×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

The Century's Top Engineering Challenges

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the I-want-talking-fruit dept.

United States 290

coondoggie writes "The National Science Foundation announced today 14 grand engineering challenges for the 21st century that, if met, would greatly improve how we live. 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, the group said. A diverse committee of engineers and scientists — including Larry Page, Robert Langer, and Robert Socolow — came up with the list but did not rank the challenges. Rather, the National Academy of Engineering is offering the public an opportunity to vote on which one they think is most important."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

290 comments

One is solved! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498514)

The final choices fall into four themes that are essential for humanity to flourish -- sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and joy of living.
The last one is solved with World of Warcraft and Starcraft.

#1 on everyone's list! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498522)

how to get rid of niggers.

god knows you need an engineer to get rid of that junk. they hang around like a stray dog.

Re:#1 on everyone's list! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498582)

s/niggers/first post trolls/g

pirates (1)

genican1 (1150855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498542)

they forgot #15... Stoppping the pirates!

Re:pirates (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498648)

they forgot #15... Stoppping the pirates!
So you support global warming then?

MOD THIS UP, NIGGER! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498748)

yea mutha fucka fo shizzle mah nizzle mod that post up biatchez

I AM A FUCKING TROLL (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498552)

mod me down, bitches! do it! do it cuz I said so fucker!!

"Prevent nuclear terror" (5, Insightful)

Sylos (1073710) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498556)

How is that an engineering feat? Seems more like a people feat.

Re:"Prevent nuclear terror" (4, Interesting)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498660)

How is that an engineering feat? Seems more like a people feat.

Ever heard of social engineering?

Seriously, what is securing cyberspace if not a people problem? The machines don't cause the problems, people do.

Securing cyberspace is easy, building systems to secure cyberspace that users can actually use is the hard part. People have been telling me to get a Mac as the solution to all my usability problems for years. So today I bought one.

OK so the Mac is nicer in many respects, but mostly as far as I am concerned on the hardware package side than the software. But the security usability is no better. None of the assistants in the shop were able to solve the simple security tasks I proposed. Which is good for me I suppose since there would be no point in trying to solve an already solved problem.

Now securing the fifty year old banking IT system, now that is much harder than securing the Internet, and that is the system the criminals are attacking because that is where the money is.

Re:"Prevent nuclear terror" (1)

Sylos (1073710) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498996)

yeah. Social engineering totally slipped my mind. I need to think more and post less.

Re:"Prevent nuclear terror" - also (5, Insightful)

sien (35268) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498962)

Apparently nuclear war is just dandy. It's nuclear terrorism we have to worry about.


The declared nuclear states (and Israel with it's undeclared undeclared weapons) and their delivery systems and willingness to invade other non-nuclear states is just fine, it's the people with no weapons and little realistic hope of getting them.


Re:"Prevent nuclear terror" - also (3, Interesting)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499486)

I take "nuclear terror" to include anyone exploding a nuclear device anywhere with the aim of killing.

Re:"Prevent nuclear terror" (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499262)

well duh, britain's intent recognition technology and the american uranium detection X-ray-like scanner. You can engineer something to do anything and I think that's important. Just be happy they didn't put "Make perpetual motion device" on the list.

The biggest challenge, by far (5, Insightful)

stox (131684) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498558)

Getting funding for the top 14 engineering challenges.

Larry Page? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498668)

The same Larry Page that was quibbling about how to outfit his party plane?

I would rather see a panel made up of real engineers and scientists. Yes, he helped found Google. But he is not a luminary figure that should be talking about how to save the world. He really does not belong in that group. There should be some circles you cannot buy your way into.

Wanna know my big engineering hurdle? We should first and foremost be thinking about population controls. Nail that one (figuratively, we want less kids) and we are well on our way to solving some real-world issues.

Re:The biggest challenge, by far (5, Insightful)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498774)

Getting funding for the top 14 engineering challenges.

Well that is the point of the exercise here, NSF trying to get money from Congress. But its more of an aspirational list of goals and the real problem is that the feedback system is out of whack.

You might imagine that either industry or academia would care about stopping Internet Crime, but what Industry actually cares about is making the numbers at the end of the quarter and the best way to do that is to make your bank, business or other crime target a less attractive target than the business next door.

Academia is meant to do basic research, but the measurement of production is minimum publishable units, publish or perish. And to get a paper published it has to be novel rather than important or useful. So we know how to do secure email in principle but nobody uses it in practice - across the Internet at least. The academics never quite finished the job and the incentives are not quite right for industry to be bothered.

Often an academic will solve a problem long before it is understood to be a problem. By the time the problem is recognized and the time is right to finish the job and make it useful the field has moved on. Nobody is going to get the credit for pointing out that Fred proposed a solution for a problem twenty years ago.

Most academic papers in info security are describing solutions to boutique cryptographic puzzles. Real world constraints are irrelevant. So at FC this year there was a paper that started with the idea of stopping counterfeiting of currency by printing barcodes on the notes. Good, interesting. The scheme then involved people scanning them with their cell phone camera. WTF ???? Wrong problem, the challenge the fed is trying to solve is to spot the introduction of fake notes quickly, they can do that with scanners in banks. The banks can be persuaded to install scanners but no consumer is going to spend time scanning their change at the convenience store with a cell phone.

