The National Academy of Engineering just announced 14 grand engineering challenges of the 21st century, as selected by an international panel of scientists and engineers. The committee of 18 did not rank the challenges; they left that to us (see below). Here are the grand challenges:
¨ Make solar energy affordable
¨ Provide energy from fusion
¨ Develop carbon sequestration methods
¨ Manage the nitrogen cycle
¨ Provide access to clean water
¨ Restore and improve urban infrastructure
¨ Advance health informatics
¨ Engineer better medicines
¨ Reverse-engineer the brain
¨ Prevent nuclear terror
¨ Secure cyberspace
¨ Enhance virtual reality
¨ Advance personalized learning
¨ Engineer the tools for scientific discovery
Here is the WWW site, where you will be able to find more information on each challenge, including why it's important, and seminal references. It's quite enlightening. You can also view the 18 committee members and their biographies.
It is great to see "provide access to clean water" among the others. But it's also a little disheartening, knowing that we are into the 21st century, what with all its tehnological wonders, yet over one-sixth of the world does not have access to clean water.
One thing that struck me was the inclusion of "Restore and improve urban infrastructure". This is a very serious issue to be sure, but it seems to be more of a financial issue than an engineering one. We could do this now if we had the political will to allocate the money. Heck, the new Shanghai airport has a maglev train from the airport to the central city. Ever try to get from JFK to Manhattan using public transportation? It ain't easy, yet JFK is the major East Coast port-of-entry via air into the USA.
I was also curious about the omission of such things as wireless transmission of electricity and better battery technology (or better electricity storage in general).
Go ahead and cast your vote.
From the press release:
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) today announced the grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century. A diverse committee of experts from around the world, convened at the request of the U.S. National Science Foundation, revealed 14 challenges that, if met, would improve how we live.
"Tremendous advances in quality of life have come from improved technology in areas such as farming and manufacturing," said committee member and Google co-founder Larry Page. "If we focus our effort on the important grand challenges of our age, we can hugely improve the future."
The panel, some of the most accomplished engineers and scientists of their generation, was established in 2006 and met several times to discuss and develop the list of challenges. Through an interactive Web site, the effort received worldwide input from prominent engineers and scientists, as well as from the general public, over a one-year period. The panel's conclusions were reviewed by more than 50 subject-matter experts.
The final choices fall into four themes that are essential for humanity to flourish -- sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and joy of living. The committee did not attempt to include every important challenge, nor did it endorse particular approaches to meeting those selected. Rather than focusing on predictions or gee-whiz gadgets, the goal was to identify what needs to be done to help people and the planet thrive.
"We chose engineering challenges that we feel can, through creativity and commitment, be realistically met, most of them early in this century," said committee chair and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. "Some can be, and should be, achieved as soon as possible."
The committee decided not to rank the challenges. NAE is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important and to provide comments at the project WWW site.
The Grand Challenges site features a five-minute video overview of the project along with committee member interview excerpts. A podcast of the news conference announcing the challenges will also be available on the site starting next week.
"Meeting these challenges would be 'game changing,'" said NAE president Charles M. Vest. "Success with any one of them could dramatically improve life for everyone."
Is there anything missing from the list, or a challenge that you believe does not belong?
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay