14 Major Tech Issues — and the Innovations That Will Resolve Them

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

The past year has seen unprecedented challenges to public-health systems and the global economy. Many facets of daily life and work have moved into the digital realm, and the shift has highlighted some underlying business technology issues that are getting in the way of productivity, communication and security.

As successful business leaders, the members of the  Young Entrepreneur Council understand how important it is to have functional, up-to-date technology. That ’ s why we asked a panel of them to share what they view as the biggest business tech problem of the past year. Here are the issues they ’ re concerned about and the innovations they believe will help solve them.

Current Major Technology Issues

  • Need For Strong Digital Conference Platforms
  • Remote Internet Speed and Connections
  • Phishing and Data Privacy Issues
  • Deepfake Content
  • Too Much Focus on Automation
  • Data Mixups Due to AI Implementation
  • Poor User Experience

1. Employee Productivity Measurement

As most companies switched to 100 percent remote almost overnight, many realized that they lacked an efficient way to measure employee productivity. Technology with “ user productivity reports ”  has become invaluable. Without being able to “ see ”  an employee in the workplace, companies must find technology that helps them to track and report how productive employees are at home. — Bill Mulholland , ARC Relocation

2. Digital Industry Conference Platforms

Nothing beats in-person communication when it comes to business development. In the past, industry conferences were king. Today, though, the move to remote conferences really leaves a lot to be desired and transforms the largely intangible value derived from attending into something that is purely informational. A new form or platform for industry conferences is sorely needed. — Nick Reese , Elder Guide

3. Remote Internet Speed and Equipment

With a sudden shift to most employees working remotely, corporations need to boost at-home internet speed and capacity for employees that didn ’ t previously have the requirements to produce work adequately. Companies need to invest in new technologies like 5G and ensure they are supported at home. — Matthew Podolsky , Florida Law Advisers, P.A.

4. Too Much Focus on Automation

Yes, automation and multi-platform management might be ideal for big-name brands and companies, but for small site owners and businesses, it ’ s just overkill. Way too many people are overcomplicating things. Stick to your business model and what works without trying to overload the process. — Zac Johnson , Blogger

5. Phishing Sites

There are many examples of phishing site victims. Last year, I realized the importance of good pop-up blockers for your laptop and mobile devices. It is so scary to be directed to a website that you don ’ t know or to even pay to get to sites that actually don ’t  exist. Come up with better pop-up blockers if possible. — Daisy Jing , Banish

6. Data Privacy

I think data privacy is still one of the biggest business tech issues around. Blockchain technology can solve this problem. We need more and more businesses to understand that blockchains don’t just serve digital currencies, they also protect people’s privacy. We also need Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc. to understand that personal data belongs in the hands of the individual. — Amine Rahal , IronMonk Solutions

7. Mobile Security

Mobile security is a big issue because we rely so much on mobile internet access today. We need to be more aware of how these networks can be compromised and how to protect them. Whether it ’ s the IoT devices helping deliver data wirelessly to companies or people using apps on their smartphones, we need to become more aware of our mobile cybersecurity and how to protect our data. — Josh Kohlbach , Wholesale Suite

8. Deepfake Content

More and more people are embracing deepfake content, which is content created to look real but isn ’ t. Using AI, people can edit videos to look like someone did something they didn ’ t do and vice versa, which hurts authenticity and makes people question what ’ s real. Lawmakers need to take this issue seriously and create ways to stop people from doing this. — Jared Atchison , WPForms

9. Poor User Experience

I ’ ve noticed some brands struggling with building a seamless user experience. There are so many themes, plugins and changes people can make to their site that it can be overwhelming. As a result, the business owner eventually builds something they like, but sacrifices UX in the process. I suspect that we will see more businesses using customer feedback to make design changes. — John Brackett , Smash Balloon LLC

10. Cybersecurity Threats

Cybersecurity threats are more prevalent than ever before with increased digital activities. This has drawn many hackers, who are becoming more sophisticated and are targeting many more businesses. Vital Information, such as trade secrets, price-sensitive information, HR records, and many others are more vulnerable. Strengthening cybersecurity laws can maintain equilibrium. — Vikas Agrawal , Infobrandz

11. Data Backup and Recovery

As a company, you ’ ll store and keep lots of data crucial to keeping business moving forward. A huge tech issue that businesses face is their backup recovery process when their system goes down. If anything happens, you need access to your information. Backing up your data is crucial to ensure your brand isn ’ t at a standstill. Your IT department should have a backup plan in case anything happens. — Stephanie Wells , Formidable Forms

12. Multiple Ad and Marketing Platforms

A major issue that marketers are dealing with is having to use multiple advertising and marketing platforms, with each one handling a different activity. It can overload a website and is quite expensive. We ’ re already seeing AdTech and MarTech coming together as MAdTech. Businesses need to keep an eye on this convergence of technologies and adopt new platforms that support it. — Syed Balkhi , WPBeginner

13. Location-Based Innovation

The concentration of tech companies in places like Seattle and San Francisco has led to a quick rise in living costs in these cities. Income isn ’ t catching up, and there ’ s stress on public infrastructure. Poor internet services in rural areas also exacerbate this issue. Innovation should be decentralized. — Samuel Thimothy , OneIMS

14. Artificial Intelligence Implementation

Businesses, especially those in the tech industry, are having trouble implementing AI. If you ’ ve used and improved upon your AI over the years, you ’ re likely having an easier time adjusting. But new online businesses test multiple AI programs at once and it ’ s causing communication and data mix-ups. As businesses settle with specific programs and learn what works for them, we will see improvements. — Chris Christoff , MonsterInsights

Built In’s expert contributor network publishes thoughtful, solutions-oriented stories written by innovative tech professionals. It is the tech industry’s definitive destination for sharing compelling, first-person accounts of problem-solving on the road to innovation.

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Can science and technology really help solve global problems? A UN forum debates vital question

Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (2nd right), the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the UN and chair of the session, speaks at the plenary session during the ECOSOC Integration Segment. Also in the picture are Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Econ

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Science and technology offer part of the solution to climate change, inequality and other global issues, a United Nations official said on Tuesday, spotlighting the enormous potential these fields hold for achieving humanity’s common goal, of a poverty and hunger-free world by 2030.

“New advances in science and technology hold immense promises for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ,” said UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, in his opening remarks to a session of the intergovernmental body overseeing the UN’s development work.

The 2018 Integration Segment of the Economic and Social Council ( ECOSOC ), being held from Tuesday to Thursday at UN Headquarters, brings together key stakeholders to review policies that support an integrated approach to achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication - with a focus this year on increasing resilience.

“To truly leverage the benefits of science and technology for sustainable development, we need to prioritize solutions that are pro-poor and equitable,” Mr. Liu said. “Only in this way can we ensure that no one is left behind.”

He stated that a rapidly warming planet was one of the greatest threats today, but a wide array of technological measures for climate change adaptation and mitigation can help the transition from carbon-intensive growth, towards more sustainable and resilient development.

Technologies can also help provide jobs to disadvantaged groups in society, and can help make cities smarter and more sustainable, by facilitating new transport systems and improving the management of natural resources.

To truly leverage the benefits of science and technology for sustainable development, we need to prioritize solutions that are pro-poor and equitable –  Liu Zhenmin, head of DESA

Threatened by unsustainable consumption and production patterns, the ocean is also suffering, he added. Numerous technologies have been shown to help mitigate and address these effects, such as innovations in sustainable fishing; enhanced surveillance of ocean acidification, and environmentally-sensitive forms of pollution prevention and clean-up, he added. 

To make new technology and innovation work in support of communities, any efforts must be driven on a local level, and be inclusive. 

Taking integrated approaches and working to break down barriers is of utmost urgency, too, as crises and shocks are increasingly complex and span the economic, social and environmental spheres. 

“And, finally, we need to build capacities and institutions for anticipating risk, and for planning and strategic foresight to effectively leverage technologies,” Mr. Liu said.

Also addressing the opening segment was Marc Pecsteen, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, who said that technology and innovation have been identified as “two key enablers, whose appropriate, efficient, equitable and sustainable use can support our efforts to build and maintain resilient societies.”


