The two examples on this page reflect existing initiatives funded by the Foundation. The examples demonstrate how to articulate an idea for the Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing. However, they should not be used as indicators of selection criteria or to guess what the Foundation might be interested in. Please visit the main Request For Ideas page for that information.

Example Idea 1

Title: (up to 20 words)

Accelerating Research on Consciousness

Goal (up to 200 words) 
What goal will your idea bring us closer to? How does this goal fit in the scope of the Foundation’s strategy?

Consciousness is a foundational concept related to key questions in the medical and psychological sciences. If we can better understand consciousness, including subjective experience, we could expect to develop better pain treatments and some mental health conditions. We would also be able to answer increasingly pressing questions such as: are some machines conscious? 

There are at least ten scientific theories of consciousness. Many of them are incompatible, but there is little interaction between them. This makes it very difficult to know which ones are on the right track. The goal is to advance the field of consciousness by reducing the number of theories (ideally by experiments that can falsify them) and making the remaining ones more robust (by experiments that unsuccessfully attempt to falsify them). This will bring us closer to having theories of consciousness that can substantially contribute to The Foundation’s interest and other aspects of human flourishing.

Opportunity (up to 100 words)
Think of what others have done in this area. Drawing from that, how can your idea be described as a new opportunity?

There has been a tremendous amount of research on consciousness, which has led to many established theories on the topic. We now have an opportunity to narrow down the pool of theories through experiments that falsify predictions. We can challenge the consciousness community to come up with such experiments. In doing so, they will also be able to identify which theories are too vague to be tested. They may also further develop testable theories to make them more precise and robust.

Roadblocks (up to 100 words)
What challenges could hinder the opportunity mentioned above?

The main challenge would be to get a consensus on what evidence is needed to disprove a theory. Without such consensus, any evidence claiming to disprove a theory could be met with lots of criticism and the theory will not be eliminated. Instead, the field will likely just be divided between people who believe the evidence and people who oppose it.

Another challenge is the vague definition of consciousness. Different theories often have different definitions, which can lead to confusion.

Another challenge is that some theories of consciousness are not necessarily mature enough to be subject to serious experimentation.

Breakthroughs needed (up to 200 words)
What projects or activities would be needed to overcome the Roadblocks? Why do you think such breakthroughs will be possible?

We can use adversarial collaboration and best practices in open science to overcome the roadblocks. The leaders of two or more opposing theories should come together to design experiments that test incompatible predictions made by each theory. They should be designed in such a way that at least one of the core predictions can be falsified. If successful, such an experiment could eliminate a theory of consciousness.

Adversarial collaboration is a good way of maintaining consensus. All adversaries have an incentive to participate, and they can all be asked to reach a consensus on how to conduct the experiments and interpret the data. Methods and data should be shared openly to allow for a fair analysis. This will allow theories to be falsified even if adversaries differ in their definitions of consciousness.

To be successful, the funding should depend on the integrity of the adversarial collaboration. The Foundation should provide a structure and clear incentives to minimize the workload of developing an adversarial collaboration.

Cost (up to 100 words) 
What projects or activities could be carried out with the first $5M, $10M, and $20M?

One adversarial collaboration (assuming multiple neuroimaging techniques and a replication study) could cost $3M - $5M

$5M could fund 1 adversarial collaboration and maybe a couple of supporting activities or smaller experiments.

$10M could fund an additional 1-2 adversarial collaborations

$20M could fund an additional 2-3 adversarial collaborations (a maximum total of 5) and one or two substantial community-development projects such as a summer school.

Timeline (up to 100 words)
What project or activity milestones could be expected in the first 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years?

A single adversarial collaboration will take about 4 years to complete. 

In the first 3 years, all projects can be launched. Some may complete data collection.

In the first 5 years, most data collection should be completed. We may expect to see one or more theories of consciousness falsified.

In the first 10 years, all projects should be completed, we should expect up to 5 theories of consciousness to have been falsified (or merged with other theories). We should expect the remaining theories to be more robust, and capable of providing new useful information relating to the questions mentioned above.

Key Indicators of Success (up to 100 words)
How will you assess the successes and/or failures of your idea at years 3, 5, and 10?

3 years: Can we establish adversarial collaborations? Can the adversarial collaborations come up with experiments to test incompatible predictions? (If any answer is ‘no’ then the initiative will probably fail.)

5 years: Have the experiments stayed faithful to the terms of the adversarial collaboration? Have the experiments falsified a leading theory of consciousness? Has a theory been withdrawn? (All answers need to be ‘yes’ to be a true success, but a ‘no’ might not be a complete failure.)

