Save endangered animals by creating new jobs—jobs for the animals, that is!

Background:

There are a large number of animal species that are on the brink of extinction. 

The Issue:

Although a few so-called “charismatic megafauna” have attracted human support with their cuteness / photograph-worthiness, many endangered species are ugly or boring (e.g. “oh look, another slightly different type of deer”).

Proposal:

What is needed is a general method for animals—even non-photogenic ones—to attract support from people and avoid extinction.

The easiest method is for these lazy endangered animals to get jobs (Figure 1)! If they had a specific niche in daily society, then people would be more likely to value them and work to ensure their preservation.

Fig. 1: Here, we can see these formerly-layabout animals put to work. Top: an elephant waters plants. Middle: a whale pulls a rowboat. Bottom: a snake clears leaves out of a drain pipe.

Conclusion:

Now that these animals are earning their keep, maybe they will be valued by society a bit more (at least for a few decades, until robots replace them).

PROS: Increases labor participation. Adds to a country’s GDP and overall economic health.

CONS: Might be difficult to train a venomous snake to reliably clean a gutter. May provide unsettling existential questions when a person asks if a robot will also replace their job, not just the drain-cleaning-snake’s job.

If you’ve ever had your hands full carrying things, you need this new “helping hand” accessory, which will be an indispensable part of your wardrobe in the near future.

The Issue:

It’s frequently the case that a person has an insufficient number of hands to perform a particular task. Specifically, a person carrying two objects (Figure 1) might temporarily need an extra hand to operate a door handle / press a button / etc.

Fig. 1: This person can’t easily pull the door handle while also holding the leash and the coffee. The only solution is to do an awkward “dance” to avoid dropping things while opening the door.

As shown above, solutions to this problem are inelegant at best.

Proposal:

Technology to the rescue! Although most people have at most a single arm attached to each shoulder, there’s really no reason these shoulders couldn’t accommodate another arm (Figure 2).

Fig. 2: The additional arm here is shown just holding a coffee cup, but the options are endless! It could carry a cell phone, a laptop, a baby, a beehive, etc…

These bonus arms could be made to be extremely stable, like a camera stabilizer (frequently referred to by the brand name “Steadicam”). It’s possible that the “bonus” arm would actually be less prone to spilling a coffee than a regular human arm!

It would be easy to wear a set of extra arms as a sort of “backpack,” so attaching them securely is clearly no issue at all.

Conclusion:

Although people would probably take some time to warm up to this idea fashion-wise, it’s almost inevitable that this will be part of the standard business attire of the future.

PROS: Reduces the chance of deadly career-ending coffee spills.

CONS: None!

The “bear trap” dinner plate is the future of dining—never over-eat again!

The Issue:

When eating, sometimes the most appealing thing to do is to immediately wolf down all the food in front of you.

People then occasionally regret this overeating, and wish there were some way to more easily exercise self control despite the presence of delicious food.

Fig 1: Delicious food on a plate. Irresistible??

Proposal:

We can solve this wolfing-down of food by forcing the person to eat more slowly.

Specifically, a “bear trap”-like articulated plastic dome (Figure 2) is added to the plate: this dome opens and closes at a regular interval, preventing the food-enjoying individual from eating while it’s in the closed state.

Fig. 2: This “dinner plate bear trap” can easily help the casual dieter regulate their eating speed!

Conclusion:

This would be immensely useful at holiday meals, all-you-can-eat buffets, and other locations in which a seemingly-infinite amount of food is available.

PROS: May reduce national obesity rates and help people avoid that “over-full” feeling from eating too much.

CONS: Might chop off some fingers if the closing mechanism is too strong.

Keep up with an exercise routine by using this system that makes it IMPOSSIBLE to go to sleep without exercising first!

The issue:

Frequently, people buy exercise equipment but then don’t actually use it.

Instead, barbells gather dust and exercise bikes are used as a supplementary clothing racks.

Proposal:

One effective way of encouraging a person to use their exercise equipment is to have the equipment physically block access to the owner’s bed (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: This modified “Murphy” bed (fold-down bed) can be pushed into the wall easily, but can only be un-folded by turning the crank (at B) thousands of times. The most efficient way to do this is to use the attached rowing machine (A). If the rowing machine were to also wind up a spring, the spring’s energy could automatically raise the bed the next day as well.

