The following is a list of key cause areas or "moonshots" I think would be valuable to work toward. This list is not meant to be exhaustive or final, but a continual process of revision. It lacks some values I find self-evident, such as democracy or working on existential risk. Neither does it mention the arts which I find to have immense empathic, expressive, psychological and societal value. Neither is it weighted or prioritized in any way, which could be an interesting direction for revision. What I hope to achieve by sharing this list is to open a conversation exploring core values, as well as to ask how we might innovate toward these ideals?
Echoing David Deutsch, any of these innovative goals are either 1) impossible due to the laws of physics or 2) achievable given the right knowledge. So, let's get out there and solve some epic problems! :-)
Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. - Yuval Harari
Concern for the welfare of all sentience I believe to be a widely neglected topic due to a variety of psychological and historical biases. Thankfully I do see a genuine shift in values as more critical thought and knowledge develops in this area. Still, there is a lot of progress to be made given existing unnecessary suffering. These figures from Wild Animal Initiative on scale help put things into perspective: Farmed Animals (114 billion), Wild Vertebrates (10 trillion), Wild Invertebrates (100+ trillion).
Wild animals and invertebrates are undoubtedly the most neglected.
So too, within the human species, needless to say there is a lot of unnecessary suffering. The figures are heartbreaking: in 2019 an estimated 5.2 million children under 5 years died mostly from preventable and treatable causes.
Organizations such as The Life You Can Save are working to help solve this, by curating effective charities that do innovative, cost-effective work in this area.
In the long run, I think we should aim to cure all disease. That means everything from common age-related pathologies, such as cancer and neurodegenerative conditions, to rare diseases affecting the developing world.
That means prioritizing medical R&D, to spur innovation, as well as figuring out ways to make state of the art therapeutics cost-effective and broadly available versus limited to a select elite.
I find the innovation currently happening with gene therapy and protein design particularly compelling, as well as advancements in prosthetic technology to help restore sight, cognition, mobility etc. Overall, I believe we have an immense capability and responsibility to advance medicine to reduce suffering and improve quality of life, for all sentience!
One undeappreciated or niche "moonshot" I believe we should be aiming for is applied research in consciousness studies. Consciousness is the prerequisite for sentience. It's the root of all value. Valuing something is only possible because it occurs in the conscious experiences of sentient beings. Therefore, I think research into consciousness could have deep and broad significance. For example, it may help elucidate our understanding of depression, anxiety and psychological health in general. As well as provide insight into our capacities for flourishing. It may even help expand the moral circle, as we understand more deeply the variety of conscious experiences and kinds of minds possible in this universe. To be fair, consciousness studies is certainly not required to work on psychological heath, but it seems highly significant and rich with potential.
In parallel, I believe we need proactive research mitigating the potential for suffering in artificial consciousness if it's ever invented, and to better understand potential capacities for suffering and flourishing in future forms of sentience.
One hypothetical but truly mind-blowing "moonshot" would be the invention of Universal Constructors: an object that has within its repertoire all physically possible transformations (not just computations).This would be comparable to the I.T. revolution, but far more transformative in its impact and scope. It does however present a potential existential risk, which is why, as with all technologies we need a culture that values responsible use.
Related to this would be the invention of a universal explainer (or "AGI"), which would have the ability to build universal constructors in its repertoire!