As I discussed as a guest on Marginal Revolution, in summer of 2005 I queried many associates for advice on my first big post-tenure project.
This was the email I sent out:
Now that I have tenure, I'm tempted to spend the next few years on a new post-tenure project. Since I should choose carefully, I solicit your advice. No rush; it will be a month or two until I finish my current tasks. My goal is to make great things happen; getting personal credit can enable me to do more things later, but is otherwise not the main goal. By temperament I most like to think deep thoughts, I least like to manage other people, and explaining things is somewhere in the middle. Here are the ten main choices as I see them now: 1. Disagreement Book - Expand "Are Disagreements Honest" and related papers into a book, adding new material on data about who is right in real disagreements. I've been telling people this is my plan. This could establish my reputation as a deep thinker on a big issue. Fun, as there are still things for me to learn on this topic. No real competition on this topic (as least re the more technical angle), and it is nicely not aligned with an ideology. But not clear this will really change much in the world. 2. Medicine Book - Expand "Showing That You Care" into a book, making as clear as possible to a wide audience the point that medicine doesn't help them on the usual margin. Alas, this is not a message people want to hear, and I may not learn much doing this. 3. Upload Futures Papers and Book - Return to and finish my papers analyzing the social implications of future technologies, particularly uploads. Then write a book summarizing this area. I don't know of a more important policy question, and no one else is doing this. But it is not clear that making more people aware of these issues will produce better policy; future tech is usually treated symbolically, and this often makes things worse. 4. Idea Futures book - present the grand vision of idea futures solving many problems. Someone else is ahead of me with a similar book, and not sure a popular book shouldn't wait until there is more real progress to report. I wouldn't learn much doing this. But this is what I am now most famous for. 5. No subject book - just start writing and see what the book turns out to be about. 6. Demo Combo Betting - Write software to clearly demonstrate my vision of combinatorial markets, then sell the tech or give it away. If I don't do this it may be many years until others do it. And this tech can dramatically lower the cost of idea futures, allowing many more uses. But this may not be the limiting factor to wider use. Software needs little money, and is fully under my control, but I left software long ago because I preferred to ponder. 7. Decision Markets Application - Solicit funds for and create a big set of real money markets on an important policy area, to clearly demonstrate by example the value of decision markets. Might be on health policy, global warming, foreign aid, or other big public policy area. Or might focus on policies of big corporations. Would require me to be more of a manager, which may not be my strong suit. Others may well do this if I do not. 8. Media Controversy Track Records - Based on my PAM press paper. Solicit funds for and create a institute dedicated to collecting a track record on who turned out to be right in media controversies. Use this to infer indicators of who tends to be right, and then use those indicators to create a press watch service predicting where future opinion will go in current controversies. Can then solicit donations to support the inclusion of donor topics of interest. Good idea, but not clear I'm the right person to do it. 9. Mangled Worlds - Learn and apply enough physics theory to figure out if my mangled worlds concept really is the solution the deep mystery of quantum mechanics that it seems to me. Maybe a 25% chance I'm right, but if I am, and I take the time to explain myself clearly, would establish a strong reputation as a deep thinker. Should know one way or other in 3 years. Would be fun, though not clear it has any practical implications. 10. Something New - Relax, read widely for a year or two, and then re-examine the question.
Option Scores 1 2 3 4 ----------------------------------------------------- Disagreement book 25.7 21.8 12.8 19.6 Idea Futures book 22.9 20.2 11.4 14.7 Dec. mkt appl. 17.1 14.4 7.6 10.5 Demo combo 14.8 11.3 5.2 7.1 Upload futures 11.5 9.1 2.3 3.5 Mangled Worlds 10.0 7.8 2.3 4.1 Medicine book 6.8 5.9 1.8 3.4 Track Records 6.7 5.5 2.9 4.7 Something new 6.5 5.9 2.4 3.8 No subject book 4.3 2.6 0.3 1.0