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Three tech trends that will solve some of the world’s biggest challenges today

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Like never before, the future of people, prosperity and the planet demands fresh new approaches to drive positive change. Tackling the world’s biggest challenges means doing things differently. Let’s discuss three pressing problems and how technology and digital trends offer potential solutions to address them.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Make cities more sustainable through digitally enabled and enhanced spaces

According to the UN, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities; by 2050, two-thirds of us will be urban dwellers. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, cities face crowds and congestion again. Our lives are hectic and busier than ever. There’s real value from signing into an app before leaving home to see if the train or bus is bursting with bodies or checking how long the queue is at the coffee shop. Technology is exploring new ways to improve urban living and conditions.

Digitally enabled modern urban spaces connect varying forms of technology, such as IoT, electronics, voice-movement activation and sensors to collect information for improved real-time responses and actions. When actual occupancy, capacity and presence detection information are available to businesses and citizens, endless city congestion issues can be solved. We address traffic management using autonomous vehicles connected to smart roads to save time and energy. Intelligent data and information response platforms act as a multi-orchestrator that provide an overlay solution and adapt to immediate needs by optimally controlling multiple resources, including cloud, networks, devices and applications.

Updated forms of digital twin computing are going one step further by enabling interaction between models, recombining to perform more precise, high-precision simulations of the real world. Smart cities will gain better urban design through highly detailed virtual replicas that accurately mimic local environmental conditions with complex data and information variables. It’s becoming possible to model a simple object or process or even a complex, sophisticated system that connects multiple things working together across a broader ecosystem. Beyond the clear end-user experience benefits, the real value of this type of virtual reality mapping is the insights into potential future city design and process improvements or predictive modeling that considers the beneficial yet elusive ‘what if’ scenario.

This integrated approach to gathering past, present and predictive data to anticipate patterns and outcomes is entirely transferable across industries, giving the manufacturing, transportation and healthcare sectors an upper hand in improving operations, processes and experiences.

Solve the energy crisis with zero environmental impact networks

Networks, platforms and systems across multiple physical and virtual locations: SaaS applications and devices at the edge produce thousands of pieces of data requiring space and energy. There’s a seemingly never-ending need for more bandwidth and speeds, putting growing pressure on energy grids. The rate at which that growth is happening is evident by how we talked in terabytes, then petabytes and by today, zettabytes.

Extending beyond the environmental regulations and sustainability indices that help us determine IT’s green footprint, many of us know that a fundamental change is needed to relieve the burden on the environment. Some influential members of the technology industry are working together to pilot an energy-efficient network that would effectively connect zero environmental harm with economic growth. It’s still early, but based on global, open architecture and optical transmission, this kind of network will improve equity and access for an energy-efficient digital society.

Collaborative efforts are underway to create new transmission laws for vast volumes of data across a massively globalized interconnected network. Its infrastructure uses ultra-high capacity, ultra-low latency and ultra-low power consumption that steps away from relying on heat-heavy electronics and moves towards photonics. In addition, new platforms will connect, manage and control data, and combine the real world with the digital to create service applications.

SEE: Hiring kit: Data scientist ( TechRepublic Premium)

Zero environmental impact networks lay the groundwork for a future that relies on larger-scale technologies, enormous computing resources and faster real-time information processing.

Prepare better for future upheavals with higher-tech, more connected and resilient infrastructure

We’re facing an increasingly complex, disruptive and uncertain future. A connected and resilient infrastructure is at the core of navigating the shocks and strains of change. Those industries and organizations that adopt more interconnected networks and systems with next-generation technologies, such as AI, 5G and software-defined platforms, will prove more resilient and effectively support the inevitable, continuous reliance on digital.

Drawing on the learnings of the past two years, today’s CIOs are thinking outside of the enterprise IT box to better understand and provide the best end-user experience possible, regardless of external forces and disruptions. IT leaders who focus on meeting the growing demand for more intelligent, enriching experiences attuned to people’s personal and professional needs are ahead of the game.

One way to better prepare for uninterrupted and enhanced customer, employee and digital experiences is to examine current IT systems and determine if it provides the necessary resilient foundation. In an ideal world, aka the holy grail of IT, you’d approach your organization’s technology by starting with the end-user experience framework and build it from there, but this doesn’t always happen.

IT leaders typically inherit disconnected networks, which can be limiting, yet beginning your examination here provides an opportunity to identify bandwidth gaps, update legacy systems and add-on extended capabilities, automate processes, and drive new efficiencies and better resiliency. Much of this process involves bringing together disparate and siloed legacy systems using improved, more advanced types of connectivity curated for business-critical applications that provide new levels of network redundancy.

Increasingly, new transformative technology fully integrates into existing IT and IoT infrastructure. Emerging styles of hybrid cellular and wireless capability are meeting multiple business needs. For example, more advanced networks can prioritize security and provide useful levers and pathways to access faster speeds with a range of latencies and support millions of IoT-enabled devices in an operating environment. Building an onramp to digitalization offers a valuable solution to improving predicted performance and scalability when it’s needed the most, and it also creates more consistent and enhanced digital experiences.

As the world challenges mount, new digital technologies that were once viewed as nice to have are today considered critical to driving positive change across business, cities and the environment.

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

Simon Walsh is Chief Executive Officer of NTT Ltd. Americas. Simon is responsible for the leadership of all resources and the successful execution of customer success, sales, delivery, operations and profitability for the region.

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problems in the world that can be solved by technology

Can technology solve our big problems?

Five tech solutions to global problems

As humans, we live with the fact that while we are capable of building advanced societies and achieving incredible things, we are far from perfect. As the dominant species on the planet we have solved a lot of problems, but often in ways that have resulted in the creation of more. 

From environmental damage to food shortages, inequalities in access to healthcare and education, and the ever-growing spread of misinformation and propaganda, it is clear we have a long way to go, and perhaps little time left to get there.

Yet I believe that while human progress and domination of the planet might have caused or exacerbated many of these problems, our capacity for innovation offers our best hope of salvation.

Building a better world will require more than just technology. It will also need human will, creativity, and a commitment to acting ethically. If we can manage all of that, developing the technology should be the easy part. With that caveat in mind, then, here are five of the most pressing challenges that I believe are within our power to solve, and the tools that could help us get it done. 

1. The global energy crisis

Rising demands for energy, diminishing fossil fuels, and the impact of our energy use on the environment have created a situation where global repercussions are swiftly spiralling out of control .

New ways of harnessing wind, solar and tidal energy have led to a revolution in the way we use renewables. Globally, the amount of renewable energy generated increased from less than 50 gigawatts per year to over 2,800 gigawatts during the first two decades of this century.

Technology has also driven advancements in the development of nuclear fusion, small-scale nuclear fission (SMRs – small modular reactors) and hydrogen energy . While full-scale deployment of some of these is still a way off, recent breakthroughs offer exciting possibilities for how we will power the planet in the future.

The intermittent nature of renewable energy means that we’ve also had to become more proficient at creating batteries, leading to storage and distribution systems that offer greater capacity and reduced charging times. Smart technology has also been implemented across power grids, enabling better management of electricity distribution, increasing efficiency and resilience.

It’s true that the world is still heavily reliant on energy generated by fossil fuels, but through a combination of the solutions mentioned here, that dependence is gradually being broken down.

2. Famine and food scarcity

Population growth, the impact of climate change , war and economic disparity mean our food supply and security are increasingly under threat. We already see the effects of this, in famines in developing countries and rising inflation around the world.

Technology solutions here include many innovations designed to increase yield, minimise waste, and drive more efficient use of resources. These involve precision farming – which leverages data-driven technologies including internet-of-things (IoT) sensors, artificial intelligence and GPS to let farmers better manage agriculture while also reducing their environmental footprint and water use. Simply reducing the amount of water used to grow crops can have a huge beneficial impact in areas where droughts are an everyday fact of life.

Building a better world will require more than just technology

The past decade has also seen the emergence of autonomous farming machinery, driving more efficient production and reducing the need for labour-intensive tasks. Vertical farming and hydroponic solutions allow crops to be cultivated in indoor environments, reducing the wastage caused by pests, disease and adverse weather.

When it comes to meat production, cultured meat – produced in laboratories from animal cells – promises to offer a viable source of mass-produced protein that can address the environmental and ethical concerns around livestock farming. And gene-editing technology, including CRISPR , can create more pest-resistant crops that hold more nutritional value, need fewer chemicals, and grow more happily in harsh environments.

