What Would it Get You? A Short List
Over at Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle poses an interesting question about the $700 billion bail-out package -- "How much is that in Apollos?" By his math, that money could have bought us seven Apollo programs or 70 Large Hadron Colliders. He then goes on to introduce a whole new currency, which begins at the bottom with the chump-change Allen ($25 million, what Paul Allen has kicked in either to SpaceShipOne or his telescope array project) and works through such units as the Shuttle ($1 billion) until we reach the big daddy, the Budget ($ 3 trillion.)
This is all true, but the bottom line is we've already had our Apollo program, the LHC is (sort of) up and running, and I really don't think anybody would want to buy 700 new space shuttles. What if we had that money to spend on something completely new, such as...
Space Elevator. Nobody really knows how much one of these would cost, but I have to believe that $700 billion would take a significant bite out of the development and deployment costs. Easy, reliable, cheap, and continuous transport of people and goods into space (and back) would open up the new frontier in ways we can barely even imagine.
Nuclear Fusion Power Plant. I'm thinking that with this kind of money, we could try out three or four of the most promising ways to get fusion power going, (including Bussard's concept) and put the best one in production. We could solve the foreign oil problem once and for all. Oil would be obsolete. In fact, I think it's safe to say that virtually all other ways of producing energy would be obsolete.
Universal Assembler. How much of our $700 billion would it take to build a machine that can make anything, including more universal assemblers? With one of these, we could have all the Apollo programs and LHCs we want until the end of time, without ever tapping the taxpayers again. Oh, and we could eliminate the notion of "poverty" once and for all.
Cure for Aging. I know this one's controversial -- some people are really opposed to the idea of curing the world's deadliest disease. I don't know, if you ask me whether I want the government to spend $700 billion "lubricating the credit markets" or giving me an extra 150 years to live...maybe I'm just selfish. Plus, I think a cure for most other diseases would come along for the ride with this one.
Friendly Artificial Intelligence. This would probably be the best investment of all. I bet we could have this for way less than an Apollo -- probably just a couple of Shuttles. But a friendly, artificially intelligent being, able to evolve its own intelligence at an accelerated pace would not only help us to ensure that an unfriendly AI never gets the upper edge on our planet, it would be able to show us how to do any of the other items on the list for a lost less than $700 billion.
I'm not arguing for or against the bailout. If it prevents the next great depression, it was no doubt worth it. It's just interesting to consider that we could spend the same amount of money (or considerably less) not just in an effort to prevent a catastrophe, but as a means to fundamentally transform our world for the better.