Re:The biggest challenge, by far (2, Insightful)

idiotwithastick (1036612) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498858)

I agree. The saddest part is that the NSF only secures $20 million for this type of funding, while the Pentagon launches $10 million missiles at satellites tonight.

Re:The biggest challenge, by far (5, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499346)

Getting funding for the top 14 engineering challenges.

Well, it wouldn't be such a challenge if, you know, all the goals weren't so incredibly LAME. "Health informatics"? Bo-ring! Here's *my* list of challenges:

(1) Flying car.

(2) Cure for the hangover.

(3) Sex robot. As kinky as Madonna with the flexibility of a contortionist.

(4) Plug-in memory expansions so you can learn useful skills, equations, etc. without sitting through boring lectures and tests.

(5) Baldness cure.

(6) Beer that makes you skinnier instead of fatter.

(7) Dog-cat hybrid. Like a cat, it doesn't need your attention constantly, but it pays attention when you want it to, like a dog. It's comes when you call it like a dog, but it's clean like a cat. Plus, it barks AND purrs.

(8) Teleporter. I'm sick of commuting.

(9) Perpetual youth.

(10) Ballpoint pen that doesn't run out of ink just when you need it most.

(11) Formulas that make you grow bigger or smaller, just like Alice in Wonderland.

(12) Television remote with built in homing device and tiny little robot legs. So even if you misplace it, it always finds its way back to where it should be.

(13) A version of Microsoft Office that doesn't, you know, suck so much.

(14) Slashdot editors who are genetically engineered so that they can actually spell and are familiar with basic punctuation and grammar.

Here's what I want... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498566)

I wanna PINK PONY!

what about DARPA's list? (4, Insightful)

pha7boy (1242512) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498586)

that's what I would like to see. DARPA's list. Of course, that's probably classified. as for the NSF's list, "access to clean water" is not so much an egineering challenge as a bureacratic and resource management challenge. Same with preventing nuclear terror. I would much rather add "creating a functioning AI" (though not sure this is engineering), improve baterry techology, and redesign propulsion methods.

Re:what about DARPA's list? (1)

NoTheory (580275) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498658)

I think it's an error to divide problem solving into purely technological, or purely social issues. Both serve as factors in the equation. If technology makes the economic barriers to solving a problem so miniscule that governments can be shamed into backing a widespread effort, or private funding can back partial solutions, then then further technological solutions are worth pursuing.

That said, there is also Social Tech. NSF funds all manners of research and sociological research is important too. So why not hit both factors?

Re:what about DARPA's list? (1)

mkiwi (585287) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498900)

Agreed. "Engineer better tools for scientific discovery" and a few others are quite vague. Also, I would like to note that a lot of these challenges seem to be chemistry/bioinformatics-based. There's really not too much for mechanical, electrical, or structural engineers. I would like to see some things involving robotics outside of computational perception, which is a CS field.

There's definitely a trend in the list towards materials and chemical engineering applications (which makes sense given the make-up of the group) , which is ok provided not everything involves that. How about build a car that doesn't rely on gasoline and uses a much cleaner fuel? Robots with simple abilities like helping doctors, developing more efficient power supplies to increase available energy by 20%.

I know their focus is on Engineering challenges that can better quality of life for humans rather than technologies designed to explore space, and making big airplanes, but can we get a little more diversity in these topics? Reducing factory emissions and finding more efficient ways to control our waste seem to be very worthwhile causes. Less smog in Los Angeles and less trash in Italy/places where there is currently no where to put waste. How about designing a new communications structure and getting most of Asia and Africa hooked into the Internet? There are so many thing that aren't listed in this report that it makes me wonder how diverse the panel making these choices was.

Re:what about DARPA's list? (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499400)

as for the NSF's list, "access to clean water" is not so much an egineering challenge as a bureacratic and resource management challenge.
Do you realize what you're asking for by calling the clean water issue a "bureacratic and resource management challenge"? You're asking for fundamental changes in laws & enforcement in poor countries that are rife with government corruption, lax/nonexistent oversight, pollution, contamination of water supplies and tribal divisions.

Turning the clean water issue into an engineering challenge means you can bypass all that crap & distribute the solution directly to the villagers who need it.

I caught this on the news the other day. [playpumps.org]
The idea is to dig a well, strap a playground whirl to a mechanical pump & have kids pump the water up into a big holding tank. It'll only be useful in villages where there's a school or a large number of children to keep the thing spinning, but it's a perfect engineering solution that means villagers don't have to use river water that people & animals have used as a toilet, trough & clothes/dish washer.

I would much rather add "creating a functioning AI" (though not sure this is engineering), improve baterry techology, and redesign propulsion methods.
That's amazingly selfish... Access to clean water is & always has been "the century's top engineering challenge" somewhere in the world. The worldwide industrial revolution has made the problem worse in many countries, but there are still many many areas where finding clean water is the same problem it was a thousand years ago.

I would add: (5, Insightful)

Frank Grimes (211860) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498598)

I would add: An electric battery with an energy density comparable to gasoline.

