What the experts say in the book '2030'

I talked to numerous scientific and technological experts about the challenges in the next 20 years. Their subjects range form food to finance. See some of their statements below. Read more about the book 

Hans Blix, nuclear expert

Hans Blix, nuclear expert

"Countries like Iran and North Korea can be encouraged to invest in nuclear power and research for climatic purposes. That would give them a way to use their nuclear experiments, testing facilities and know-how for energy-saving purposes instead of weapons" (photo: Dean Calma, IAEA)

Luís Bettencourt, complexity scientist

"To sustain its growth, the city should have an ever-increasing pace of innovation. The larger the population, the shorter the time to the next crisis. People in New York and other large cities today will experience several major changes in their lifetime. Maybe one day we will look back at this time as the golden age of cities, tinged by some of the greatest challenges our species has ever faced".

Lady Susan Greenfield, neuroscientist

"We have to think about ways technology can give meaning and significance to people, rather than comfort and sensation. If people spend most of their time in front of a screen, we’ll have to find out what the screens give them that they can’t find in real life. I think it is necessary that engineers get more involved in game development. It’s a very powerful and exciting technology and we’ll have to use it to give us a sense of greater stories". 

Craig Venter: Explorer of the human DNA

“It took me 9 months to map my own genome. We’re going to be able to sequence a human genome in a matter of hours or even minutes and for less than $1,000 a time. At that kind of price, we’ll be able to examine lots of patients and then build databases of medical information. That will generate a mass of significant data for scientific research, which will further accelerate progress.”

Monty Jones: plant breeder

“Farmers in southern Sudan who may be willing to produce a surplus could not sell their extra output. The roads are so bad that fertilizers can’t get in and the harvest can’t get out. It’s cheaper to ship grain to Mombasa from Australia than it is from southern Sudan, which is just next door. We need roads, markets, and reduced tariffs. If we succeed in these things, Africa has the potential to feed the rest of the world. In fact Africa must feed the world”.

David Fedson: Flu scientist

“We don’t have the means to combat a pandemic globally. We have seen in the 2009 pandemic that abatement mostly relies on existing technologies and centralized vaccine production. Yet no centralized, complex technology can meet the challenges posed by a really serious pandemic. We have seen that programmes for pandemic vaccination and antiviral treatment have nothing to offer people in low and middle-income countries. As a result, the rich will live and the poor will die, and the wounds to global society in the pandemic aftermath could fester for decades”.

Jean-Philippe Bouchaud, financial engineer

“We need a theory that can model the irrationality of traders and consumers: a theory that includes essential elements of how Homo economicus behaves. We don’t have a theory like that. Which is surprising, because it seems so obvious that there are processes driving market prices out of equilibrium. Mimicry, for example, can give rise to collective phenomena that are difficult to control. [..] But this is research on the fringe of economics. These ideas haven’t percolated into mainstream economics. There are no textbooks, and it isn’t taught at university. That means the old beliefs are still being perpetuated”.

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, climate scientist

“We have to accelerate acceptance of further CO2 reduction measures, which may well be the decisive scientific issue now facing us. We need a different type of social cohesion: we have to shape people’s preferences. That’s extremely delicate, but we have to do it. Sociologists, philosophers, theologians and people of good will need to get together. Research is urgently required in the field of social engineering to address this problem. The challenges are frightening. But they’re fascinating too.”

Hugo De Man, shrinker of micro-electronics

“At the present degree of miniaturization in micro-electronics, we’re approaching lots of different limits at the same time. The problems are stacking up, making it extremely difficult to take the next steps. To keep up with Moore’s Law, we’ll have to solve them all in the next few years. [..] I wouldn’t lose any sleep if we don’t succeed. Other kinds of improvement are more important. Hooking up electronics more effectively to their surroundings, for instance. That would give you devices that can monitor your heartbeat or regulate chemical processes. It will profoundly change our industry, transportation and the way we interact with our environment.”

Henk van Tilborg: data security expert

“Data protection has deteriorated in recent years, despite the powerful options offered by technology. Security issues will only become more pressing in the years ahead, as more and more devices are being coupled. [..] We already have the technology to virtually guarantee security. But nobody really cares. We cheerfully hand over every detail of our shopping habits in return for a few air miles. That’s unlikely to change until more people lose patience with all the errors and outdated information following them around. Or when some terrorist figures it out and then takes over a chemical plant”.

Hans van Ginkel: Education expert

“Education ought to address our world’s complexity more effectively. We are aware of and see more people; we realize that the world has become more complex. A farmer in Ghana isn’t just involved with his local market. A world order is emerging that is characterized by connectivity, change, and convergence. Our children will have to learn amid this growing complexity. That runs counter to the ideas of certain educationalists—and a lot of other people who set the tone in our society. Today’s education and media often place particular stress on simplicity.”

15 other experts in the book

I asked the experts to explore the kind of research that will be necessary in the years ahead and to put it in its broader context. What breakthroughs will be needed to make the world a better place? The experts showed us that science and technology are closely implicated in the growing complexity of key issues, something that complicates our view of both the problems and their solutions. 

This way, the book will make its own contribution to the research agenda by inspiring engineers and others in their efforts to protect and improve our planet.

Read more about the book →