3. Access to healthcare

Stark disparities between access to medical services exist both within countries and between nations, and many areas are facing a dangerous shortage of trained medical professionals. Demographic, economic and geographic factors all play their part in this. Technology is helping to address these issues in a number of ways.

AI makes it possible to quickly and accurately analyse complex medical data, potentially reducing the time spent by doctors examining patients and medical records in order to diagnose illness and prescribe treatment.

It helps with tracking the spread of viruses and pandemics, so preventative measures can be put in place in order to reduce the risk of healthcare systems becoming overburdened. It is also used to find the most efficient formulas and predict side-effects in drug discovery, significantly reducing the time it takes for new medicines to be developed and put to use.

The lack of medical professionals – a particular problem in remote, rural areas, such as parts of China – can be alleviated thanks to developments in the field of remote and telemedicine. Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) has many applications , both in the delivery of treatment to remote patients, and in the training of new healthcare professionals in order to fill the shortage. 3D printing is allowing localised production of medical tools and equipment. At the same time, people are becoming better able to monitor and look after their own health, thanks to mobile apps and wearables.

4. Education inequality

Despite millions of people living in developing countries being lifted out of poverty in recent decades, the reality of universal access to education has not been achieved. Barriers including geography, skills shortages, and cultural norms still prevent many children around the world from receiving an adequate standard of education. This has numerous knock-on effects including hindering social and economic development.

My hope is that modern communication technology can be used for good

These issues disproportionately affect women, disabled people, and those living in remote and under-served areas, increasing the marginalisation of those groups. Initiatives aimed at widening internet access in remote areas provide a solution. As well as connecting schools and colleges in remote areas, it allows for study at home in places where girls might be restricted from attending classes due to local cultures.

Edtech solutions such as online learning platforms, VR and AR technologies and AI teachers – capable of offering an “adaptive” education, automatically personalised to the needs of an individual learner – can all help to tackle this issue. And students with disabilities can benefit from advances in accessibility technologies such as text-to-speech and voice recognition, enabled by advances in generative AI.

5. Disinformation and political manipulation

Digital communication technologies and innovations like the internet and social media give everyone a voice and an audience. But they have also amplified the spread of disinformation and are a potent weapon for those wishing to disrupt democratic processes or push their own agendas.

With the emergence of generative AI technologies , the spreading of lies and disinformation can take place faster than ever before. It also takes more sophisticated forms, such as deepfakes and voice cloning. Given the fact this technology is only likely to become more convincing, you could be forgiven for wondering how we are ever going to know if anything we see is genuine in the near future.

I believe that the solutions to these problems lie in the democratising effects of these same technologies. Social networks can be used to organise and mobilise against the threats. A better-connected and better-informed population will make smarter choices, and have more tools at their disposal to resist the tide of disinformation and propaganda.

To assist with this we have technology that can counter deepfakes by detecting algorithmically-generated content. We also have human solutions such as fact-checkers and educational resources, that leverage the power of technology to increase their reach and accessibility.

Overall my belief, or perhaps, hope, is that the capacity of modern communication technology to be used for good – by bringing people together – ultimately outweighs the potential for harm.

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5. tech causes more problems than it solves.

A number of respondents to this canvassing about the likely future of social and civic innovation shared concerns. Some said that technology causes more problems than it solves. Some said it is likely that emerging worries over the impact of digital life will be at least somewhat mitigated as humans adapt. Some said it is possible that any remedies may create a new set of challenges. Others said humans’ uses and abuses of digital technologies are causing societal harms that are not likely to be overcome.

The following comments were selected from among all responses, regardless of an expert’s answer to this canvassing’s main question about the impact of people’s uses of technology. Some of these remarks of concern happen to also include comments about innovations that may emerge. Concerns are organized under four subthemes: Something is rotten in the state of technology; technology use often disconnects or hollows out a community; society needs to catch up and better address the threats and opportunities of tech; and despite current trends, there is reason to hope for better days.

The chapter begins with some overview insights:

Larry Masinter , internet pioneer, formerly with Adobe, AT&T Labs and Xerox PARC, who helped create internet and web standards with IETF and W3C, said, “Technology and social innovation intended to overcome the negatives of the digital age will likely cause additional negative consequences. Examples include: the decentralized web, end-to-end encryption, AI and machine learning, social media.”

James Mickens , associate professor of computer science at Harvard University, formerly with Microsoft, commented, “Technology will obviously result in ‘civic innovation.’ The real question is whether the ‘innovation’ will result in better societal outcomes. For example, the gig economy is enabled by technology; technology finds buyers for workers and their services. However, given the choice between an economy with many gig workers and an economy with an equivalent number of traditional middle-class jobs, I think that most people would prefer the latter.”

Michael Aisenberg , chair, ABA Information Security Committee, wrote, “Misappreciation of limits and genesis of, e.g., AI/machine learning will produce widely disparate results in deployment of tech innovations. Some will be dramatically beneficial; some may enable abuse of law enforcement, economic systems and other fundamental civic institutions and lead to exacerbation of gaps between tech controllers/users and underserved/under- or mis-skilled populations (‘digital divide’) in what may be a significant (embed limitations on career/economic advancement) or even life-threatening (de facto health care or health procedure rationing) manner.”

The problem is that we are becoming more and more dependent on machines and hence more susceptible to bugs and system failures. Yaakov J. Stein

Peter Lunenfeld , a professor of design, media arts and digital humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of “Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine,” predicted, “We will use technology to solve the problems the use of technology creates, but the new fixes will bring new issues. Every design solution creates a new design problem, and so it is with the ways we have built our global networks. Highly technological societies have to be iterative if they hope to compete, and I think that societies that have experienced democracy will move to curb the slide to authoritarianism that social media has accelerated. Those curbs will bring about their own unintended consequences, however, which will start the cycle anew.”

Yaakov J. Stein , chief technology officer of RAD Data Communications, based in Israel, responded, “The problem with AI and machine learning is not the sci-fi scenario of AI taking over the world and not needing inferior humans. The problem is that we are becoming more and more dependent on machines and hence more susceptible to bugs and system failures. This is hardly a new phenomenon – once a major part of schooling was devoted to, e.g., penmanship and mental arithmetic, which have been superseded by technical means. But with the tremendous growth in the amount of information, education is more focused on how to retrieve required information rather than remembering things, resulting not only in less actual storage but less depth of knowledge and the lack of ability to make connections between disparate bits of information, which is the basis of creativity. However, in the past humankind has always developed a more-advanced technology to overcome limitations of whatever technology was current, and there is no reason to believe that it will be different this time.”

A vice president for research and economic development wrote, “The problems we see now are caused by technology, and any new technological fixes we create will inevitably cause NEW social and political problems. Attempts to police the web will cause freedom of speech conflicts, for example.”

Something is rotten in the state of technology

A large share of these experts say among the leading concerns about today’s technology platforms are the ways in which they are exploited by bad actors who spread misinformation; and the privacy issues arising out of the business model behind the systems.

Misinformation – pervasive, potent, problematic

Numerous experts described misinformation and fake news as a serious issue in digital spaces. They expressed concern over how users will sort through fact and fiction in the coming decade.

Stephanie Fierman , partner, Futureproof Strategies, said, “I believe technology will meaningfully accelerate social and civic innovation. It’s cheap, fast and able to reach huge audiences. But as long as false information is enabled by very large websites, such social and civic innovators will be shadow boxing with people, governments, organizations purposely countering truthful content with lies.”

Sam Lehman-Wilzig , a professor of communications at Bar-Ilan University specializing in Israeli politics and the impact of technological evolution, wrote, “The biggest advance will be the use of artificial intelligence to fight disinformation, deepfakes and the like. There will be an AI ‘arms race’ between those spreading disinformation and those fighting/preventing it. Overall, I see the latter gaining the upper hand.”

Greg Shatan , a lawyer with Moses & Singer LLP and self-described “internet governance wonk,” predicted, “I see success, enabled by technology, as likely. I think it will take technology to make technology more useful and more meaningful. Many of us pride ourselves on having a ‘BS-meter,’ where we believe we can tell honestly delivered information from fake news and disinformation. The instinctual BS-meter is not enough. The next version of the ‘BS-meter’ will need to be technologically based. The tricks of misinformation have far outstripped the ability of people to reliably tell whether they are receiving BS or not – not to mention that it requires a constant state of vigilance that’s exhausting to maintain. I think that the ability and usefulness of the web to enable positive grassroots civic communication will be harnessed, moving beyond mailing lists and fairly static one-way websites. Could there be ‘Slack for Community Self-Governance?’ If not that platform, perhaps something new and aimed specifically at these tasks and needs.”