This system could also be adapted for other types of exercise equipment (treadmill, weight lifting machine, exercise bike, etc.).

A simpler “no-frills” version of this system is also possible, and would work with free weights too: a person could put a plank of wood on their bed and then throw a bunch of barbells onto it. This would require more self-control on the part of the user (since they could just move the barbells directly to the floor without exercising), but at least it would serve as a reminder of the exercise plan.

PROS: May increase physical fitness!

CONS: People might come up with creative solutions for defeating this system, like sleeping on the floor, which could actually be worse overall for their health than just regularly not-exercising.

Bring “justice for all” to the legal system by requiring specific CONCRETE examples and counterexamples of where laws would apply. No more weird corner cases leading to bizarre and unfair legal outcomes, thanks to bringing the computer programming concept of “unit testing” to the legal world!

Background:

Laws are often worded in an extremely confusing fashion, and the exact implications of all corner cases of a law are rarely considered when it is written.

The issue:

Sometimes, the “legally correct” (letter of the law) outcome of a case is either unclear or is even in obvious contradiction to the actual intent of the lawmakers.

Here are a few examples where confusion has arisen:

The “felony murder rule”:

  • A getaway driver for a bank robbery might be found guilty of murder if their unarmed accomplice is shot by the bank security guard. This is probably not really the intended severity of sentencing.

The “three strikes” law (which incarcerates a three-time felon for life):

  • Depending on the state, the third “strike” is sometimes allowed to be a non-violent one: someone who had committed two robberies at age 20, and then—40 years later—was driving 101 MPH on a deserted highway at 3:00 AM could presumably be sent to prison for life for speeding.

The Second Amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights:

  • Details as to what weaponry is covered would have been informative: does the “right to bear arms” apply to all guns? Most guns? Ninja stars? Nunchucks? Knives that fold? A cannon from the Civil War? The current regulation surrounding these items is highly arbitrary, and varies on a state-by-state basis.

As you can see, these examples underscore the need for specific, concrete examples and counterexamples for each law.

Proposal:

Each new law should be accompanied by the following:

  • 10 example situations where the law would apply
  • 10 counterexamples where it would initially seem to apply, but actually is not intended to.

This is similar to the computer programming concept of “unit testing” (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: A programmer who was writing a “fast square root” function might add code like this to “assert” that certain conditions occur—if any of these situations are violated, then the programmer knows they messed up their square-root-calculating code.

Applying the same “unit test” idea from the computer programming world to the legal system results in the list in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: These “counterexamples” would be situations in which extenuating circumstances make a law not apply even though it would according to the letter of the law. A link to the 1884 cannibalism case is here.

Conclusion:

This is sort of similar to the legal concept of “precedent” (i.e. a current case should have the same outcome as any identical previous cases)—but here we’re writing the “precedent” cases beforehand. (Instead of waiting for some unlucky individual to be a “test case” for a law.)

PROS: Would require almost no work to come up with 20 scenarios for each new law. A good project for a congressional intern!

CONS: Odd scenarios might arise if the counterexamples were themselves ill-formed. For example: “a man who says he is a werewolf should not be found guilty of murders committed during the full moon.” Superficially perhaps reasonable, but obviously problematic if the individual is not actually a werewolf—according to the example above, the law would consider claiming to be a werewolf to be a sufficient excuse!

Supplemental material: the verbatim text from the images in figures 1 and 2:

assert: fast_square_root(0)    = 0

assert: fast_square_root(2)    ≈ 1.4142

assert: fast_square_root(16)   = 4

assert: fast_square_root(25.5) ≈ 5.0498

assert (≠): A survivor of a plane crash wanders out from the desert and takes a bottle of water from a convenience store, but has no money and thus cannot pay: This will be considered NOT shoplifting due to the immediate need for survival.

assert (≠): On a hot summer day, an individual finds some small children in a car with rolled-up windows. They seem to be about to die of heatstroke. The individual breaks the car window in order to rescue them: This will be considered NOT vandalism.

assert (≠): Survivors of a shipwreck resort to cannibalism of a fellow survivor who fell into a coma: This will be considered NOT murder (this is a real case from 1884).

assert (≠): A shipwrecked survivor is hunted for sport by the eccentric owner of the island he is shipwrecked on, who wishes to hunt the “most dangerous game of all,” but is then himself fed to his own hunting dogs by the survivor: This will be considered NOT manslaughter.