Re:I would add: (4, Informative)

rah1420 (234198) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498982)

Good luck with that. An oil company would buy up the rights and suppress that just like they did with the Ovonic [wikipedia.org] battery.

See the section in the linked article entitled "Patent Encumbrance" and then go to Cobasys and try and buy a rack of Ovonic NiMH batteries to build your own plug-in electric vehicle. Let me know how that works out for you.

Re:I would add: (0)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499596)

NiMH is utterly unsuitable for electric car use and many others. Its energy density is good, but it self-discharges at roughly 5%/day, meaning you'd have to recharge every 10 days or so or leave it constantly plugged in. This is one of the maiin reasons it's no longer used for laptops.

Re:I would add: (4, Informative)

nexuspal (720736) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498992)

Heh, very close to done, on a previous article here on slashdot, a discovery come through that would do such a thing. In fact, IIRC, lithium ion batteries are already packing more power than high explosives, and close to as much energy as gasoline per unit of mass.

Re:I would add: (2, Insightful)

Fractal Dice (696349) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499472)

I would rephrase this as "create a better-than-nature method of using solar power to convert CO2 + H20 into gasoline + O2."

The way I see it, the only problem with the carbon we burn is that we're taking it out of the ground instead of out of the air. Gasoline is a already a pretty good battery - it just happens to be one that for now we can find lying around in the ground.

let's see (4, Insightful)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498604)

* Prevent nuclear terror

how exactly should we do this, hmmm? get rid of all the nuclear weapons on earth, destroy all knowledge relating to the atom, and shoot all nuclear waste into space? Better extinguish the sun while we're at it, and ignore that goal of fusion power since it is "nuclear" fusion. Why not just pick a less ambiguous goal like "end uphappiness."

* Secure cyberspace

* Enhance virtual reality


1996 just filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement.

* Advance personalized learning

* Engineer the tools for scientific discovery


W00t! Buzzword bingo!

There are some decent goals in there, but like so many projects laid out for engineers, they are engineering projects laid out entirely by non-engineers. There's no thought to implementation here, just feel good "hey we oughta" crap.

Re:let's see (4, Insightful)

Torvaun (1040898) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498764)

Preventing nuclear terror is easy, just invent a better and more easily accessible weapon for them to use. Home gene-splicing labs would probably do it.

Never fear (1)

MacDork (560499) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499260)

There's no thought to implementation here, just feel good "hey we oughta" crap.

Don't worry, those non-engineers will be sure to patent these "inventions" and sue you for your 1% inspiration after you've completed your 99% perspiration.

Carbon sequestration (3, Insightful)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498616)

Right now, if we capture carbon dioxide (and we have the technology to do that already pretty efficiently) we have a huge problem of what to do with it. The best technology available today involved injecting it into the ground or under the sea - neither of which are good options. The technology that's being talked about is carbon mineralifcation - the technology to turn CO2 into graphite, or diamond, or soot. That's would be a huge help in fighting global warming.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Titoxd (1116095) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498828)

Turn it into diamond... and then, all of a sudden, engagement rings become a lot cheaper.

Re:Carbon sequestration (5, Insightful)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498928)

First, diamonds are *not* a rare commodity. That is a myth that the De Beers diamond cartel has spent a century trying to create. De Beers tightly controls the supply, so that they appear to be rare. It's also a self-reinforcing myth - people think diamonds are rare, so they don't sell old family heirlooms, and thus there is no secondary market for diamonds.

Second, we already have the technology to create diamonds in a lab. See the wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] on the subject. (At this point, I should mention that De Beers also tightly controls the diamond cutter workforce -- any diamond cutter who cuts for a company other than De Beers is immediately cut off from doing any De Beers work)

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Titoxd (1116095) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498966)

I do realize that; it was more of a sarcastic remark about the absurd prices of diamonds. Unfortunately, even if there were a larger amount of diamonds due to synthetic manufacture, the price of diamonds wouldn't fall, as there would still be a premium on "natural" stones, even if they are chemically, physically, and gemologically identical (or superior) due to consumer expectations. Demand would still remain high (for the reasons you mentioned above, plus the fact that girls like them...

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499380)

I should mention that De Beers also tightly controls the diamond cutter workforce -- any diamond cutter who cuts for a company other than De Beers is immediately cut off from doing any De Beers work


I don't know anything about the diamond market, but it would seem to me that precision computer calculated cutting machines would have made this manual labor a thing of the past. Unless of course, having that flawed human touch adds artistic value?

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Fleeced (585092) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499424)

First, diamonds are *not* a rare commodity... [snip]

Second, we already have the technology to create diamonds in a lab.
The parent wasn't suggesting we create diamonds for profit (at least, I didn't read it that way). He seemed to be suggesting using diamonds as a carbon-sink.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498978)

There is a form of diamond that appears easy to manufacture called Lonsdaleite. It is not gem quality but is thought to be just as strong. I calculate here [blogspot.com] that replacing all steel, wood and concrete in construction with this material would sequester at most a few percent a year of our current emissions. The place where carbon has to go is in the soil or the sea. In the soil, terra preta looks like a good bet. In the sea, calcium carbonate seems like the most natural place.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

limbacx (1030816) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499048)

Maybe we could feed it to the trees.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499130)

Artificial trees [bbc.co.uk] are one method for carbon capture. Natural ones just aren't efficient enough. A natural tree removes about 300 pounds of carbon per year from the atmosphere. An artificial one can remove about 90,000 tonnes. But as I said - the problem is, what do you do with it then?

