By way of clarification:

  • Are we talking about biggest-projects-which-are-moonshots, which might tell us a lot about how to get funding or the things the public/governments like?

  • Are we talking longest-moonshots in the sense of furthest time horizon or least likely?

  • Are we talking biggest-moons-at-which-there-is-a-shot, in the sense of benefiting some aspect of civilization?

All of these seem reasonable, but might be worth distinguishing in answers.

2Liron9moOk, I mean which existing projects are the biggest and also have a significant chance of actually achieving their objective. Having a long time horizon isn't a fundamental property of the answer, just a property that's correlated with being the biggest but anticorrelated with being likely to achieve their objective.
1Spiracular9moI'm used to thinking of those more as "Megaprojects". "A List of Megaprojects" is a great goal, but I feel like it might be worth clarifying that in the question up-top a little bit.

Oooh thanks for telling me about this term!

[ Question ]

What are the biggest "moonshots" currently in progress?

by Liron 1 min read1st Sep 201914 comments


You know, "moonshot" projects like:

  • SpaceX's plan to colonize Mars
  • SpaceX's plan to give the whole world fast satellite internet
  • Tesla's plan to transition the world to sustainable energy
  • Boom making commercial supersonic flight a thing again

Let's make a list!

E.g. does anyone know if China has some huge construction projects that could qualify for this?

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4 Answers

It's not quite moonshots, but here's wikipedia's list of Megaprojects.

When it comes to more classic architectural infrastructure projects, I'd be shocked if China (and maybe Singapore) don't have several. But I also expect them to lean towards the incremental-progress-is-visible model where they can. Because when you can, having assessable incremental progress really is almost always the better choice?

Serious New Physics seems to be full of nightmare-to-fund megaprojects. What's that upcoming telescope that's going to be able to test if weird extrasolar asteroids like 'Oumuamua passing by Earth are a common or rare event? Somebody's got to be building a new and more powerful collider, somewhere in the world. Who's working on fusion reactors? Who's working on crafting quantum computers?

Thinking of megaprojects & moonshots got me thinking of some information-infrastructure stuff that might or might not count, depending on definition. So I'm going to throw on a list of some tentative and disputable "Information Age Megaprojects" too...

  • Wikipedia
    • Someone back-of-envelope estimated that Wikipedia was the culmination of 100 mil hours of work in 2008, and assuredly more by today.
    • While it's success feels predestined nowadays, when it first outdid formal and privately-funded attempts at online encyclopedias, that was a very surprising outcome to many
  • If you loosen the restrictions, biology probably has tons of megaprojects. (BLAST, GenBank, PubChem... NIH is funding and maintaining vast databases, and all the infrastructure that makes them navigable. How much work that is probably depends on whether you include or exclude the work it took to extract the data they're peddling.)
    • It feels almost-incoherent for me to think of biological projects as "moonshots"? There are interesting and novel things being done constantly (Many of them clever, irreplacable things. Some of them fundamental things! Some of them potentially high-impact!), and yet the term just does not seem to fit. Just about every interesting synthetic biology project nowadays has a "merely" moderately-large to large start-up cost, a measure of incremental progress, and a huge element of chance. Some of those could have huge impacts if they work. Should I call those moonshots? They're not really big enough for "megaprojects" to fit, cost-wise.
  • Google (Alphabet? GoogleX?) seems to have a taste for this
    • Google's book-scanning project (before it was shut down)
    • Loon is their internet-access balloon project
    • The Android Operating System?
    • The Google search-engine itself?
  • The Internet Archive?
  • People building 3D models of entire cities, in games such as Second Life?
  • Does Bitcoin count?
    • I suspect not, but I couldn't really articulate why. If I wanted to argue one way or another with this one, I actually wouldn't know where to start.

It's hard to find good English sources on this, but Africa's great green wall might count