Richard Hamming in his famous lecture “You and your Research” suggest you to ask three questions:
What are the most important problems in your field?
Are you working on one of them? Why not?
The first time I watched it was like getting a punch in my stomach. If you want to do important work you need to work on important problems. This is so simple, yet most people don’t do it. I for sure was not doing it.
A good list of problems to work on will advance your career and your life more than a good list of solutions. The quality of your questions is more important than the quality of your answers.
The famous scientist Richard Feynman would give this advice to young scientists:
“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while there will be a hit, and people will say, “How did he do it? He must be a genius!”
You should create your own list of important questions. This doesn’t mean that you will be the one to answer them but they will serve as a guide to your curiosity and who knows? Maybe you can give a small contribution to solve them someday.
Here is my list own list of problems to inspire you:
1. How to live a good life?
2. How to make living organisms programmable?
3. How to create an AI capable of common sense?
4. What makes a great developer? How can we make more of them?
5. Why some societies don’t value knowledge? Can we change that?
6. How to edit the human genome safely? How can we do it cheaply?
7. How to create the perfect discovery engine?
8. How to instill and maintain intellectual curiosity in children? How to do that with adults?
9. What makes a country go from underdeveloped to developed?
10. It’s it possible to increase a person’s intelligence? How can we do that in scale?
11. How to design a living organism from scratch?
12. What is the best way to make smart people meet each other?