Oscar Gandy , a professor emeritus of communication at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “Corporate actors will make use of technology to weaken the possibility for improvements in social and civic relationships. I am particularly concerned about the use of technology in the communications realm in order to increase the power of strategic or manipulative communications to shape the engagement of members of the public with key actors within a variety of governance relationships.”

An expert in the ethics of autonomous systems based in Europe responded, “Fake news is more and more used to manipulate a person’s opinion. This war of information is becoming so important that it can influence democracy and the opinion of people before the vote in an election for instance. Some AI tools can be developed to automatically recognize fake news, but such tools can be used in turn in the same manner to enhance the belief in some false information.”

A research leader for a U.S. federal agency wrote, “At this point in time, I don’t know how we will reduce the spread of misinformation (unknowing/individual-level) and disinformation (nefarious/group-level), but I hope that we can.”

A retired information science professional commented, “Dream on, if you think that you can equate positive change with everybody yelling and those with the most clout (i.e., power and money) using their power to see their agendas succeed. Minority views will always be that, a minority. At present and in the near future the elites manipulate and control.”

A research scientist for a major technology company whose expertise is technology design said, “We have already begun to see increased protections around personal privacy. At present, it is less clear how we might avoid the deliberate misuse of news or news-like content to manipulate political opinions or outcomes, but this does not seem impossible. The trick will be avoiding government censorship and maintaining a rich, vigorous exchange of opinions.”

Privacy issues will continue to be a hot button topic

Multiple experts see a growing need for privacy to be addressed in online spaces.

Ayden Férdeline , technology policy fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, responded, “Imagine if everyone on our planet was naked, without any clear options for obtaining privacy technology (clothing). It would not make sense to ask people what they’d pay or trade to get this technology. This is a ‘build it and they will come’ kind of scenario. We’re now on the verge, as a society, of appropriately recognizing the need to respect privacy in our Web 2.0 world, and we are designing tools and rules accordingly. Back in 1992, had you asked people if they’d want a free and open internet, or a graphical browser with a walled garden of content, most would have said they prefer AOL. What society needed was not AOL but something different. We are in a similar situation now with privacy; we’re finally starting to grasp its necessity and importance.”

We’re now on the verge, as a society, of appropriately recognizing the need to respect privacy in our Web 2.0 world, and we are designing tools and rules accordingly. Ayden Férdeline

Graham Norris , a business psychologist with expertise in the future of work, said, “Privacy no longer exists, and yet the concept of privacy still dominates social-policy debates. The real issue is autonomy of the individual. I should own my digital identity, the online expression of myself, not the corporations and governments that collect my interactions in order to channel my behaviour. Approaches to questions of ownership of digital identity cannot shift until the realization occurs that autonomy is the central question, not privacy. Nothing currently visible suggests that shift will take place.”

Eduardo Villanueva-Mansilla , an associate professor of communications at Pontificia Universidad Catolica, Peru, and editor of the Journal of Community Informatics, wrote, “I’m trying to be optimistic, by leaving some room to innovative initiatives from civic society actors. However, I don’t see this as necessarily happening; the pressure from global firms will probably too much to deal with.”

An international policy adviser on the internet and development based in Africa commented, “Technology is creating and will continue to evolve and increase the impact of social and civic innovation. With technology we will see new accountability tools and platforms to raise voices to counter societal ills, be it in leadership, business and other faculties. We must however be careful so that these innovations themselves are not used to negatively impact end users, such issues like privacy and use of data must be taken on in a way that users are protected and not exposed to cybercrime and data breaches that so often occur now.”

Jamie Grady , a business leader, wrote, “As technology companies become more scrutinized by the media and government, changes – particularly in privacy rights – will change. People will learn of these changes through social media as they do now.”

Technology use often disconnects or hollows out community

Some respondents commented on rising problems with a loss of community and the need for more-organic, in-person, human-to-human connection and the impact of digital distancing.

Jonathan Grudin , principal researcher at Microsoft, commented, “Social and civic activity will continue to change in response to technology use, but will it change its trajectory? Realignments following the Industrial Revolution resulted from the formation of new face-to-face communities, including union chapters, community service groups such as Rotary Club and League of Women Voters, church groups, bridge clubs, bowling leagues and so on. Our species is designed to thrive in modest-sized collocated communities, where everyone plays a valued part. Most primates become vulnerable and anxious when not surrounded by their band or troop. Digital media are eroding a sense of community everywhere we look. Can our fundamental human need for close community be restored or will we become more isolated, anxious and susceptible to manipulation?”

Rebecca Theobald , an assistant research professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, said, “Technology seems to be driving people apart, which would lead to fewer connections in society.”

The program director of a university-based informatics institute said, “There is still a widening gap between rural and urban as well as digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ As well, the ability to interact in a forum in which all members of society have a voice is diminishing as those with technology move faster in the digital forums than the non-tech segment of the population that use non-digital discourse (interpersonal). The idea of social fabric in a neighborhood and neighborly interactions is diminishing. Most people want innovation – it is the speed of change that creates divisions.”

An infrastructure architect and internet pioneer wrote, “The kind of social innovation required to resolve the problems caused by our current technologies relies on a movement back toward individual responsibility and a specific willingness to engage in community. As both of these work against the aims of the corporate and political elite as they exist today, there is little likelihood these kinds of social innovations are going to take place. The family and church, for instance, which must be the core institutions in any rebuilding of a culture that can teach the kind of personal responsibility required, were both hollowed out in the last few decades. The remaining outward structures are being destroyed. There is little hope either families or churches will recover without a major societal event of some sort, and it will likely take at least one generation for them to rebuild. The church could take on the task of helping rebuild families, but it is too captured in attempts to grow ever larger, and consume or ape our strongly individualistic culture, rather than standing against it.”

Angela Campbell , a professor of law and co-director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University, responded, “I think there will be efforts to address the social and civic impacts of technology but they may not be sufficient. In particular, I am concerned about the impact of overuse or over-reliance on technology with respect to children and teens. I am concerned about the safety of children online, not just from predators but from peers (bullying). Overuse may also contribute to physical maladies such as obesity, bad posture, eye problems, ADHD, insufficient sleep and even addiction. While technology can help to educate older children (not preschoolers who need to interact with humans and objects), it needs to be selected [and] used carefully and should not subject children to commercialism or invade their privacy. My other major concerns are job loss and discrimination. It seems inevitable that many jobs will be eliminated by technology, and while technologies may generate new jobs, I suspect there will be fewer jobs, and those that remain will require certain skills. It will be important, and difficult, to ensure that everyone is able to have employment and to make enough to live at a reasonable level. As competition for jobs increases, I am also worried about how big data allows hidden discrimination in education, health and employment.”

A researcher based in North America predicted a reining in of the digital in favor of the personal: “Between email and phones, I think we’re close to peak screen time, a waste of time, and it’s ruining our eyes. Just as we have forsaken our landlines, stopped writing letters, don’t answer our cellphones, a concept of an average daily digital budget will develop, just as we have a concept of average daily caloric intake. We’ll have warning labels that rate content against recommended daily allowances of different types of content that have been tested to be good for our mental health and socialization, moderately good, bad, and awful – the bacon of digital media. And people who engage too much will be in rehab, denied child custody and unemployable. Communities, residences and vacation areas will promote digital-free, mindfulness zones – just as they have quiet cars on the train.”

Society needs to catch up and better address the threats and opportunities of tech

Some of these experts said that the accelerating technological change of the digital age is making it difficult for humans to keep up and respond to emerging challenges.

A chair of political science based in the American South commented, “Technology always creates two new problems for every one it solves. At some point, humans’ cognitive and cooperative capacities – largely hard-wired into their brains by millennia of evolution – can’t keep up. Human technology probably overran human coping mechanisms sometime in the later 19th century. The rest is history.”

