X-Message-Number: 19937
Date: Wed, 28 Aug 2002 18:53:21 -0400
From: Jeffrey Soreff <>
Subject: abandoned projects

Robert Ettinger wrote:
>Goddard and Tsiolkovsky conceived a project of great difficulty, but with no 
>known truly fundamental obstacles, and eventually the project succeeded. 
>Feynman (followed by others including Drexler and Merkle) conceived a whole 
>enormous class of projects (nanotechnology), of great difficulty but 
>beginning to bear fruit, and which includes repair after cryostasis.

>A  question for readers: Do you know of ANY projects meeting my criteria that 
>have been seriously tried at length and finally totally abandoned?

Thomas Donaldson wrote:
>What about perpetual motion? Yes, we abandoned it because we came
>to realize that energy could not be produced from nothing at all.
>But before we recognized (we collectively) the conservation laws,
>to look for some means of making energy from nothing was entirely

Good example!

I'm also a bit uncomfortable with how Dr. Ettinger phrased his
criteria.  Most goals can be re-expressed as sub-goals of some
wider goal, and it is very hard to guarantee that a project has
truly been permanently abandoned, even after a long period when
it looks quite dead.  This makes a claim that the project is
still alive, though dormant, almost unfalsifiable.

Four examples of technologies which had long dormant periods
in medicine are:

blood transfusion: (started with animal blood, then dropped,
then restarted with human-to-human but before blood types
were known, then dropped, then restarted yet again after
blood types were discovered).  In this case the timescale
from first attempts to routine use was centuries.

sterile procedure (particularly with respect to childbirth:
Semmelweis demonstrated use of antiseptics in the 1840s with
reduced mortality and was still ignored for decades)

CPR-type revival of e.g. drowning victims

artificial hearts (here just 15 years)

There are a lot of goals where it is clear that they are
_technically_ feasible, but not clear if anyone is going
to allocate the additional effort to go the rest of the
way to acheive them.  E.g. ~50 megaton nuclear explosives
have been built.  I'm sure that a, for instance, 100
megaton nuclear explosive must have been on one of the
superpowers' goal lists at one point, but it looks rather
close to abandoned now.  A lunar colony, or a new manned
lunar landing is in a somewhat similar we-can-do-it but
will-we-ever-actually-do-so state.  Nuclear rockets (in
the NERVA sense) in actual vehicles.  Solar power
satellites (a la O'Neil)?

There are a lot of projects which got significant effort
at at least one point in time, don't appear to have
fundamental barriers, but also aren't known to be feasible,
and are (as far as I know) largely or wholly shelved:

A fission-free fusion explosive (macro scale, rather
than laser/pellet) (e.g. Kalitski et. al.'s work)

A commercially profitable SST

Nuclear rockets in the ORION sense.

Near-human-equivalent optical character recognition
for multifont text (1% error rate can be done, can
2-3 errors per page be done?)

Near-human-equivalent machine translation

Should any of these count as abandoned in
close to Dr. Ettinger's sense?

                     Best wishes,

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