Increase your reading comprehension and enjoyment of eBooks with a high-stakes “ironman mode” that punishes the inattentive reader!

Background:

In some video games, there is a difficulty setting referred to as “ironman,” in which a player only has one life—if they die, they must replay the ENTIRE game over again. (This is also the default setting in the “roguelike” game genre.)

Proposal:

In books, unfortunately there is no equivalent to this “ironman” mode—until now!

We will create a custom eBook reader app with the following properties:

  • It acts like a normal reader app (like the Amazon Kindle or Apple Books app) in most respects.
  • However, after the end of every chapter, the reader is presented with a quiz (Figure 1).
  • If the reader answers the quiz questions correctly, they move on to the next chapter…
  • …but if they fail the quiz, the eBook app kicks the reader back to the beginning of the chapter (or to the first page of the book).
Fig. 1: At the end of the chapter here, the user is presented with a quiz. If they were paying attention to the book, they will (hopefully) know the answers. If not, the reader will be sent back to the beginning of the chapter and will have an opportunity to re-experience its contents!

Conclusion:

This should encourage attentive reading and more engagement with the printed material. Win / win!

This would also work very easily with audiobooks, although it’s a bit unclear how the user would answer the quiz questions (perhaps with voice recognition?).

There is unfortunately no straightforward way to implement this with printed books, but perhaps a very complicated mechanical contraption could be devised.

PROS: Adds a sense of high-stakes danger to the otherwise relatively safe activity of reading a book.

CONS: The user would need to be prevented from just flipping through the chapter again in order to get a second chance at the quiz: perhaps a page-turn delay could be implemented.

Repurpose the addictive video game leveling-up “skill tree” system for educational purposes.

Background:

In many video games, the process of doling out upgrades to the player is represented in the form of a “skill tree,” where different branches indicate different fields of expertise (e.g. a branch for sword-fighting and a separate one for horseshoe-making).

Proposal:

Maybe this same idea can be applied to education! See Figure 1 for a proposed “Level 1” skill tree showing introductory literacy, math, and geography.

Fig. 1: A grade school “Level 1” skill tree (or “skill web” if you prefer) could look like this, with separate components (shown in red, green, and blue) for different main subject areas.

Conclusion:

Now, this psychologically addictive method of presenting upgrades can be used for productive purposes! What completionist could resist learning advanced calculus, if it was the final item in the “Level 12 Mathematics” skill tree?

PROS: Students might be more excited to learn about history and to read famous literature if they could reach “Level 5 Hapsburg Dynasty Proficiency” or “Grandmaster Hamlet Expert.”

CONS: None!

This is related to the similar global report card idea, which is another way to represent the acquisition of knowledge as a cumulative process rather than an endless treadmill.

Never endure the ordeal of cutting butter with a cold knife again, thanks to this new (and surprisingly dangerous sounding) “stick cutlery into a toaster” design

Background:

There is an idiomatic expression, “like a hot knife through butter,” indicating something that is extremely easy to do.

The issue:

Yet, somehow when people make toast, they frequently use a COLD knife (or at least, a room temperature one) to cut a piece of butter.

This is particularly troublesome if butter is stored in a fridge, in which case the butter-er has a cold-knife-plus-cold-butter situation on their hands.

Proposal:

In Figure 1, we see a regular pop-up toaster. Now, note the minor yet game-changing innovation in Figure 2: a special slot for a knife to rest in while the toaster operates.

This slot isn’t powered: it is just in proximity to the toaster’s heating elements. Thus, it doesn’t consume any additional electricity (and is unlikely to electrocute the operator).