There is a gap between the rate at which technology develops and the rate at which society develops. We need to take care not to fall into that gap. Louisa Heinrich

Larry Rosen , a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, known as an international expert on the psychology of technology, wrote, “I would like to believe that we, as citizens, will aid in innovation. Smart people are already working on many social issues, but the problem is that while society is slow to move, tech moves at lightning speed. I worry that solutions will come after the tech has either been integrated or rejected.”

Louisa Heinrich , a futurist and consultant expert in data and the Internet of Things, said, “There is a gap between the rate at which technology develops and the rate at which society develops. We need to take care not to fall into that gap. I hope we will see a shift in governance toward framework-based regulation, which will help mitigate the gap between the pace of change in technology and that in government. At the very least, we need to understand the ways in which technology can extend or undermine the rules and guidelines we set for our businesses, workplaces, public spaces and interactions. To name just one common example, recruitment professionals routinely turn to Facebook as a source of information on prospective employees. This arguably violates a number of regulations designed to protect people from being denied work based on personal details not relevant to that work. How do we unravel this conundrum, bearing in mind that there will always be another social network, another digital source to mine for information about people? Taken from another angle, there is a significant gap between what users understand about certain bits of technology and the risks they take using them. How can we educate people about these risks in a way that encourages participation and co-creation, rather than passivity? As the so-called Gen Z comes of age, we will see a whole generation of young adults who are politically engaged at a level not seen in several generations, who are also native users of technology tools. This could bring about a positive revolution in the way technology is used to facilitate civic engagement and mutually empower and assist citizens and government. Technology provides us with powerful tools that can help us advance socially and civically, but these tools need to be thoughtfully and carefully put to use – when we encode barriers and biases into the applications that people need to use in daily life, whether intentionally or no, we may exclude whole segments of society from experiencing positive outcomes. We are living through a time of rapid and radical change – as always, the early stages feel uncomfortable and chaotic. But we can already see the same tools that have been used to mislead citizens being used to educate, organise, motivate and empower them. What’s needed is a collective desire to prioritise and incentivise this. New Zealand is leading the way with the world’s first ‘well-being’ budget.”

Bulbul Gupta , founding adviser at Socos Labs, a think tank designing artificial intelligence to maximize human potential, responded, “Until government policies, regulators, can keep up with the speed of technology and AI, there is an inherent imbalance of power between technology’s potential to contribute to social and civic innovation and its execution in being used this way. If technology and AI can make decisions about people in milliseconds that can prevent their full social or civic engagement, the incentive structures to be used toward mitigating the problems of the digital age cannot then be solved by technology.”

Gene Policinski , a journalist and First Amendment law expert at the Freedom Forum Institute, observed, “We forget how new the ‘tech revolution’ really is. As we move forward in the next decade, the public’s awareness of the possibilities inherent in social and civic innovation, the creativity of the tech world working with the public sector and public acceptance of new methods of participation in democratic processes will begin to drown out and eventually will surpass the initial problems and missteps.”

Gabriel Kahn , former bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, now a professor of journalism researching innovation economics in emerging media at the University of Southern California, wrote, “We are not facing a ‘Terminator’-like scenario. Nor are we facing a tech-driven social utopia. Humans are catching up and understanding the pernicious impact of technology and how to mitigate it.”

Kathee Brewer , director of content at CANN Media Group, predicted, “Much like society developed solutions to the challenges brought about by the Industrial Revolution, society will find solutions to the challenges of the Digital Revolution. Whether that will happen by 2030 is up for debate. Change occurs much more rapidly in the digital age than it did at the turn of the 20th century, and for society to solve its problems it must catch up to them first. AND people, including self-interested politicians, must be willing to change. Groups like the Mozilla Foundation already are working on solutions to invasions of privacy. That work will continue. The U.S. government probably won’t make any major changes to the digital elections framework until after the 2020 election, but changes will be made. Sadly, those changes probably will result from some nastiness that develops due to voters of all persuasions being unwilling to accept electoral results, whatever the results may be.”

Valerie Bock of VCB Consulting, former Technical Services Lead at Q2 Learning, responded, “I think our cultures are in the process of adapting to the power our technologies wield, and that we will have developed some communal wisdom around how to evaluate new ones. There are some challenges, but because ordinary citizens have become aware that images can be ‘photoshopped’ the awareness that video can be ‘deepfaked’ is more quickly spreading. Cultural norms as well as technologies will continue to evolve to help people to apply more informed critiques to the messages they are given.”

Bach Avezdjanov , a program officer with Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression project, said, “Technological development – being driven by the Silicon Valley theory of uncontrolled growth – will continue to outpace civic and social innovation. The latter needs to happen in tandem with technological innovation, but instead plays catch-up. This will not change in the future, unless political will to heavily regulate digital tools is introduced – an unlikely occurrence.”

A computing science professor emeritus from a top U.S. technological university commented, “Social/civic innovation will occur but most likely lag well behind technological innovation. For example, face-recognition technology will spread and be used by businesses at a faster pace than social and legal norms can develop to protect citizens from any negative effects of that technology. This technology will spread quickly, due to its various positives (increased efficiencies, conveniences and generation of profits in the marketplace) while its negatives will most likely not be countered effectively through thoughtful legislation. Past Supreme Court decisions (such as treating corporations as persons, WRT unlimited funding of political candidates, along with excessive privacy of PACs) have already undermined U.S. democracy. Current populist backlashes, against the corruption of the Trump government, may also undermine democracy, such as the proposed Elizabeth Warren tax, being not on profits, but upon passive wealth itself – a tax on non-revenue-producing illiquid assets (whose valuation is highly subjective), as in her statement to ‘tax the jewelry of the rich’ at 2% annually. Illiquid assets include great private libraries, great private collections of art, antiques, coins, etc. – constituting an assault on the private sector, that if successful, will weaken democracy by strengthening the confiscatory power of government. We could swing from current excesses of the right to future excesses of the left.”

Despite current trends, there is reason to hope for better days

Many of the experts in this canvassing see a complicated and difficult road ahead, but express hope for the future.

Cheryl B. Preston , an expert in internet law and professor at Brigham Young University Law School, said, “Innovation will bring risk. Change will bring pain. Learning will bring challenges. Potential profits will bring abuse. But, as was the decision of Eve in the Garden of Eden, we need to leave the comfortable to learn and improve. If we can, by more informed voting, reduce the corruption in governmental entities and control corporate abuse, we can overcome difficulties and advance as a society. These advances will ultimately bring improvement to individuals and families.”

John Carr , a leading global expert on young people’s use of digital technologies, a former vice president of MySpace, commented, “I know of no proof for the notion that more people simply knowing more stuff, even stuff that is certifiably factually accurate, will necessarily lead to better outcomes for societies. But I do harbour a hope that if, over time, we can establish the idea that there are places on the internet that are reliable sources of information, it will in the medium to longer term help enough people in enough countries to challenge local demagogues and liars, making it harder for the demagogues and liars to succeed, particularly in times of national crisis or in times when war might be on the visible horizon. I used to think that if the internet had been around another Hitler would be impossible. Recently I have had a wobble on that but my optimism ‘trumps’ that gloomy view.”

Mike Douglass , an independent developer, wrote, “There is a significant realization that a stampede to create connections between anonymous people and devices was a bad idea. It’s up to the technologists and – more importantly – those who want to make money out of technology – to come up with a more measured approach. There’s a reason why gentlemen obtained letter of introduction to other gentlemen – one shouldn’t trust some random individual turning up on your doorstep. We need the equivalent approach. I’ve no idea what new innovations might turn up. But if we don’t get the trust/privacy/security model right we’ll end up with more social media disasters.”

Hume Winzar , an associate professor and director of the business analytics undergraduate program at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, predicted, “With more hope than evidence, I’d like to think that reason will eventually overcome the extraordinary propaganda machines that are being built. When the educated upper-middle classes realise that the ‘system’ is no longer serving them, then legal and institutional changes will be necessary. That is, only when the managers who are driving the propaganda machine(s) start to feel that they, personally, are losing privacy, autonomy, money and their children’s future, then they will need to undermine the efforts of corporate owners and government bureaucrats and officials.”