Re:Carbon sequestration (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22499168)

A natural tree removes about 300 pounds of carbon per year from the atmosphere.
But when the tree dies and decomposes, it returns that carbon to the atmosphere.

Re:Carbon sequestration (5, Insightful)

Dahamma (304068) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499216)

The technology that's being talked about is carbon mineralifcation - the technology to turn CO2 into graphite, or diamond, or soot. That's would be a huge help in fighting global warming.

Hah. ok, the obvious problem with this is that turning CO2 into coal is the opposite of what we have been doing for the past 200 years. How do you accomplish that? Put the energy back into the coal! But if we could do that, the first thing we'd do is use all of that energy to replace the energy we still obtain by burning coal (and other hydrocarbons) in the first place.

So, it seems like the only way to do that is to solve the "energy problem" that is putting so much CO2 into our atmosphere already. Once we fix that, then the surplus energy can be used to remove all the CO2 we have already put into the atmosphere...

I understand that's a total oversimplification, but the point is: cure the disease, not the symptoms!

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499358)

The pre-supposition of carbon mineralification is that converting it into the target form must be do-able with relatively low energy (or even exothermically - that is to say, it generates energy doing it). Wikipedia says [wikipedia.org] that reacting CO2 with magnesium (which is abundantly available) to produce limestone is exothermic.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499466)

However, extracting Mg metal from its ore is even more strongly endothermic. That energy still needs to come somewhere.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499378)

That is not an oversimplification, it is exactly right. But, it does point to the need to plan for renewable energy capacity that can cover this cleanup expense.

Re:Carbon sequestration (1)

Mr. Roadkill (731328) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499250)

The technology that's being talked about is carbon mineralifcation - the technology to turn CO2 into graphite, or diamond, or soot. That's would be a huge help in fighting global warming.
What would be really useful would be a way to take this carbon and sequester it in, oh, I don't know, liquid molecules consisting mostly of carbon and hydrogen. If the energy inputs for this were mostly from renewable sources like geothermal or solar, we could effectively get double-value CO2-wise out of whatever coal we burn for power. Efficiency wouldn't have to be brilliant to start with, just good enough to make this cost-competitive with pumping black goop out of the ground and refining it. Sure, we'd still be dumping all that CO2 into the atmosphere eventually, but with less mineral oil being burned there'd be much less of it overall. Ultimately we'd be well served looking for renewable sources of everything, but in the meantime every little bit of effort to reduce the amount of CO2 from fuels outside of that cycle can help. Liquid hydrocarbons are so damn convenient, and we've got a century of experience at using them for transport that is too good to just toss out the window.

Re:Carbon sequestration (2, Interesting)

mdsolar (1045926) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499304)

Mineralization is often thought of a taking silicate rock and turing it into silica and calcium or magnesuim carbonate. Often serpentine [wikipedia.org] is cited, though the associated heavy metals make me think this is a poor choice. Wollastonite [wikipedia.org] might be better. If you want to produce elemental carbon, you need to add in energy. The conversion of silicates is exothermic, but removing oxygen from carbon dioxide to make pure carbon requires just as much energy as you got from making the carbon dioxide in the first place. Forming terra preta from biomass can get you to elemental carbon (bio-char) and produce some energy along the way, but the biomass has solar energy input to convert carbon dioxide. One can form methane pretty easily from hydrogen and carbon dioxide using the Sabatier reaction [wikipedia.org] especially if you have a use for the excess heat from this exothermic reaction. The methane might be turned into polymers that have useful microstructures when the hydrogen is removed leaving a carbon residue similar to bio-char. Forming graphite or diamond would probably be limited to uses that are too small scale to accept much carbon.

SciFi (1)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498630)

Each item from the list sounds like the core plot device for a sci fi story either already made or that could be made.

Holy funding program Batman (4, Funny)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498646)

What? World peace is not on the list?

* Make solar energy affordable
- Just wait till oil goes to 120/barrel

* Provide energy from fusion
- isn't that solar energy?

* Develop carbon sequestration methods
- I thought the atmosphere of Earth was doing a good job already?

* Manage the nitrogen cycle
- Fat chance with corn farmers working over time

* Provide access to clean water
- That would just ruin the coke/pepsi wars... not happening

* Restore and improve urban infrastructure
- Isn't this program already underway? I understand NYC has had some renovations. (yeah, that's low)

* Advance health informatics
- subcutaneous ID chips?

* Engineer better medicines
- Yeah, big pharma has been doing good at this one lately - check Chantix

* Reverse-engineer the brain
- Ok, this is a new idea, lets get behind this one guys, what do you say?

* Prevent nuclear terror
- GW has this one covered, right, he's the decider guy.

* Secure cyberspace
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA here's your sign

* Enhance virtual reality
- Why not worry about first life a bit more for a while?

* Advance personalized learning
- Yes, All those free or lowered tuition costs, online resources, open course materials... those are great ideas, hope someone does that soon.

