I was listening to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell about a 20th century U.S. General named Curtis LeMay. He is a fascinating and influential character by the way. In the episode “May the Best Firebomb Win” Gladwell tells of a contest for our nations elite universities (Harvard, Yale, etc) to design the best incendiary bomb. Napalm was the winner.
In the book “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” by Richard Rhodes (amazing book!) he describes how the nations elite universities again were enlisted to design the most destructive force ever unleashed. The first atomic pile was created under the football field at the University of Chicago.
DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Proejcts Agency) has sponsored the design of amazing technologies over the years including the computer mouse, the Internet, GPS, self-driving cars and drones.
All of these things are government sponsored design projects. Usually the reason for the development of all of them was either offense or defense for war. We spend an enormous amount of money designing machines of war and defense. The internet upon which I am publishing this post is built completely for the purpose of defense against a nuclear attack. All of these projects would not have been designed at all if not for the money and inspiration of the US Government.
So my question is: Why doesn’t the government sponsor other kinds of design? Maybe projects that have less to do with war and more to do with our society at large? When I say invest, I mean invest BIG. LIke spend trillions on this kind of research. I have some ideas:
A Better Battery
Requirements: Less than 10 minutes to charge. Stores 10x current battery storage capacity. Recharging duration 10x. Safe and can’t explode or catch fire. Made of easily accessible materials. Disposable.
Electric cars for EVERYONE is not that far away. We need a better battery and you could go across the country on almost a single charge. Smog would disappear over cities. Greenhouse gases would diminish.
CO2 Removal Systems
A synthetic tree that would remove 1000x the times of CO2 from the atmosphere as normal trees. We can reverse climate change. We need to design a better tree.
Climate change is going to kill more people than Covid by alot. It’s going to cause the largest refugee crisis in history. It is going to be an epic disaster unless we get to work.
It drives me crazy how bad the voting user interfaces are. it makes me even more nuts when I think about their security (or lack thereof). Why do different states all have wacky voting systems. We need a federal project to design usable, secure, accessible voting systems.
Our elections are under attack. Why in the world would we continue to leave our most sacred institution and governmental foundation undefended. I can’t imagine a better use of our elite institutions than to design and test the perfect voting system. I would be happy to help design it.
Better Solar and Wind Generation
These have been getting better and better in the last few years. But we need to design a roof that looks like shingles but is solar and pay to have every house in America generate energy. They need to stay cooler and generate more electricity. Maybe they could be made so durable that every road and parking lot is made of them. We can be energy neutral with the proper effort.
The middle east is a hotbed of violence and terrorism in large part because of the economics of the region. They are completely dependent on fossil fuel sales. If we (and other nations) are energy independent, then the middle east ceases to be generating so much money which is used to make people’s lives miserable.
They called it the Manhattan Project when they funded enormous sums of money to build the first atomic bomb. Now we call Manhattan Projects anything that the government spends alot of money and brings the finest minds of our country together for singular goals.
We have the money. We spend it on nuclear submarines that don’t help society or the world. We spend it on machines of war. We should be spending it on machines that benefit society in more direct ways.
Government has a role to play here. The free market does not create Manhattan Projects and never will. Government has in the past done amazing things this way. We can do it again.