Carolyn Heinrich , a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, said, “My hope (not belief) is that the ‘techlash’ will help to spur social and civic innovations that can combat the negative effects of our digitization of society. Oftentimes, I think the technology developers create their products with one ideal in mind of how they will be used, overlooking that technology can be adapted and used in unintended and harmful ways. We have found this in our study of educational technology in schools. The developers of digital tools envision them as being used in classrooms in ‘blended’ ways with live instructors who work with the students to help customize instruction to their needs. Unfortunately, more often than not, we have seen the digital tools used as substitutes for higher-quality, live instruction and have observed how that contributes to student disengagement from learning. We have also found some of the content lacking in cultural relevance and responsiveness. If left unchecked, this could be harmful for far larger numbers of students exposed to these digital instructional programs in all 50 states. But if we can spur vendors to improve the content, those improvements can also extend to large numbers of students. We have our work cut out for us!”

In the field I follow, artificial intelligence, the numbers of professionals who take seriously the problems that arise as a consequence of this technology are reassuring. Pamela McCorduck

Heywood Sloane , entrepreneur and banking and securities consultant, wrote, “I’m hopeful the it will be a positive contributor. It has the ability to alter the way we relate to our environment in ways that shrink the distances between people and help us exercise control over our personal and social spaces. We are making substantial progress, and 5G technology will accelerate that. On the flip side, we need to find mechanisms and processes to protect our data and ourselves. They need to be strong, economic and simple to deploy and use. That is going to be a challenge.”

Pamela McCorduck , writer, consultant and author of several books, including “Machines Who Think,” commented, “I am heartened by the number of organizations that have formed to enhance social and civic organization through technology. In the field I follow, artificial intelligence, the numbers of professionals who take seriously the problems that arise as a consequence of this technology are reassuring. Will they all succeed? Of course not. We will not get it right the first time. But eventually, I hope.”

Yoshihiko Nakamura , a professor of mechno-informatics at the University of Tokyo, observed, “The current information and communication technology loses diversity because it is still insufficient to enhance the affectivity or emotion side of societies. In this sense I can see the negative side of current technology to human society. However, I have a hope that we can invent uses of technology to enhance the weaker side and develop tomorrow’s technology. The focus should be on the education of society in the liberal arts.”

Ryan Sweeney , director of analytics at Ignite Social Media, commented, “In order to survive as a functioning society, we need social and civic innovation to match our use of technology. Jobs and job requirements are changing as a result of technology. Automation is increasing across a multitude of industries. Identifying how we protect citizens from these changes and help them adapt will be instrumental in building happiness and well-being.”

Miles Fidelman , founder, Center for Civic Networking and principal Protocol Technologies Group, responded, “We can see clear evidence that the internet is enabling new connections, across traditional boundaries – for the flow of information, culture and commerce. It is strengthening some traditional institutions (e.g., ties between geographically distributed family members) and weakening others (e.g., the press). Perhaps the most notable innovation is that of ad hoc, network-centric organizations – be they global project teams, or crisis response efforts. How much of this innovation will make things better, how much it will hurt us, remains an open question.”

A technology developer active in IETF said, “I hope mechanisms will evolve to exploit the advantages of new tech and mitigate the problems. I want to be optimistic, but I am far from confident.”

A renowned professor of sociology known for her research into online communications and digital literacies observed, “New groups expose the error of false equivalence and continue to challenge humans to evolve into our pre-frontal cortex. I guess I am optimistic because the downside is pretty terrible to imagine. It’s like E.O. Wilson said: ‘The real problem of humanity is the following: We have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.’”

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Table of contents, around the world, people who trust others are more supportive of international cooperation, two-thirds of u.s. adults say they’ve seen their own news sources report facts meant to favor one side, in views of u.s. democracy, widening partisan divides over freedom to peacefully protest, experts predict more digital innovation by 2030 aimed at enhancing democracy, the state of americans’ trust in each other amid the covid-19 pandemic, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

The World’s Biggest Problems Are Interconnected. Here’s How We Can Solve Them This Decade

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

T wo decades ago, people around the world rang in the new millennium with a growing sense of optimism. The threat posed by the Cold War was fading slowly in the rearview mirror. Leading thinkers like Francis Fukuyama touted the benefits of globalization , saying it would bring democracy and prosperity to the developing world. The nascent Internet economy promised to bring us closer together.

The following 20 years took some of the air out of the assumption of steady progress, but when future historians assess the 21st century, the year 2020 is likely to serve as the point at which the optimism bubble burst. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed a complex web of interlocking problems that have morphed into full-blown crises. The coronavirus laid bare the dangers of endemic poverty not only in the developing world but also in rich countries like the U.S., where millions lack health care and are one paycheck away from living on the street. Around the world, racial and ethnic minorities have demanded justice after centuries of structural discrimination. Woven through it all, the earth’s climate is increasingly unstable, posing an existential threat to human society as we know it. In the next decade, societies will be forced to either confront this snarl of challenges, or be overwhelmed by them. Our response will define the future for decades to come.

The recognition that these challenges are fundamentally linked isn’t new. Activists and academics have for many years pointed to the cascading effects of various social ills. Whether it’s the way racism contributes to poor health outcomes or gender discrimination harms economic growth , the examples are seemingly endless. But this understanding has made its way into the conversation about solutions too.

Notably, for the past five years, the U.N. has touted 17 interrelated sustainable development goals, objectives for building a more viable world, and called for a push to achieve them by 2030. The goals, which cover environmental, social and economic progress, are nonbinding but have become key benchmarks for commitments at a national and corporate level. Countries from China to the Maldives, as well as companies like Amazon , Microsoft and PwC, have committed to rolling out policies over the next decade that will set them on a path to eliminate their carbon footprints.

The understanding that these problems require holistic solutions has only grown amid the pandemic and its fallout. President Joe Biden has referred to four urgent crises—the pandemic, the economic crisis, racial injustice and climate change—and promised a push to tackle them all together. The European Union’s program to propel the bloc out of the COVID-19 crisis targets climate change, while incorporating equity concerns. As stock markets soared last year, institutions with trillions of dollars in assets demanded that their investments deliver not only a good return for their wallets but also a good return for society.

All these developments and many more have created new opportunities for bold ideas . These new ways of thinking will come from government leaders, to be sure, but also from activists, entrepreneurs and academics. Here, our eight inaugural members of the 2030 committee offer their own specific solutions—and in them, perhaps, the seeds of 21st century optimism.

This appears in the February 1, 2021 issue of TIME.

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problems in the world that can be solved by technology

10 Experts on the Biggest Problems Tech Needs to Solve

U201cwhat is one problem you would use technology to fixu201d with technology playing a key role in advancing our world today, here are 10 experts’ responses on the biggest problems tech needs to solve..


By Milan Shetti, CEO Rocket Software

In the past year, we have experienced a global pandemic, social justice trials, political reforms and much more. As business leaders, we are usually concerned with finding solutions to answer our companies’ specific problems. We often don’t take a minute to look at the bigger picture of how we can aid today’s biggest global challenges through digital technology. At Rocket Software, we are led by our core values of empathy, humanity, trust, and love. These values guide us in trying to make the world a better place through technology.

On our podcast, Digital: Disrupted , we host a wide range of tech professionals every week. A question we like to ask each guest is, “What is one problem you would use technology to fix?” With technology playing a key role in advancing our world today, here are 10 experts’ responses on the biggest problems tech needs to solve.

Andrew Winston, Winston Eco-Strategies

Problem: Misinformation

Andrew is the co-author of Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take and the founder of Winston Eco-Strategies where he advises companies on managing today’s mega-trends. Winston says a problem he wishes tech could solve is the misinformation caused by technology.

“Misinformation is making all of today’s problems worse and we are at a time in history where we need to come together like never before.”

Bob Friday, Mist

Problem: Connectivity

Bob is an entrepreneur focused on developing wireless technologies and is currently the VP and CTO of Mist, a Juniper Company. Friday says a problem he wishes tech could change is connectivity.

“The more people that know about each other, the better off they are.”

Shirish Nadkarni, Serial Entrepreneur and Author

Problem: Climate change

Shirish started his career at Microsoft where he engineered the acquisition of Hotmail and launched MSN.com and has since created and sold multiple consumer businesses that have scaled to tens of millions of users worldwide. Most recently, he wrote the book, Startup to Exit – An Insider’s Guide to Launching and Scaling Your Tech Business . Nadkarni says a problem he wishes tech could solve is climate change.

“I did not think that climate change would happen in my lifetime, but it already is, and I believe with technology we can make advancements before it’s too late.”