* Engineer the tools for scientific discovery
- This will obviously become reality and really simple once the brain has been reverse engineered??? WTF

Ok, seriously, is it just me or does everyone else think perhaps not smoke so much weed should be on the list?

-1, retarded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498712)

en tee

Securing Cyberspace (1)

ShogunTux (1236014) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499148)

I don't know why you think this is so laughable. Every year someone else gets closer to turning everyone into a bot in a global botnet. If that's not securing cyberspace, then I don't know what is.

Who are these idiots? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498654)

* Develop carbon sequestration methods
No thanks, I'd prefer real alternative energy solutions.

* Restore and improve urban infrastructure
Could you be any more vague?

* Prevent nuclear terror
I thought these were engineering challenges.

* Advance personalized learning
Give me a break.

Re:Who are these idiots? (3, Insightful)

OakDragon (885217) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498814)

No thanks, I'd prefer real alternative energy solutions.

I've often wondered why we don't see alternative energy startups these days. Of course, 10 to 15 years ago (and of course further back), we could assume that any serious capital that was capable of such a startup was already in the hands of people who did not desire such a thing. But these days, we have Warren Buffet, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates - these people have some some serious cash, and the "green" philosophy to perhaps make a go of it. Why don't we see a serious attempt at generating wind, solar, or tidal power?

Missing option: holes. (5, Interesting)

w3woody (44457) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498688)

I'm with Scott Adams: Holes. [typepad.com]

To summarize, what we need is a better way to dig cheap holes.

Think of it: with a cheap way to drill a hole we can drill down close to the mantle of the earth for cheap geothermal. With a cheap way to dig a tunnel we can expand our freeway infrastructure by placing new roads below ground. Infrastructure can be run underground more cheaply--if we have a cheap hole to run them through.

Holes are the future.

Re:Missing option: holes. (4, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498896)

"I'm with Scott Adams: Holes.

To summarize, what we need is a better way to dig cheap holes.

Think of it: with a cheap way to drill a hole we can drill down close to the mantle of the earth for cheap geothermal. With a cheap way to dig a tunnel we can expand our freeway infrastructure by placing new roads below ground. Infrastructure can be run underground more cheaply--if we have a cheap hole to run them through.

Holes are the future."

I'd like to submit a proposal for genetically engineering gophers the size of a bus. They'd be a cheap source for tunneling and could be bred instead of expensive manufacturing. So long as they don't start digging up lawns or develop a taste for human flesh they could be a major resource and not use any fossil fuels.

Re:Missing option: holes. (4, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498954)

It's not drilling the hole that's the problem. It's holding back the walls against hydrostatic pressure, while still having a usefully open space to pipe water down to be turned to steam. The places where we already have geothermal aren't drilling all the way down to the mantel. They're drilling down to a convenient pocket of magma close to the surface. There are many places with magma-resources that are yet to be tapped, but it is by no means practical for any arbitrary point on the earth's surface to simply keep drilling until they reach magma.

The necessary advance isn't a "hole drilling robot." It's incredibly strong, heat-resistant pipes, and some kind of trick for installing them while drilling without affecting the bore diameter or preventing bit replacement.

Re:Missing option: holes. (2, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499426)

In which case you need something with a very high compressive strength and capable of handling temperatures of hundreds of degrees celcius - like rock. Geothermal projects are not actually playing with lava or even really huge temperature differences.

"manage the nitrogen cycle?" (3, Interesting)

qw0ntum (831414) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498690)

Can someone please explain what it means to "manage the nitrogen cycle?" I've seen that twice in the past two weeks and I'm not entirely sure what they are referring to, and why we need to manage it. Yes, I've tried Google and Wikipedia.

Re:"manage the nitrogen cycle?" (4, Informative)

Mspangler (770054) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498934)

I hope it means to get cereal grains to fix their own nitrogen so you wouldn't need nitrate fertilizers, especially with natural gas heading for its own production peaks. North American natural gas is expected to peak about 2010, unless the deep Gulf is more productive than they currently think.

If we don't come up with that, we'll need three or four thousand LNG tankers cruising to the middle east and back to keep the pipelines full. (Worse case admittedly, but eventually one of them is going to go boom, then the others won't be allowed to dock, and then ...)

"No boom today. Boom tomorrow. There's always a boom tomorrow." (S. Ivanova, 2260)

Re:"manage the nitrogen cycle?" (2, Funny)

andy314159pi (787550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499284)

Can someone please explain what it means to "manage the nitrogen cycle?"
It means peeing outside.

Number 15: Exterminate All Muslims (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498696)

Quality of life would be improved if we had a simple "insecticide" which would genetically target muslims but leave humans unharmed. It would be helpful if it could be packaged as an aerosol to fit in pocket or purse, and have a pleasant scent. Of course, for bulk delivery, we humans could rely on the air power of our armed forces.

Re:Number 15: Exterminate All Muslims (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498998)

genetically target muslims
We can genetically detect beliefs now? Science is amazing.

