Free Ideas

I generate many more ideas than I have time to pursue. For the material in research, there is a reasonable chance that I'll get around to it, particularly if someone is excited about something there. But there are other ideas I think are good, but don't quite fit with my skills or agenda. They're free to a good home, and I'd be delighted to advise and support someone in taking one of them on.

  • Reading then and now, and backed by statistics like the rising age of grant recipients, it's obvious that the US federal R&D spending has calcified. What policy changes happened? In response to what threats and crises? There's a lot of room for someone to get into the history of 50s-90s research bureaucracies: this could easily absorb years of productive work, but picking one agency (DARPA is better studied than most) would be a good starting point for someone interested in meaningful contributions to Progress Studies.

  • Nobody offers consulting on "best charity conditioning on X, Y, Z" (at a reasonable price point: Longview can get you whatever you want, but Longview expects you to be giving a million a year or more, and I'm pretty sure a decent analysis could be done for a few thousand). Share the resulting reports publicly, generate a web-facing database, and you're in business.

    • One way to start would be identifying non-bad charities pursuing highly effective strategies in every large city. Bail funds are attractive here.

  • As a policy person, I would like to gain information from markets. I think many people would like this! Give me projected volatility at various time ranges and current indicators (optionally by sector), let me pick countries of interest, show it all on a dashboard, and let me set alerts (if you want to monetize it, say that email alerts cost extra, charge more for real-time, once you're providing substantial amounts of value money is easy). I think that the reason this hasn't been done yet is that anyone who can do it usefully can make a lot more money working in finance. But it's a useful project that would benefit the world, and something that I think an MVP of is achievable in a college student's summer that unexpectedly freed up. I'm happy to talk through what I need and what data sources I think would be relevant, though I don't have the coding ability to supervise as the senior dev. This project requires, and gives ample opportunity to grow, really good UI skills. You're trying to make complex data presentation user-customizable. But you can start with something pretty simple. There will also be a lot of work ingesting data from other people's APIs, which is generally good practice.

  • "Brain Drain" is probably good for countries. People getting a good education and leaving is not the vanishing of skilled people, but their export. Remittances are a major source of income for many low and middle income countries, and while you can get meaningful remittances from unskilled labor at very low incomes, moving to "export" more educated people seems like a shift that increases the domestic returns to education. Framed another way, assuming an infinite supply, does a country that bans the export of oil produce more or less internally? Even if domestic oil consumption drops, is the country overall better off (assuming no resource curse)?

    • It's a hot take, but someone would have to dig together a decent bit of data, and actually lay out the theory properly

  • would use CPS data to estimate how far Americans/residents of state A are from the closest hospital/police station/abortion provider/military base. The last would be primarily user-supplied, though if you wanted to include those as default visibility options you could.

    • This is not the most important tool in the world, but it's a good visualization (so people can easily see what the most Dunkin Donuts Deprived parts of the nation are) and a really nice demo that you know how to use GIS and CPS together to make something that works for end users. It would also help answer questions like "if you wanted to minimize travel distances in the continental United States, where should we put our third center for X?" and "where in the country do people have to travel farthest to Y"

  • Other people:

    • An AGI and longtermist-focused list of lists of important research questions

    • Caleb Watney on key problems in the economics of innovation (he's the co-CEO of Institute for Progress, so would also be a good person to reach out to for advice or funding)

    • Your name here: I'm happy to include your list