Engineering’s Grand Challenges

The National Academy of Engineering has suggested a list of the world’s greatest and most important engineering challenges, and it looks pretty comprehensive to me.   If we can solve all these problems we’ll really be taking life on earth up a few notches and kicking some globally sustainable problematic butt.   

I hope they add a priority and ROI component here.    My feeling is that reverse engineering of the brain will lead to general Artificial Intelligence and very rapid solutions to most if not all analytical problems.   Thus I’d like to see us devote, say, 1/100th of what we are poised to squander failing to solve CO2 problems to AI research.     But even if we forego that notion it’s questionable to spend in engineering as we currently do, especially on huge military technologies of questionable effectiveness.

 Here are the Grand Challenges for engineering as determined by a committe of the National Academy of Engineering:

  • Make solar energy economical
  • 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 of scientific discovery

6 thoughts on “Engineering’s Grand Challenges

  1. >reverse engineering of the brain will lead to …
    As we learn more about the brain, artificial neural networks improve as we add to them spikes and other biological phenomenon.
    >huge military technologies of questionable effectiveness.
    questionable goals lead to that questionable effectiveness.

    >Make solar energy economical
    Its already rather economical for a blade of grass, algae, etc.
    >Provide access to clean water
    Who made it dirty in the first place?

    >Restore and improve urban infrastructure
    Why? In some areas of the USA even the immigrants are fleeing the urban areas.
    >Advance health informatics
    One woman died because her personalized electronic health record listed the MRIs in chronological order rather than reverse chronological order. So much for medical informatics. Health care industry is a bloated morass of conflicted goals. Streamlining the paperwork won’t help.

    >Engineer better medicines
    Most drug discovery is not designed to be ‘better’ at all, just profitable which often means ‘me too’ism in the research and manufacture.
    >Advance personalized learning
    Yeah, thats really good as a goal. Fire all the teachers. Thats the best advancement of personalized learning there could ever be!

  2. Interesting list.

    Provide access to clean water

    Or, just provide water. Water supplies are already limited. A serious drought in So Cal (and Vegass) could really ruin the par-tay.

    Reverse-engineer the brain

    Yes. When that wireless adapter can be jacked into your own cognitive interface like right behind and ear, we’ll be way on the way to the Singularity.

    Prevent nuclear terror

    Yes, and maybe have the US Govt. upgrade their satellites: let’s hope by this time manana the Navy boys shoot down the one headed for Western USA (though might land in Mexico, if not shot down). Ay carumba

  3. It’ll be interesting to see how those shake out. There seems to be a lot of concensus about spending hundreds of billions and foregoing trillions in GDP to reduce CO2. Frankly, if I could only do *one* thing for the earth I think it would be to get all that spending to go towards the other goals, which are mostly attainable and far, far less expensive.

  4. Restore and improve urban infrastructure

    This might be as important a topic as any on the list. After a few years spent in the LA commuter hells, paying out a large proportion of a salary merely for parking fees and gasoline—and one starts re-reading, say, Kropotkin if not Marx with admiration. As with most engineering problems, however, there are all sorts of economic issues associated with rebuilding “infrastructure”: property for one. One can be sure that the owners of LA or SF sky-rises don’t read Kropotkin, or any sort of economic theory critical of finance capitalism: they most likely stick with the latest guide to maximizing profits, etc.

  5. Hey Duck–

    Have you read any of Howard Hayden’s criticisms of AGW? Quite powerful stuff, and he doesn’t pull any punches.

    “”””Hayden claimed that much of what is being advertised about global warming issues such as the melting polar ice caps, greenhouse gases and changes in carbon dioxide levels is not factual.

    “Yes, the polar ice caps are shrinking . . . on Mars,” he said, “On Mars, the ice caps are melting and small hills are disappearing.”

    Hayden added that there is warming occurring on Jupiter, Saturn and Triton.

    He said the increased carbon-dioxide levels that global-warming promoters keep talking about is nothing new. He said the levels of carbon dioxide have been rising and falling for more than 400,000 years.

    “We are at the lowest levels in the last 300,000 years,” he said. “During the Jurassic period, we had very high levels of carbon dioxide.”

    Hayden added that the majority of carbon dioxide is the result of natural sources and not to be blamed on humankind.

    Worldwide, the burning of coal, oil and gas contributes to only an estimated 3 percent of the carbon-dioxide emissions, he said.

    “About 97 percent of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, not humans,” Hayden said.”””

    Sort of shoots down the IPCC/Mann crew, Reverend Al (Gore not Sharpton), and Real Climate, and the wannabe-Real Climate types such as New Worlds.

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