Engineering? (1)

unbug (1188963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498718)

What do these guys see as an engineering challenge? How is "prevent nuclear terror" engineering? What the hell does "advance personalized learning" mean? Or "tools for scientific discovery"? Or "reverse-engineer the brain", for that matter? Probably I'm just too stupid to understand, but to me this whole thing looks like absolute gibberish.

The complete list (0, Redundant)

lawrencebillson (1136239) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498802)

For those suffering: * 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 I suggest adding an item about faster web servers.

Advance health informatics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22498822)

Yes this is this biggest problem facing Mac users everywhere.

My top challenges (4, Funny)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498866)

1. Socks that don't have to be paired every time they're washed.
2. A device to selectively block out the sound of an episode of "The Golden Girls" my wife insists on putting on to fall asleep to
3. A device that detects reality tv and automatically adds a warning "This show is for morons. Watching by non-morons may lead to brain damage" across the screen
4. A filter for slashdot trolls.
5. A robot capable of doing all your arguing for you in a flame war.
6. An irrationality meter that warns you how irrational a person you're talking to is being at the time.
7. A superstition meter
8. Something to prevent assholes on public transport from touching my personal property (especially people bumping my laptop with oversized baggage and not even realizing it)

Re:My top challenges (1)

jomegat (706411) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499088)

1. Socks that don't have to be paired every time they're washed.

Amputate one of your feet. Or try this instead:

1. Go out and buy a 10-20 pairs of socks - all the same kind and color.
2. Throw away all your old socks.
3. Now every sock you own matches every other sock you own.
4. When they need to be replaced, replace them all, because the odds of anyone finding the same type and color sock in a few years are vanishingly small.

OK, they still have to be paired, but the task becomes a lot easier. And you get to keep both your feet.

Re:My top challenges (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499460)

Already thought of this. Steps 2 and 4 are the main problem.

I'm too stingy to throw away perfectly good socks. A year or 2 ago. I did go out and buy a bunch of the same sock but didn't throw away my old ones. It makes the odds of finding a pair much higher. Unfortunately the brand I picked turned out to be not very well made with some socks significantly smaller/shorter than others. So that's fun I'm still living with at the moment.

Also while I'm no fashion victim wearing the exact same socks every day is a bit boring. Then there's warm vs. thin socks for winter vs. summer.

Re:My top challenges (4, Funny)

Propaganda13 (312548) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499116)

1. Socks that don't have to be paired every time they're washed.
2. A device to selectively block out the sound of an episode of "The Golden Girls" my wife insists on putting on to fall asleep to
3. A device that detects reality tv and automatically adds a warning "This show is for morons. Watching by non-morons may lead to brain damage" across the screen
4. A filter for slashdot trolls.
5. A robot capable of doing all your arguing for you in a flame war.
6. An irrationality meter that warns you how irrational a person you're talking to is being at the time.
7. A superstition meter
8. Something to prevent assholes on public transport from touching my personal property (especially people bumping my laptop with oversized baggage and not even realizing it)


1. Buy the same socks
2. Get a divorce
3. TV Guide
4. Done
5. In a flame war, you don't have to respond to the person or have an intellectual viewpoint. Just write a script for it.
6. meter is pegged already
7. no clue
8. It's called a car

Re:My top challenges (2, Interesting)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499480)

1. See my reply to other poster.
2. No way. She rocks even if our taste in TV differs.
3. Got one. Doesn't change the wife from wanting to watch stuff. See 2.
4. Where???
5. A script that can answer as well as I can? Where?
6. where?
8. It's called a traffic jam.

Re:My top challenges (1)

jaxtherat (1165473) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499164)

1. Socks that don't have to be paired every time they're washed.
2. A device to selectively block out the sound of an episode of "The Golden Girls" my wife insists on putting on to fall asleep to
3. A device that detects reality tv and automatically adds a warning "This show is for morons. Watching by non-morons may lead to brain damage" across the screen
4. A filter for slashdot trolls.
5. A robot capable of doing all your arguing for you in a flame war.
6. An irrationality meter that warns you how irrational a person you're talking to is being at the time.
7. A superstition meter
8. Something to prevent assholes on public transport from touching my personal property (especially people bumping my laptop with oversized baggage and not even realizing it)
Here are my solutions:

1. tie pairs of socks together when you put them in the laundry basket.
2. ipod/earmuffs/going for a jog/asking nicely.
3. not watching tv, only things you buy on DVD or torrented off the 'net.
4. New Project To End Stupidity Online it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/11/12/1943216
5. you + jager bombs.
6. sorry, that's a tough one.
7. you mean one of them thingies scientologists banned from being sold on ebay?
8. implement either a horrid or weird and socially unacceptable appearance (bubonic plague, mohawk, crossdressing etc... go nuts!) No-one will come near you enough to bump your laptop ever again. :)

Re:My top challenges (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499504)

1. They don't wash properly if you do this. (Buying the same sock not a good option either. See replies to other posters)
2. Good idea. I do leave sometimes but I also like to crash in front of the tele and spend time with her.
3. Tell my wife that.
4. *chuckle*
5. Huh?
7. No, I don't mean a device made to scam people.
8. Love it. Out weird the weirdos. Unfortunately it may affect career, so not practical.

Cold Fusion (1)

grayshirtninja (1242690) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498912)

Fusion pow'r is the
only goal on that list that is
worthwhile. Like a pie.

