10-year Scientific Predictions that Strike a Chord

As usual we have to thank Phillip @radhertz for an insightful retweet from Tim @timkastelle pointing us to an article in Nature imagining the state of scientific endeavour in a range of fields. For me the interesting predictions were from:

Search, Peter Norvig, Director of research at Google: …The [search] results we get back will be a synthesis, not just a list. For example, today if I ask ‘compare approaches to nuclear fusion’, the major search engines agree that a general encyclopaedia article on fusion power comes first, followed by other similar articles. A decade from now, the result will summarize the major approaches, contrast their differences, automatically translate any foreign documents into my language, and then rank the results by efficacy or place them in a table or chart as appropriate…

Synthetic biology, George Church, Professor of genetics, Harvard Medical School: …Another application [of synthetic biology] is in the production of chemicals, biofuels and foods — for example, the development of parasite-resistant crops or photosynthetic organisms that can double their biomass in just three hours. As costs drop, such technology will allow developing nations to leapfrog fertilizer-wasting, fossil-fuel-intensive and disease-rife farming for cleaner, more efficient systems, just as they are leapfrogging costly landlines in favour of mobile-phone networks.

My last pick is a trend I have been espousing for a year or two now as I see my own discipline, computer science, become an enabler for most other disciplines:

Universities, John L. Hennessy, President, Stanford University: …To address these financial and intellectual challenges, universities need to be willing to change how they see their research and teaching mission. The scale and complexity of today’s global problems demand a more collaborative, multidisciplinary approach. / Traditionally, universities have been structured around disciplines and departments. The agencies that fund research often reflect that structure in their financial support of projects. That rigidity can be a barrier to innovation, and to the need to educate students for a more collaborative working environment. / Therefore, universities and funding agencies need to encourage working across disciplines — for example, through academic centres based around broad themes rather than narrow fields. The challenge will be to do this without abandoning the traditional disciplines and the role they have in ensuring excellence…

These are just my top three picks from 18 predictions. All the others are worth a read.

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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