy a good decision-making framework (note that even if the answer is no, democracy may be preferable on game-theoretic or ethical grounds)? For example, are any of the following issues intractable and dealbreakers:

Questions #3-#6 are more important than this one but I am putting this one first because I believe that progress on this will be crucial to making progress on those.

2) How can we improve our mass deliberative processes -- e.g. how can society discuss issues rationally rather than via soundbites?

3) What safety precautions should be observed in A.I. research?

4) Is it possible to create a situation in which people are kinder to each other and love each other more? If so, how?

5) As technological progress geometrically increases the power of individuals to destroy, what should we do?

6) Can war be stopped (or nearly stopped) and if so, how?

7a) Are Malthusian issues tractable and if so, how? That is, is humanity doomed to unhappiness because if we ever have sufficient resources for everybody, population will increase until there is not enough anymore? Be sure to take into account evolution: even if a population made up of today's people could have a pleasant steady-state maximum under certain conditions, in the long-term, in the absence of any other influence, individuals would evolve to reproduce more.

7b) Can poverty be stopped and if so, how?

7b-i) How can we make our economy more efficient?

7b-i-1) How can we make the financial markets more efficient?

7b-ii) How can we make our economy more fair?

8) How can we change our economy so that increased productivity leads to increased leisure rather than to increased competitive pressure to work more?

9) As technology makes privacy more difficult/unlikely, what, if anything, should be done?

In the sphere of government surveillance, i think sousveillance is the obvious answer, so i don't think there is an important question there, just implementation (for which question #1 is also needed to provide stronger anti-corruption controls on the watchers). But there is still an open question because of the private sphere.

What of the "human flesh search engine"? Should people live in shame forever after they have done something terrible? Should children have freedom of speech, that is, should kids be allowed to ruin the lives of unpopular kids with social media? How should people defend themselves when they are unjustly accused or when a remark is taken out of context? Should employers (attempt to) read your social media? Will anonymous people on the internet continue to send pictures of decapitated corpses to relatives just for kicks? Should everything you do in public (or in private, with the window open, or with a heat signature leaking out through the walls) be public knowledge? Should the contents of your trash be public knowledge?

10) What is the space of permissable ethical systems? Is there a unique permissable ethical system or a uniquely optimal ethical system?

10a) Are there reasonable joint utility functions, and if so, what are they, and if not, what are the alternatives? There has been a bunch of work on what individual utility functions look like; for example, it seems to the contribution of money to utility would most likely include a term like the log of money. But what about when one is deciding which outcome is most desirable for a group? One might think that one could just sum each individual utility, but this has some problems; e.g. is it a good outcome to horribly torture one person if millions of people would get some very slight enjoyment from watching? So, should the joint utility function be linear? sum of squares? min (min is the only function that would guarantee that torturing one person to make others happier is never a good idea, no matter how many others and how happy they get)? A less technical way to phrase this part is: Thanks to a friend of mine for pointing out this issue (and for the thought experiment), let me know if i can name you here.

10a) (rephrased in a less technical way) Fairness might be a good idea for game-theoretic reasons, but putting those aside, does fairness have intrinsic value, and if so, how much?

10b) Which is more important, freedom or utility maximization? (note: a negative answer to ?a might be used as part of an argument for freedom)

10c) Deonotological or utilitarian or a mix or something else?

11) P =? NP

12) What is the physical world and how does it work? 12a) What are the laws of physics (if any)? 12b) What are the philosophical implications?

13) How can we improve language itself? Are there objective criteria for good languages? Are there uniquely optimal languages? 13a) How can we improve natural language? 13b) How can we improve mathematical language? 13)c How can we improve computer programming languages?

14) What are the implications of Godel's theorems and related work?

15) Exactly how does thinking work? To clarify, if thinking is computation, then i am referring only to the algorithm of thought, not to its implementation in the brain.

16) Toposophy. What is the space of potential types of thought, including non-human types? (thank to science fiction for this one: )

17) What is consciousness?

17a) Is it magic, or computation, or a soul, or something else?


18) Can mathematics be placed on more finitistic foundation?

Current consensus mathematical foundations involve a lot of seemingly paradoxical transfinite reasoning. Can a suitable yet more intuitive foundation be found? Hilbert's programme failed but perhaps something similar (perhaps a 'relativized Hilbert programme' or 'generalized Hilbert programme') could succeed; see for example much of Soloman Feferman's work (eg and ), 's negative comment on such programmes, reverse mathematics, explicit mathematics, foundational analysis, Stephen Simpson's work, .