5. A capricious billionaire offers to pay for you to spend a year working on any project you choose, providing any necessary resources and services plausibly available in the real world (including large-scale things like labs full of researchers, manufacturing plants, etc., though you have to manage them), plus a comfortable stipend to live on. Do you accept, and what's the project if so?
I would accept with enthusiasm and alacrity. I don't know that I could be the super-competent engine that something like that would probably need to really go, but I could at least get the ball rolling.
I'm thinking that my project would probably be to try and get a bunch of really smart people working on the problems of "civology", which is to say, the study of civilization. This isn't quite the same thing as sociology or anthropology or political science or business science, though there is overlap. I often feel like we have a lot of really advanced understanding and technology when it comes to subjects like building stuff and healing people and making pictures, but when it comes to organizing ourselves and working collectively on hard problems, we're sorta retarded. I mean, several millenia of civilization, and the best system we can come up with for government is representive democracy influenced by purchased mass-media ad campaigns?! LAME! There has GOT to be a better way of doing things.
What I want is a field where we can look at human organizations -- businesses, governments, churches, universities, etc. -- in the same way that ecologists look at critters in the field. I want us to have observations of what these entities are, what their lifecycles are like, how they interact with one another, etc. so that we can engineer technologies that will let us live in harmony with them. I think that's the big challenge for the next millenium: taming organizations of humans so that they benefit humans (individually and collectively) just as much as they benefit themselves.
I went looking at "Intro to X" textbooks in the library a couple years ago, to try and find out what kind of work has already been done in this field, and I was really disappointed. The entire field of sociology, as far as I can tell, consists of Famous Thinkers™ pulling theories out of their asses about why people do things. Nobody actually goes and just observes. Well, anthropologists do, but most of the work there focuses on ancient history, primitive peoples, and people-who-are-very-different. Nobody puts up a duckblind in a cube farm to watch the native folkways of the office dweller. The business community seems to have a lot of embedded practical knowledge of these kinds of things, but it's all viewed through the weird lens of capitalist profitability.
So that's what I'd try to do: get an institute going that started making this kind of thing into a science that we could turn into technologies, so that we can persuade Godzilla-like entities like the energy industry to quit stomping on the metaphorical Tokyo of the atmosphere, and instead go fight the Mothra of resource distribution inequity. Or something. I can't figure out how the two tiny ladies fit into that metaphor, though.
That, or I would build an earthquake projector ray that actually worked, unlike the piece of crap I have now that takes out a dozen of my henchmen every time kung_fu_monkey looks at it cross-eyed. And maybe some giant cybernetic mutant attack moles that were remotely trainable for guarding secret underground lairs. I swear, is that so much to ask?