Too bad it is too
far-fetch'd. Solar power has
a much better chance.

The List (with annotations) (5, Informative)

RobBebop (947356) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498968)

  1. Make solar energy affordable - Done [nanosolar.com]
  2. Provide energy from fusion - This is something I don't know anything about.
  3. Develop carbon sequestration methods - More information [energy.gov]
  4. Manage the nitrogen cycle - More information [wikipedia.org]. I feel like on a basic, local level this can already be accomplished easily. On an advanced/global level though... Manage it? In the next 100 years maybe we can gather some data points so we can UNDERSTAND it. Until then, any attempts to "manage" it would be foolish
  5. Provide access to clean water - Tried and true method [wikipedia.org] and 1 [wateraid.org], 2 [wwwf.org], 3 [water.org] Orgs doing it.
  6. Restore and improve urban infrastructure - And [mta.info] run [transitchicago.com] on [mbta.com]-time [metro.net] and build more parks - but who will fund it?
  7. Advance health informatics - This "engineering goal" is too general to discuss. It's like, make it easier to get useful data on our health. Duh!
  8. Engineer better medicines - I think "Engineer better robots" would be a more worthwhile engineering goal... but that's just me.
  9. Reverse-engineer the brain - Teaching it [mit.edu], and studying it [mit.edu]
  10. Prevent nuclear terror - This is a political bombshell that I won't go near, but from what I see the strategy is (a) deterrence, and (b) threaten anybody with a nuclear project.
  11. Secure cyberspace - Ha!
  12. Enhance virtual reality - In a practical way or just enough so that my brain can be tricked into thinking that an incredibly hot women is going down on me?
  13. Advance personalized learning - Not sure what this is...
  14. Engineer the tools for scientific discovery - Another overly general one, but I'd like to think "discovery" is a misspelling of "exploration". Lately I've been thinking that our satellites are similar to the Triremes [wikipedia.org] of Greece times (which are bound to stay close to our shores), the Apollo/Space Shuttle is like Viking ships [wikipedia.org] (which couldn't (or weren't) be used to setup a new settlement), and then this [wikipedia.org] would be the equivalent of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria (except they will be called Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Lincoln).

I am going to be fair... this is really a list of things that can be completed in the next 25 years. These are not "100 year" goals. They are simply to generalized, for the most part. A real engineer knows that goals should be Specific, Measurable, and ARTistic [wikipedia.org]. These goals don't qualify.

Space elevator? (1)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22498974)

If we could get a space elevator working and in production for commercial use, this would be a BIG accomplishment for everyone. This would lower the barrier of access to space to commercial ventures, rather than just only accessible to only the richest of countries.

NSF and my list (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22499066)

Remember this list appears to come from the NSF. I'm sure this list includes the footnote of challenges they should focus on. Remember that energy (doe), health (hhs), military (dod) and space (nasa) are funded elsewhere. Here is my list from the top of my head, for no other better reason. Engineering challenges:

1) Human space travel to planetary bodies outside of earth
2) Widespread therapeutic use of engineered tissue, gene therapy and RNAi (gene knockdown)
3) Therapeutic approaches to overcome antibiotic resistance
4) Complete reduction of dependence on fossil fuels
5) Artificial intelligence
6) Reduction of the human costs of war through military technologies (as much as I hate to say it, world leaders seem to be too arrogant or too shortsighted to eliminate it)
7) Pervasive cyberinfrastructure
8) Elimination of obesity and related diseases
9) Engineering of useful artificial biotics (and control of the dangerous ones)
10) Health informatics and truely personalized medicine in the age of postgenomics

I'm sure there are others maybe some environmental issues (global warming, overpopulation, etc)...

Provide energy from fusion is a challenge? (1)

chongo (113839) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499082)

Regarding the engineering challenge: "Provide energy from fusion"

The Sun and other stars have been doing this for billion of years. On earth, H-Bombs did this decades ago. Heck, I've accelerated Deuterium ions into a target containing Tritium in a lab and calculated the energy that was released in the resulting fusion reaction.

I think they way to say something along the lines of: Produce power from commercially viable fusion reactors.

Need to invest in math (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499136)

Every single one of these engineering challenges would benefit by any significant gains made towards the efficient calculation of "intractible problems". So really, while one could argue that yes, we should spend billions of dollars on brute force research on all of these, one could also argue that we should also be trying to cultivate that one Newton of our day that can solve TSP in polynomial time. Then you could just have a computer crunch out solutions to all of the problems on the list, even by using the same core open source library.

False problems (3, Interesting)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499204)

Many of those issues are not really problems, in that they can be cured by other issues that make them redundant/meaningless.

* Make solar energy affordable

As noted elsewhere: affordable is relative. Let oil hit some arbitrarily high price, and solar power suddenly looks cheap.

* Provide energy from fusion

Also, as noted elsewhere, the sun is a stable fusion reactor, and it is safely located millions of miles away.

* Develop carbon sequestration methods

Only if we intend to continue gulping oil. Assuming it goes off the charts in expense, carbon sources (oil or coal) will cease to be economically viable and will cease being used except for Important things like medicine and materials, both of which are small carbon burners compared to the local SUV.