Gary Chan, Alfizo

Problem: Healthcare

Gary runs Alfizo, a consultancy company helping businesses build and transform their information security programs. Chan says a problem he wishes tech could solve is healthcare. “I wish technology would be able to scan someone to find and fix their problem. I think that would be pretty cool.”

Dr. David  A. Bishop, Agile Worx

Problem: Hunger

David is a technology consultant and researcher who has worked with companies such as AT&T, Delta Airlines and Toshiba. He is also an author and the creator of agile vortex theory, the subject of his book Metagility: Managing Agile Development for Competitive Advantage . Bishop says a problem he wishes tech could solve is hunger.

“Hunger, while it seems like a very simple thing off the cuff…it has such a great impact long-term on communities.” 

Ed Skoudis, SANS Technology

Problem: Feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation

Ed is the founder of Counter Hack, an information security consulting firm, and the president of the SANS Technology Institute where he developed their penetration testing curriculum. Skoudis says a problem he wishes tech could solve is the feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation.

“I would love digital technology to be leveraged to limit the depression people are facing and turn it around.”

Josh Linkner, University of Michigan

Problem: Racial Injustice

Josh has founded and sold five tech companies and authored four bestselling books including his most recent, Big Little Breakthroughs . Linkner says a problem he wishes tech could solve is aiding in help of restoring the environment.

“I’d love to use technology to help solve issues like racial injustice and hunger. We have a long way to go, but I am an optimist and think that while technology will not solve all of these issues in one swoop, technology will certainly be able to aid in the solving of the most difficult and pesky problems.”

Camille Eddy, Open Tech Pledge

Problem: Misunderstanding of other cultures

Camille is the senior product engineer at the startup Sector and the co-founder of the Open Tech Pledge. Eddy says a problem she wishes tech could solve is misunderstanding other cultures.

“Not understanding other people gets in the way of innovation. I think if we could use technology to find a way to understand each other a little bit faster and easier that would be great.”

Tom Sweet, GM Financial

Problem: Privacy

Tom is the VP of Cloud Services at GM Financial, where he inspires colleagues to start a career in IT based on his own career journey. Sweet says a problem he wishes tech could solve is the lack of privacy.

“I think we are losing our privacy in a lot of different areas, and it is always at the top of my mind.”

Bill Miller, Beelinebill Enterprises

Problem: Cancer

Bill is an executive advisor and consultant, speaker, author, mentor, and coach who helps small and medium company CEOs and leaders who need a partner to guide them through overwhelming times and issues and get desired outcomes. Miller says an issue he wishes technology could fix is cancer.

“In the year of a pandemic and vaccines, I would love to see technology create a vaccine that cures cancer.”

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Robotics @ MIT

Search form, what we can solve.

MIT’s inaugural Solve conference opened with a splash on Monday, as a diverse group of technologists, entrepreneurs, and experts hailed the importance of addressing our most urgent global problems.

“At MIT, we want to do good for the world,” President L. Rafael Reif said in his opening remarks at the event’s convocation, adding that the Institute has a “culture of real-world problem-solving.”

“With Solve, we want to accelerate positive change,” Reif emphasized.

The Solve conference is a multidisciplinary four-day event examining major challenges in health care, energy, the environment, food and water supply, education, civil infrastructure, and the economy, with attendees from over 30 countries.

Reif was followed on stage at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium by Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of MIT Technology Review , which has helped organize the event. As Pontin observed, the kinds of problems being discussed at Solve are currently matters of well-being and resources, but could worsen significantly by mid-century, given that the world’s population might rise from 7 billion people today to around 9.6 billion in 2050, according to some estimates.

“Our systems are already stressed,” Pontin said, adding: “If we wait too long, some of these problems will not be solvable at all.” For instance, the onrushing presence of climate change, he observed, may well worsen our food and water supply by radically changing the conditions in which current agricultural practices work.

Still, as Pontin noted, “there is a case for optimism” when it comes to addressing global issues. After all, he pointed out, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty globally has dropped from 35 percent in 1993 to 11 percent in 2011.

One high point of Monday’s convocation was a video message of support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African anti-apartheid campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

“People working together make the impossible possible,” Tutu said. Urging conference attendees to be socially engaged and work to solve problems, Tutu emphasized: “The only crushing failure will be if you do not try.”

“If you can’t do this at MIT, where in the world can it get done?”

The Solve conference is organized around four main themes: Cure, Fuel, Learn, and Make. These relate to the general areas of health care; energy, environment, and food and water supply; global education; and advances in infrastructure, manufacturing, and innovation. The four main themes are ongoing concerns of MIT researchers, and many of the Institute’s faculty will speak at specific panels relating to these themes this week. Solve runs through Thursday, Oct. 8.

Solve’s keynote address on Monday was presented by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Sachs said that addressing the world’s major issues represented “not hubris [but] a matter of basic decency.” And he underscored the progress that has been made on issues once regarded as insoluble: “We’re within reach of ending extreme poverty on this planet,” Sachs said.

Sachs also detailed how Solve’s agenda overlaps with a set of 17 new sustainable development goals the United Nations unveiled in September. Broadly viewed, Sachs said, those goals consist of ending extreme poverty; decarbonizing our energy system; creating sustainable food and agricultural systems; bringing smart infrastructure into cities; developing sustainable industrial production; providing universal access to health care and education; promoting job skills and employment; and enhancing social inclusion.

Sachs also encouraged conference participants to take action on these issues, asking: “If you can’t do this at MIT, where in the world can it get done?”

The Monday convocation also featured a wide-ranging panel discussion on health care and two panels on the issue of universal Internet access. The health care panel, moderated by MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield, included policy experts and industry leaders, and examined the foundations of research advances in medicine as well as the economics of providing care globally.

Indeed, one panelist noted, health care issues look very different depending on one’s perspective. Worldwide, about 3 billion people lack basic access to health care; while 17 percent of U.S. gross domestic product goes to health care spending, no more than 1 percent of India’s GDP is spent on health care.

And access for all

The speakers on the Internet access panels were introduced by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, who observed that global connectivity is increasingly important in education, work, and other facets of civil society.

“I think connectivity will become a human right,” Negroponte said.

Among the six speakers on those panels, electrical engineer Lawrence Roberts detailed the ways in which MIT researchers were instrumental in the development of the Internet, while Josette Sheeran, a former director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, explained how Internet access could “empower people on the ground” and help the organization deliver supplies more efficiently.

Yael Maguire of Facebook gave a talk on the company’s efforts to provide global Internet coverage via a series of solar-powered planes, which could extend connectivity to all parts of the world. “We want to connect every single person on the planet,” he said.

Rich Devault of X Labs — a division of Google’s new umbrella company, Alphabet — explained how Google is trying to do the same thing using balloon technology. Proving that the initial concept was worth exploring, he emphasized, had only cost a few thousand dollars — suggesting that ingenuity and a determination to get results can lead to progress on broader problems.

“It’s this kind of hands-on attitude of going out and solving problems that’s absolutely essential to tackling the connectivity problem,” Devault said.

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Enhanced geothermal systems

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It’s getting devilishly hard to make transistors smaller—the trend that defines Moore’s Law and has driven progress in computing for decades. Engineers must now find new ways to make computers faster and more efficient. Chiplets are small, specialized chips that can be linked together to do everything a conventional chip does, and more.

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The world’s fastest supercomputers can now perform more than an exaflop’s worth of calculations (that’s a 1 followed by 18 zeros). New machines that can crunch scientific data at these speeds will enable scientists to perform more sophisticated simulations of the climate, nuclear fission, turbulence, and more.

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Twitter killers

Elon Musk bought the site now known as X in 2022, and virtually nothing about it has been the same since. He fired most of the staff and dispensed with content moderation, scaring off advertisers and users alike. Now, as alternatives like Bluesky, Threads, and others gain ground, the central town square has given way to private rooms.

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The 7 biggest problems facing science, according to 270 scientists

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"Science, I had come to learn, is as political, competitive, and fierce a career as you can find, full of the temptation to find easy paths." — Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and writer (1977–2015)

Science is in big trouble. Or so we’re told.

In the past several years, many scientists have become afflicted with a serious case of doubt — doubt in the very institution of science.

