Friday, March 07, 2008

Algorithms and Grand Engineering Challenges

I have some interaction, past and present, with the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and it is always inspiring. An ongoing exercise at NAE is to gather thoughts about grand engineering challenges. You can take part in these polls, and participate in the discussions. The list is as follows:
  • Make solar energy economical
  • Provide energy from fusion
  • Provide access to clean water
  • Reverse-engineer the brain
  • Advance personalized learning
  • Develop carbon sequestration methods
  • Restore and improve urban Infrastructure
  • Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
  • Advance health informatics
  • Prevent nuclear terror
  • Engineer better medicines
  • Manage the nitrogen cycle
  • Secure cyberspace
  • Enhance virtual reality
I can immediately see a couple of these challenges where algorithms research will have an impact: secure cyberspace, health informatics, .. On second thought and beyond, I am sure algorithms research is needed to address each of these challenges, more directly in some cases than the others. May be that is really my problem: I like to see (applied) algorithms research as the central piece, with its own form and factor, but often, we are in the belly of a large beast. The beast gets the attention, it is easy to set it up, take it down, or play with it. The belly follows along. I struggle with this nearly every day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Enhance virtual reality"?

9:46 AM  
Blogger Joachim said...

Indirectly I've had discussions regarding health informatics (with hospitals and health departments) and my impression is that it is all about merging data from different sources. No algorithms as far as I can see (but this is from a very practical point of view).

2:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Health informatics could include privacy,or data analyses algorithms for body sensors that track your entire life via health measurements,... Lot of aspects to it.
-- metoo

1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the belly vs. beast argument: If what you do is "optimize things", it's hard to be a first-class object. It's just our lot in life... ;-)

My real question is "how serious is all this?" Ie, will this be an explanation for doing & funding what we would have done anyways, or an attempt to focus on making measurable progress on these problems (and thereby de-emphasizing others).

- Francis

7:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for acknowledging our common lament as Optimators (btw, there is a beer by that name)!

I don't know what NAE intends to do with the list, but at the very least, some of the brightest minds will think about it, talk about it, organize meetings, write about it, parlay that into funding, etc. So, there will be a lot of intellectual activity. I am happy with this "least case scenario". Don't now about better scenarios. :)

-- metoo

2:21 PM  

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