What would you do with a billion dollars?
My christmas wishes

What would anyone do with a spare billion dollars? If you had such a vast concentration of wealth, what would you do with it? How would you spend it? There’s only so many boats you can buy, so much caviar you can eat….

So I sat awake last night thinking about how I’d spend it, if I had it. I couldn’t spend it in a single year, and had to go for five! And: even then I decided I wasn’t smart enough to spend that much money without good advice, so first up I’d create a backing org to figure that out better and to handle petty administrative details: 10m/yr.

First up: I’d invest in developing faster, safer, cooler cpu technologies like the Mill. It would give general purpose computing a real shot in the arm. Using conventional methods, holding all the design close, and proprietary, would probably cost about 120 million total to get to the first product, and a few years more to go cash flow positive. Going another way - open sourcing as much as possible, engaging academia, doing collaborative development, might cut the costs to under 20 million, and realizable hardware in less time. Let’s set aside 50m.

While I was at it I’d invest in better hardware design languages, and work harder towards establishing a set of common public hardware libraries and reusable hardware design code that anyone could use to design, anything. What we have today in the maker movement is a far cry from what we could have.

It might be simpler to buy up and open source some hardware IP, also - particularly stuff that would be generally useful like cable modem interfaces, GPON, wifi, and DSL. There should be plenty available at nearly fire-sale prices, but that’s not the case for some reason. Still, let’s set aside 50m for that.

Finding some way for anyone, to make chips in small batches, would be good also. 50m for the program…

I’d build spacecraft to explore and mine the asteroids. This long term investment might pay off big, but not in any timeframe that a VC would be willing to invest in. Merely keeping the design of the spacecraft and its software going would be about 50 million over 5 years. Construction, testing, launch, and the first mission would cost a lot more, but you don’t have to worry about it as much in the early years.

I’d establish a prize for the first successful sample return mission from an asteroid, returning 1000 kilos of useful material. It would be an insurance bet, like the original xprize was, so I figure you could bet lloyds, say, 50 million over 5 years, for a 500m prize. Betting lloyds that someone could do it in 15 years would be a sucker bet - I have a great faith that we will, indeed, be able to do a sizable sample return mission by then, prize or no prize, major investment or not.

I’d attempt to get more colleges to merge their computer science and electrical engineering programs, creating “Centers for computing excellence” - building a new generation of engineers with skills both in software and hardware. The EEs could use some modern software management practices, and the CS folk could use hardware that was easier to use. We could also use “centers for networking excellence”, again, with a blend of hardware and software types engaged - not in writing papers - but building useful stuff.

I’d establish those centers in a couple places - China, USA, and Europe at minimum. Spend 50m on that. Make sure all students rotated through all countries equally. I’d suspect multiple other countries would like to get in the act, so great, everybody ante up! I don’t know anybody that thinks we’ve got a sustainable firmware for the 22nd century, we gotta get to work on that unless we want the world to end in self replicating goo.

And we need the equivalent of Nobel prizes for advances in firmware engineering, so let’s burn 100m on establishing those. Maybe create a Society for Sustainable Firmware along the way.

I’d prop up multiple worthy charities working on things I care about - my top seven are: archive.org, wikipedia, isc.org, openwrt, eff, nlnet, icei.org - all of them saved my bacon this past year, and if I could I’d pay them back a 1000-fold, so they can go forth and do the same thing for multiple others doing good for the internet - call that 50m split across each, although I’d short the eff and wikipedia a bit - they are high functioning compared to the others, which are addressing coding concerns that I care more about than the politics.

Icei’s newguard concept in particular encourages me - we need the next generation to be able to hold up the sky and for the current generation to pass along the knowledge that isn’t written down yet. Fold that into the “centers for computing and network excellence” idea above, also.

I’d arrange for knighthoods and pensions to core contributors to society’s safety and health. 10m?

Seeing so much focus on high level “oh my god we’re all going to die” climate change meetings, rather than on incremental approaches to fixing things like overfishing and nitrate pollution at rivermouths, irks me, so lets do 5m to restore a wetlands, and tackle restoring a major river along with it. This accomplishes two things - it quiets freeman dyson, and establishes baseline techniques to fix these two problems worldwide, if people get up off their asses and off the internet long enough to wade in.

There are a lot of things that bug me about American politics - far too many to list - but if I could pick 3 things - one would be forming a group focused on ending gerrymandering - a representative goverment would self correct many outrages. I’d roll back copyright law to 1909 levels: 14 years, renewable once only by the original creator. This would shift back the balance of power from owners to creators, which is what copyright was originally about. The last of the three: I’d burn on some politician with an actual engineering background attempting to get into the Senate. Damned if I know what it would cost to accomplish those three things - somewhere between 20 million and infinity, so, lets burn 50m total, on those, as well.

I’d establish a cadre of 100 can-do experts, on every field imaginable, give them a credit card with a half-million dollar limit - call ‘em “MakerCards” - and free airfare to anywhere - and ask them to jump in and solve emergencies anywhere in the world.

It turned out to be pretty easy to spend a more than a billion!

Well… I’m pretty sure that one or more of the long term bets above would pay off big, and fund other stuff eventually.

As for me, well, I’d take 1%, put it in a bank, and try to live off the interest, and keep coming up with good ideas and giving the ones that need to be given away for as long as I’m able. For the past 10 years I’ve been doing that, and had I’d taken any of the “jobs” offered me, I’d be well on my way past accumulating that million.

Maybe I’d get a song professionally produced.

My own needs are few. Admittedly - if I had a way to do it - I’d try to help out the widows of two dead friends, in raising their 5 kids. They are smart kids, I’d like to see them with sufficient education and expertise to tackle the next generation’s problems. I am comforted by the hope they will all probably win scholarships somewhere. I have another friend with crippling endomitriosis, who could use 30k or so for an operation that may, or may not, return her to useful functioning.

Still… if my life ended tomorrow, I’d be ok with it. Karma-wise, I think I’m at a permanent plus. Of what I make, I always give 10% to people and orgs that need it. My working diagnosis nowadays is multiple sclerosis - but when I was incapacitated, I was really incapacitated, and nobody’s making any progress on it. I have lived life for this past decade, not expecting to wake up the next morning, or dreading it, and this is why I try just to work on things that I deem important, with what time I have.

So… what would you do with a billion dollars?

Find me elsewhere.

Best of the blog Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
On the Columbia - Why I care about space
Authors I like:
Doc Searls
Jerry Pournelle
The Cubic Dog
David Brin
Charlie Stross
Eric Raymond
The Intercept
Chunky Mark
Dan Luu's rants about hardware design
Selenian Boondocks
Transterrestial Musings

December 12, 2015
1428 words