At the top of many personal wish lists you might find a new car or a Caribbean vacation. But scientists have compiled a global wish list of 14 things that would make life better for everyone.
A committee of scientists and engineers gathered by the National Science Foundation met several times over the last year to compile a list of engineering challenges that, if met, would improve how we live. They announced their final choices on Feb. 20.
"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."
In no particular order, the resulting wish list is:
— 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
The committee decided not to rank the challenges. The public can vote on which one they think is most important and leave comments at the project Web site, http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/.
The final choices fall into four themes that the panel thinks are essential for humanity to flourish — sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability and joy of living. The committee did not try to include every important challenge, or endorse particular approaches to meeting the goals it named. The goal, said the panel, was not to predict the future, but to identify what needs to be done to make the future better.
"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 committee included such experts as geneticist J. Craig Venter, futurist Raymond Kurzweil, Nobel laureate Mario Molína, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, as well as a variety of international scientists and engineers.
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.