Bottlenecks in Science and Technology
Through our Bottlenecks program, we convene researchers, funders, institution designers, and creative thinkers to help determine how much progress is being made in different fields in science and technology, what the bottlenecks are to future progress, and to create the conditions for new ambitious projects that will break those bottlenecks.
Historically, advances in science and technology have contributed substantially to global prosperity. Further advances promise to bring similar benefits. With public concern about scientific progress slowing down, it is essential that resources be devoted to ensuring that progress in science and technology continues. At the same time, the history of science shows how the development of new science and technology can lead to harm. It is thus equally essential that the progress humanity makes in science is done responsibly.
Breaking bottlenecks in science and technology is a challenging task and likely requires many groups to work together. Through our Bottlenecks in Science and Technology program, we hope to play an important role, helping to bring together relevant experts and funders, applying knowledge from our past and present research where useful, and when necessary contributing directly to specific projects.
Following the success of our 2021 Bottlenecks workshop the institute received a generous Emergent Ventures grant for its work on bottlenecks, and interest for follow-on workshops has been strong. We expect to run various events including annual Bottlenecks events supporting and encouraging careful analyses of bottlenecks in different fields, as well as events targetting specific technologies, skills, and interest groups as part of our work to support ambitious projects that will drive responsible scientific and technological progress.
The 2021 Bottlenecks in Science and Technology Workshop brought together 33 researchers, funders, and institution designers at the Denver headquarters of supersonic aviation start-up Boom Supersonic to discuss bottlenecks to responsible scientific and technological progress and how to break them.
The event—which we co-organized with José Luis Ricón and Adam Marblestone—featured presentations on bottlenecks in ten different areas in science and technology, including energy production, metagenomic sequencing, psychology, functional institutions, and life extension. Peter Thiel, Patrick Collison, and Tyler Cowen gave keynotes, and lightning talks covered topics such as building R&D in carbon capture and the importance of research program design. The goals of the workshop were to provide a context for researchers to conduct analyses of bottlenecks in different fields, develop bottleneck analysis as a format, acquire greater knowledge of bottlenecks in specific fields, and start to create a network of researchers, funders, and institution designers interested in these topics.
It is the thesis of our Bottlenecks in Science and Technology program that it is possible to make significant scientific and technological progress, and to do so responsibly, by thoughtfully identifying the bottlenecks to progress in each field and bringing together the people and resources needed to break those bottlenecks.
As part of the program we have begun working with researchers covering multiple fields, including in the natural and social sciences, to conduct analyses of the social, institutional, and technical bottlenecks to progress in their field.
A bottleneck analysis is, quite naturally, an attempt to identify the current bottlenecks to further or faster progress in a given area. One might think about this in terms of the current constraints to further progress, and how we can overcome them. Such an analysis piece may include an overview of a particular field or sub-field, its history, the current progress being made, the current bottlenecks to further progress, and the different approaches to overcoming those bottlenecks and the plausibility of those approaches. An example of a bottleneck analysis is Adam Marblestone’s Physical principles for scalable neural recording, which analyzes the bottlenecks to real-time brain imaging in mice.
If you would be interested in conducting a bottleneck analysis of your own field, please get in touch.