Thursday, May 03, 2018

Broader Impacts Redefined

The ACM Future of Computing Academy suggests that "peer reviewers should require that papers and proposals rigorously consider all reasonable broader impacts, both positive and negative." Here is the broader impacts section of a future imagined grant proposal.

My latest cryptocurrency paper will allow people to sell all sorts of paraphernalia, illegal, immoral and fattening, while avoiding paying taxes. Dr. Evil and his minions can move money around the world anonymously to more easily implement their dastardly plans. With this new work bitcoin will increase in value, causing far more mining setups that will deplete the energy resources of the world.

Since I already own bitcoin, I will get filthy rich, increasing the gap between the one-percenters and the middle-class. I'll buy a fancy car and reprogram the auto-pilot to run over people who get in my way. And all those pesky bicyclists clogging the roads. That would be a positive impact.

For the rest of humanity my new quantum gravitation algorithm will put all those people out of work. But their misery will be short lived because if anyone tries to run the algorithm, it may cause a small black hole that devours the earth.

My proposed generic oracle separation would seem to have no impact whatsoever. But what happens if an alien race threatens to destroy the planet unless we find such a separation. I will have saved the earth, a very positive broader impact. Of course a different alien race could visit the earth and deem it mostly harmless until they discover my oracle, realized we have advanced too far and then blow us up before we become a threat.

In other broader impacts, I will train graduate students to be just like me. Whether this is a positive or negative impact I leave to the reviewers.


  1. Haha, whether serious or not, this is great! I think it makes our point beautifully. Thanks for writing!

  2. That's an interesting link! Is it real? I didn't give this much thought, but my first reaction is that I am not sure we should or can ask scientists to be policy makers. Understanding the implications of new research on society is quite complex (and murky), and I am not sure it is feasible for someone working deep down on a specific technical aspect. The situation may be different for projects which really target massive deployment.