10 years: How many adversarial collaborations have been successful? (3 or more should be considered a success whereas 1 or less would indicate a failure.)

Exclusion criteria (up to 100 words) 
What projects or activities in this area could be unproductive or counterproductive? What should we avoid?

Eliminating theories on conceptual grounds. It will require a completely different kind of approach and may distract from the experimental work.

Experiments that seek to explore or support one particular theory. There are many such opportunities but they generally provide only small increments of progress.

Large scale support for one particular theory. This would be too risky.

 


 

Example Idea 2

Title: (up to 20 words)

Diverse Intelligences

Goal (up to 200 words) 
What goal will your idea bring us closer to? How does this goal fit in the scope of the Foundation’s strategy?

The concept of intelligence can be studied in pursuit of useful discoveries - for example, new practices that promote social or relational intelligence or new tools for seeking extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Intelligence lies at the center of a broad range of different questions: How do cells assemble into organs? How do butterflies navigate across continents? Why are corvids so good at solving complex puzzles? What can we do as individuals to improve social intelligence or creativity? What is the best way for groups of people to make complex decisions? These questions are studied in many different disciplines, but researchers rarely have opportunities to work together in these fields. 

Traditional science funding mechanisms do very little to facilitate cross-disciplinary engagement. The goal is to catalyze new advances in research on intelligence by facilitating such engagement.

Opportunity (up to 100 words)
Think of what others have done in this area. Drawing from that, how can your idea be described as a new opportunity?

Many researchers from different disciplines study intelligence. We have a new opportunity to bring together these scholars and establish a cross-disciplinary community of inquiry. This would reduce the risk of duplicate work and facilitate the sharing of useful information. Doing so would provide new opportunities to study important questions that can’t be adequately answered by a single discipline (e.g., what are the similarities and differences between artificial intelligence and human intelligence?)

This is a broad opportunity to strengthen a community of researchers. We can’t predict at this stage which cross-disciplinary collaborations would be the strongest or what new studies would have the most useful outcomes. These can be incorporated into milestones to ensure adequate progress.

Roadblocks (up to 100 words)
What challenges could hinder the opportunity mentioned above?

Conceptual challenges: researchers may have different definitions of intelligence that may contradict or be independent.

Translation: different research communities use different terms and kinds of explanations. This can cause confusion if not adequately translated.

Competition: young investigators, in particular, face severe competition for funding. If activities are not structured properly, they may be perceived as a distraction.

Breakthroughs needed (up to 200 words)
What projects or activities would be needed to overcome the Roadblocks? Why do you think such breakthroughs will be possible?

A ‘new home’ for studying intelligences: we need a nexus for the community, such as a conference or summer school. This should include activities that benefit and incentivize participants from diverse career stages and academic disciplines.

Consult a range of experts to develop a series of Grand Challenges that galvanize new communities.

Offer grant funding in stages (pilot, small grant, larger grant, etc.) to initially explore a broad range of opportunities and a small number of high-quality projects later on.

Cost (up to 100 words) 
What projects or activities could be carried out with the first $5M, $10M, and $20M?

$5M could establish a summer school for one year, support one round of exploratory grants, and one set of Grand Challenges grants.

$10M could establish annual summer schools and conferences for 5 years, support one round of exploratory grants and two sets of Grand Challenges.

$20M could do the same as $10M plus a second round of exploratory grants, and third set of Grand Challenges, and two large interdisciplinary projects each carried out by a consortium of researchers.

Timeline (up to 100 words)
What project or activity milestones could be expected in the first 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years?

3 years: Establish an annual summer school and an annual conference. Launch the exploratory grants. Identify the topics of the Grand Challenges.

5 years: Conclude the exploratory grants. Launch the Grand Challenges. Identify the topics of the interdisciplinary projects

10 years. Conclude the Grand Challenges and the summer school. Launch and conclude the interdisciplinary projects.

Key Indicators of Success (up to 100 words)
How will you assess the successes and/or failures of your idea at years 3, 5, and 10?

3 years: Are the summer schools and conferences well attended? Did the call for proposals for exploratory grants lead to competitive projects? (Any ‘no’ answer would indicate a failure).

5 years: Did the exploratory grants lead to new research ideas for interdisciplinary projects? Did the Grand Challenges call result in strong proposals? 

10 years: Is there a self-sustaining community? Did any of the grants lead to new useful discoveries? (‘Yes’ to both would indicate success but a ‘no’ may not necessarily be a failure.)

Exclusion criteria (up to 100 words) 
What projects or activities in this area could be unproductive or counterproductive? What should we avoid?

Established research to develop better artificial intelligence.

Developing equipment for find extraterrestrial intelligence.

Research on artistic genius or academic performance.