Friday, October 24, 2008

The 10^10 in 2^11 Problem

While Google has their 10100 project, I use a similarly geeky shorthand to refer to a topic I think about often: the 1010 in 211 problem. Translated: what needs to be done to maximize the well-being of 10 billion people in the year 2048?

Why 1010?
In 2048, there are likely to be close to 10 billion people living on the Earth, as the best estimates for the world population in 2050 are around 9-9.4 billion people.

10 billion people is also a good goal for stabilizing the world population at. This would not be easy and require a large effort to increase female education and improve access to family planning.

Why 211?
2048 is 40 years from now. 40 year is half an average lifetime and the approximate length of a working career. It is long enough for serious changes to occur, but also short enough that you can predict much of what will happen.

2048 is also within rounding distance of 2050, the halfway marker of the century.

Questions raised by the 1010 in 211 problem

The 1010 in 211 problem is at the root of many of the posts here at Fat Knowledge. I flushed out a lot of my thoughts on this topic in my Buddhist Economics post. Many of the new technologies I highlight, the economic statistics that I look at, and the environmental ideas I write about are at their root partial answers to the 1010 in 211 problem. But, I still have a lot of questions that I am searching for answers to. Here is a list of some of them:

If you want to volunteer 5 hours a week to work on this problem, how can you best spend your time?

If a philanthropist had $10 million dollars to dedicate to this problem, how should that money be spent?

If an idealist is just graduating from college, how should they spend their time and energy to best tackle this problem?

What are the best metrics for measuring human well-being?

Is humanity doing a good job of allocating resources to maximize the well-being of those in 2048?

Is capital being allocated in a way that will maximize well-being and if not, how can the incentives be changed to make it so?

How are we going to produce enough food to feed 10 billion people and how much land will it require?

How are we going to provide enough energy in a sustainable way for all these people?

How are we going to reach the previous two goals and still protect the environment and leave enough land and resources for wildlife?

What would it take to spread a US level of affluence to 10 billion people?

Are the best and brightest going into the right fields to maximize their impact on the well being of humanity?

Are there too many or too few scientists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, business men, pastors, financiers, academic researchers, farmers, and athletes?

How can we minimize the amount of natural resources that are required to live a good life?

What ideas don't have enough good minds thinking about them?

How can we stabilize population so every child has enough resources allocated to them to reach their full potential?

Is enough basic research being conducted? Would the world be better off with more scientists?

Which technologies are likely to provide the greatest improvement in well-being and is there enough research being done on them?

What is the best way to eradicate poverty?

What needs to be done to make every human literate?

How do we eliminate preventable diseases?

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