Eighteen of the World’s Leading Thinkers Debate the Challenges Facing Mankind
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February 19, 2008

Eighteen of the World’s Leading Thinkers Debate the Challenges Facing Mankind

Future2 A gathering of 18 of the world’s leading thinkers to debate the challenges facing mankind is always going to create great reading material.

Convened by the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE), the group included biologist Craig Venter, inventor Dean Kamen, noted futurologist Ray Kurzweil, Google co-founder Larry Page and Harvard University professor of international development Calestous Juma.

They presented their report and list of challenges at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston

The group focused on four areas in which to make their projections; sustainability, health, vulnerability and joy of living. "As the population grows and its needs and desires expand, the problem of sustaining civilisation's continuing advancement, while still improving the quality of life, looms more immediate," they wrote in their report.

"Old and new threats to personal and public health demand more effective and more readily available treatments. Vulnerabilities to pandemic diseases, terrorist violence, and natural disasters require serious searches for new methods of protection and prevention."

Not surprising, clean energy was a top priority, and they focused on sunshine as being the savior. They described it as a "tantalizing source of environmentally friendly power, bathing the Earth with more energy each hour than the planet's population consumes in a year".

"We only need to capture one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth to meet 100% of our energy needs," said Ray Kurzweil "This will become feasible with nanoengineered solar panels and nano­engineered fuel cells to store the energy in a highly decentralized manner."

Following on from clean energy though, was the desperate need for clean water in many parts of our planet. Their report suggested that “new technologies for desalinating sea water may be helpful, but small-scale technologies for local water purification may be even more effective for personal needs."

Similarly, personalized medicines were another challenge that they viewed as a priority in the 21st century. They pointed to the recent sequencing of the human genome, which has provided us with a greater understanding of the workings of individuals, rather than just a generality.

"An important way of exploiting such information would be the development of methods that allow doctors to forecast the benefits and side effects of potential treatments or cures," they wrote in their report.

Kurzweil, the self-declared leader of the group, said that "Within one to two decades, we will be in a position to stop and reverse the progression of disease and ageing, resulting in dramatic gains in health and longevity."

While the panel did not rank what challenge was greater or lesser, we the public are able to at EngineeringChallenges.org

Posted by Josh Hill.

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Comments

Cool idea, although I for one have trouble realizing that almost all of the 18 greatest thinkers in the world are from the US..

In reguards to the world situation today - It seem to me with 18 great 'thinkers' - genetic engineering would dominat the conversation..

yeah thats mad that they are from the usa they should say "big thinkers with big heads" and whats is a futurologist to me its just some made up name for nothing and co founder of google helll yeah theses peeps are at the top of the big thinkers big heads list

I think its great that good men with good intentions get together to discuss the future of the only habitable planet in the milkyway,so the label of great men from the US makes no difference to what is to be achieved

Just because the meeting was convened by the US National Academy of Engineering certainly does NOT mean that the 18 were all FROM the US - especially when only a few of the 18 were even named.

But, back to the actual issues at hand...

Virtually all of these issues impact us directly; our aging, our health, our work or our transportation. Any thoughful dialog, as opposed to judgemental dismisals, should, if nothing else, help us define our real issues and perhaps even bring us to coherent and manageable solutions.

thank you


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