* Manage the nitrogen cycle

Corn, Beans, Squash.

* Provide access to clean water

Nice idea, but first you have to have enough to go around. This problem (as would many others) be solved with FEWER people shitting the place up.

* Restore and improve urban infrastructure

Mostly, TRAINS. Lots of electric TRAINS. Remember: Peak OIl == Peak Asphalt.

* Advance health informatics

Nice idea - how you will do it with out petroleum is another issue.

* Engineer better medicines

See above.

* Reverse-engineer the brain

Why? I would think reverse engineering the liver might be more useful.

* Prevent nuclear terror

Sure: Ban nuclear weapons or drive civilisation back to the 18th century. We can do the first, and the oil crash will do the second, over time.

* Secure cyberspace

Against WHAT? Phishing?

* Enhance virtual reality

Eeew- that is like SO five minutes ago.

* Advance personalized learning

Sure, so I can leverage my human resources, right? fuck off.

* Engineer the tools for scientific discovery

Like WHAT - INSIGHT? Good luck with that Butch, lemme know how it works out for ya. Moron.

RS

What We're All Thinking (2, Funny)

DarthMAD (805372) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499360)

Sure, nuclear terror is plenty frightening and cheap solar power would be great.

But what about the zombies?

Developing an effective plan to stave off a massive zombie invasion is the transcendent challenge of our time. We need to do this sooner rather than later, and we need to be prepared when it happens. Cyberspace, virtual reality, fusion power, even clean water - all of this will be for naught if we're all undead.

You're probably thinking by now (if you're still reading, that is), "Simple. Shoot them in the head." Well, if zombie movies and books are at all accurate - and I've seen nothing to lead me to believe otherwise - things will quickly spiral out of control and there will be more of them than we can handle before we know it.

Maybe if we could domesticate them... (this always works well in the movies)

Secure scientific knowledge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22499422)

While we're drawing up a sociopolitical wishlist (because that's all I see here), how about ensuring that future generations have free access to knowledge for scientific advancement. That means restructuring a broken patent and intellectual property system that denies access to the seeds of future progress, past progress.

So long as we continue the drive towards private science, paranoia about industrial espionage and fear of terrorism we are doomed. Locking up research papers that belong to the people of the world behind corporate and government walls will not help. It will not protect us from knowledge falling in to the "wrong hands" - that is cutting of our nose to spite our face. Making science a privelege of a wealthy elite for profit won't help us, there will not be an environment conducive to solving these problems. We are all in this together, like it or not. None of these problems are insurmountable, but the greatest threat to scientific and engineering progress is the gentrification of scientific knowledge.

We must

1) Completely reform the patent and intellectual property system (including sacking every corrupt bastard in WIPO or abolishing it)
2) Mandate universal, free, open access to all research funded in whole or part by public money
3) Set up new international scientific forums to freely exchange knowledge and research results (no more of this "China vs America" nonsense)
4) Realise the Cold War is over, get over it America and drop the arrogant xenophobia, cooperation will solve our problems.
5) Fight religious fundamentalism and anti-science _everywhere_ it exists, including at home.
6) Stop celebrating ignorance and celebrity, raise an educated generation who aspire to being engineers not rich businessmen or pop stars.

The human race is holding itself back, by short term greed and arrogance.

15. Engineer smarter politicians (1)

ruinevil (852677) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499428)

In the end, politicians write the checks for most large-scale engineering research and development. The current crop is too shortsighted and rational, and isn't investing in crazy stuff that is useless now, but lays the groundwork for useful things in the future; like the space program.
Anyways, I'd rather have them create self-repairing transportation infrastructure than almost everything else on that list. Something that insures that bridges won't collapse when you are on it.

Democracy (1)

secondhand_Buddah (906643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499554)

I noticed that they left off the most important thing that needs to be re-engineered at this juncture in time: Democracy.

Democracy just does not work in its present form any more. Legislated corruption has become a scourge worldwide. We have been brainwashed to believe that governments are our rulers instead of civil servants. We have forgotten that as citizens we own the common infrastructures of the world. They do not belong to the politicians to do with whatever they see fit. Really folks, its time for a change...

should be number 1 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22499564)

Eliminate lawyers and put engineers in their place == things actually get done right

Only three of the tasks fall under engineering. (2, Insightful)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 6 years ago | (#22499626)

* Develop carbon sequestration methods

We already have high-quality carbon sequestration methods. They're called "trees." All we have to do is plant more than we cut down.

* Manage the nitrogen cycle
* Enhance virtual reality
* Engineer the tools for scientific discovery

Weak. Weak!

* Make solar energy affordable
* Provide energy from fusion
* Engineer better medicines
* Reverse-engineer the brain

These are not engineering tasks; they're basic science tasks. Engineers will get nowhere with these; it'd be a waste of money.

* Prevent nuclear terror
* Restore and improve urban infrastructure
* Provide access to clean water

These are not engineering tasks; they are political tasks. Solve the political factors and the engineering tasks are long solved and well-understood.

* Advance health informatics
* Secure cyberspace
* Advance personalized learning

These at least fall within the domain of solvable engineering problems.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...