Fig. 1: A regular pop-up toaster. Nothing exotic about it.
Fig. 2: The new modified toaster with a “warm up this knife so it easily cuts through butter” slot. The user should take particular care to not accidentally jam a metal utensil into the electric toaster.

Conclusion:

One issue here is that we want the blade of the knife to get hot, but not the handle. It is possible that an insulated / plastic handle would be sufficient to solve this, but that does mean that this type of toaster wouldn’t be especially usable with just any old butter knife. Or the user could use an oven mitt to hold the knife.

PROS: This system operates entirely on the “waste” heat from the toaster, so it’s a zero-cost way to improve the toast-buttering experience.

CONS: Encouraging people to put metal cutlery into a toaster may increase the toaster-related-electrocution rate.

Reduce food waste AND gain additional appreciation for your (presumably) famine-free lifestyle with this incredible new rice cooker form factor!

Background:

A substantial amount of food that is produced is wasted at the consumer (household) level.

Additionally, if you’re reading this text in English in the middle of the 21st century, it’s statistically likely that you, the reader, are not highly concerned with famine as a day-to-day hazard.

Proposal:

Ideally, we would like to both reduce food waste and gain an additional appreciation for the importance of “food security” (i.e., reliably having food).

Thus, the following form factor is proposed: a rice cooker that is styled to look like a stereotypical medieval treasure chest (Figure 1).

Fig. 1: Left: a rice cooker. Right: it’s still just a rice cooker, but now it LOOKS like a treasure chest. Exciting!

By subliminally reinforcing the idea that the contents are valuable, the treasure chest form factor may increase appreciation for food and reduce food waste. (More funding for studies will, naturally, be necessary in order to be certain.)

Conclusion & Future Work:

This idea is—unusually—neither obviously impractical nor obviously unsafe. 

In addition to rice cookers, the proposed “pirate treasure chest” form factor would also work well for the following:

  • Chest freezers (it’s even right there in the name, “chest” freezer!)
  • Both full-size and mini-fridges
  • The Instant Pot™ brand multicooker
  • A sous vide enclosure
  • A pressure cooker
  • Perhaps many other options as well!

PROS: Increases day-to-day satisfaction of life, as one gets the recurring experience of opening a pirate treasure chest as part of a common routine.

CONS: None!

Retirees and vacationers can still get the work-at-an-office experience with this new “simulated office” setup that would actually help real people!

Background:

Sometimes, office workers who are retired (or unemployed, or even on vacation) miss certain elements of the office environment.

Much of this is probably rose-tinted nostalgia, but maybe we can capitalize on it anyway in order to create a valuable service.

Proposal:

There are three elements to this system, which we will call the “nostalgic office worker value-generation system.”

Element 1) First, we need to create a web site that simulates the sounds of the office.

Research indicates that this already exists in suitable fashion, with several “random sounds from an office” videos and even an amazing interactive office-noise-generating site, https://imisstheoffice.eu/ .

Element 2) Next, we need to assess the job skills of the nostalgic office worker. This can probably be evaluated just by having them submit a resume. The accuracy here is not extremely important: all we need is a general keyword-based idea of what this individual knows about.

Element 3) Here’s where we actually generate revenue: the nostalgic office worker will be made available for (live!) answering of questions from other individuals in their field (these are the paying customers). Figure 1 shows how this might work. This question-answering mode will apply as long as the web site is open, or later if (say) a retired system administrator wants to relive the sensation of being woken up at 4 AM by a system alert. 

Fig. 1: The paying customers interact with the web site (left), asking questions that they need answered. The nostalgic office worker is called on the phone (middle), and (hopefully) answer the paying customer’s question. The answer is then provided in both audio and transcript form (right) for future paying customers to benefit from and/or get confused by.

Conclusion:

Imagine how valuable this could be in practice: instead of relying on only Yahoo Answers for your Internet search questions, you could (for example) call up a real retired geologist and ask them “hey, is this thing a rock?” [with attached image of an orange]—all for an incredibly low price, probably!

PROS: Gives a sense of purpose to personality types who are bored unless they have work to do. Might allow retired office workers to remember the various elements of the office that they don’t miss, thus making retirement seem more satisfying in comparison.

CONS: None!