Explore the biggest challenges facing science, and how we can fix them:

  • Academia has a huge money problem
  • Too many studies are poorly designed
  • Replicating results is crucial — and rare
  • Peer review is broken
  • Too much science is locked behind paywalls
  • Science is poorly communicated
  • Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful


  • Science is not doomed

As reporters covering medicine, psychology, climate change, and other areas of research, we wanted to understand this epidemic of doubt. So we sent scientists a survey asking this simple question: If you could change one thing about how science works today, what would it be and why?

We heard back from 270 scientists all over the world, including graduate students, senior professors, laboratory heads, and Fields Medalists . They told us that, in a variety of ways, their careers are being hijacked by perverse incentives. The result is bad science.

The scientific process, in its ideal form, is elegant: Ask a question, set up an objective test, and get an answer. Repeat. Science is rarely practiced to that ideal. But Copernicus believed in that ideal. So did the rocket scientists behind the moon landing.

But nowadays, our respondents told us, the process is riddled with conflict. Scientists say they’re forced to prioritize self-preservation over pursuing the best questions and uncovering meaningful truths.

"I feel torn between asking questions that I know will lead to statistical significance and asking questions that matter," says Kathryn Bradshaw, a 27-year-old graduate student of counseling at the University of North Dakota.

Today, scientists' success often isn't measured by the quality of their questions or the rigor of their methods. It's instead measured by how much grant money they win, the number of studies they publish, and how they spin their findings to appeal to the public.

Scientists often learn more from studies that fail. But failed studies can mean career death. So instead, they’re incentivized to generate positive results they can publish. And the phrase "publish or perish" hangs over nearly every decision. It’s a nagging whisper, like a Jedi’s path to the dark side.

"Over time the most successful people will be those who can best exploit the system," Paul Smaldino, a cognitive science professor at University of California Merced, says.

To Smaldino, the selection pressures in science have favored less-than-ideal research: "As long as things like publication quantity, and publishing flashy results in fancy journals are incentivized, and people who can do that are rewarded … they’ll be successful, and pass on their successful methods to others."

Many scientists have had enough.  They want to break this cycle of perverse incentives and rewards. They are going through a period of introspection, hopeful that the end result will yield stronger scientific institutions . In our survey and interviews, they offered a wide variety of ideas for improving the scientific process and bringing it closer to its ideal form.

Before we jump in, some caveats to keep in mind: Our survey was not a scientific poll. For one, the respondents disproportionately hailed from the biomedical and social sciences and English-speaking communities.

Many of the responses did, however, vividly illustrate the challenges and perverse incentives that scientists across fields face. And they are a valuable starting point for a deeper look at dysfunction in science today.

The place to begin is right where the perverse incentives first start to creep in: the money.

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

(1) Academia has a huge money problem

To do most any kind of research, scientists need money: to run studies, to subsidize lab equipment, to pay their assistants and even their own salaries. Our respondents told us that getting — and sustaining — that funding is a perennial obstacle.

Their gripe isn’t just with the quantity, which, in many fields, is shrinking. It’s the way money is handed out that puts pressure on labs to publish a lot of papers, breeds conflicts of interest, and encourages scientists to overhype their work.

In the United States, academic researchers in the sciences generally cannot rely on university funding alone to pay for their salaries, assistants, and lab costs. Instead, they have to seek outside grants. "In many cases the expectations were and often still are that faculty should cover at least 75 percent of the salary on grants," writes John Chatham, a professor of medicine studying cardiovascular disease at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Grants also usually expire after three or so years, which pushes scientists away from long-term projects. Yet as John Pooley, a neurobiology postdoc at the University of Bristol, points out, the biggest discoveries usually take decades to uncover and are unlikely to occur under short-term funding schemes.

Outside grants are also in increasingly short supply. In the US, the largest source of funding is the federal government, and that pool of money has been plateauing for years, while young scientists enter the workforce at a faster rate than older scientists retire.

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

Take the National Institutes of Health, a major funding source. Its budget rose at a fast clip through the 1990s, stalled in the 2000s, and then dipped with sequestration budget cuts in 2013. All the while, rising costs for conducting science meant that each NIH dollar purchased less and less. Last year, Congress approved the biggest NIH spending hike in a decade . But it won’t erase the shortfall.

The consequences are striking: In 2000, more than 30 percent of NIH grant applications got approved. Today, it’s closer to 17 percent. "It's because of what's happened in the last 12 years that young scientists in particular are feeling such a squeeze," NIH Director Francis Collins said at the Milken Global Conference in May.

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

Truly novel research takes longer to produce, and it doesn’t always pay off. A National Bureau of Economic Research working paper found that, on the whole, truly unconventional papers tend to be less consistently cited in the literature. So scientists and funders increasingly shy away from them, preferring short-turnaround, safer papers. But everyone suffers from that: the NBER report found that novel papers also occasionally lead to big hits that inspire high-impact, follow-up studies.

"I think because you have to publish to keep your job and keep funding agencies happy, there are a lot of (mediocre) scientific papers out there ... with not much new science presented," writes Kaitlyn Suski, a chemistry and atmospheric science postdoc at Colorado State University.

Another worry: When independent, government, or university funding sources dry up, scientists may feel compelled to turn to industry or interest groups eager to generate studies to support their agendas.

Finally, all of this grant writing is a huge time suck, taking resources away from the actual scientific work. Tyler Josephson, an engineering graduate student at the University of Delaware, writes that many professors he knows spend 50 percent of their time writing grant proposals. "Imagine," he asks, "what they could do with more time to devote to teaching and research?"

It’s easy to see how these problems in funding kick off a vicious cycle. To be more competitive for grants, scientists have to have published work. To have published work, they need positive (i.e.,  statistically significant ) results. That puts pressure on scientists to pick "safe" topics that will yield a publishable conclusion — or, worse, may bias their research toward significant results.

"When funding and pay structures are stacked against academic scientists," writes Alison Bernstein, a neuroscience postdoc at Emory University, "these problems are all exacerbated."

Fixes for science's funding woes

Right now there are arguably too many researchers chasing too few grants. Or, as a 2014 piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences put it: "The current system is in perpetual disequilibrium, because it will inevitably generate an ever-increasing supply of scientists vying for a finite set of research resources and employment opportunities."

"As it stands, too much of the research funding is going to too few of the researchers," writes Gordon Pennycook, a PhD candidate in cognitive psychology at the University of Waterloo. "This creates a culture that rewards fast, sexy (and probably wrong) results."

One straightforward way to ameliorate these problems would be for governments to simply increase the amount of money available for science. (Or, more controversially, decrease the number of PhDs, but we’ll get to that later.) If Congress boosted funding for the NIH and National Science Foundation, that would take some of the competitive pressure off researchers.

But that only goes so far. Funding will always be finite, and researchers will never get blank checks to fund the risky science projects of their dreams. So other reforms will also prove necessary.

One suggestion: Bring more stability and predictability into the funding process. "The NIH and NSF budgets are subject to changing congressional whims that make it impossible for agencies (and researchers) to make long term plans and commitments," M. Paul Murphy, a neurobiology professor at the University of Kentucky, writes. "The obvious solution is to simply make [scientific funding] a stable program, with an annual rate of increase tied in some manner to inflation."

Another idea would be to change how grants are awarded: Foundations and agencies could fund specific people and labs for a period of time rather than individual project proposals. (The Howard Hughes Medical Institute already does this.) A system like this would give scientists greater freedom to take risks with their work.

Alternatively, researchers in the journal mBio recently called for a lottery-style system. Proposals would be measured on their merits, but then a computer would randomly choose which get funded.

"Although we recognize that some scientists will cringe at the thought of allocating funds by lottery," the authors of the mBio piece write, "the available evidence suggests that the system is already in essence a lottery without the benefits of being random." Pure randomness would at least reduce some of the perverse incentives at play in jockeying for money.

There are also some ideas out there to minimize conflicts of interest from industry funding. Recently, in PLOS Medicine , Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis suggested that pharmaceutical companies ought to pool the money they use to fund drug research, to be allocated to scientists who then have no exchange with industry during study design and execution. This way, scientists could still get funding for work crucial for drug approvals — but without the pressures that can skew results.

These solutions are by no means complete, and they may not make sense for every scientific discipline. The daily incentives facing biomedical scientists to bring new drugs to market are different from the incentives facing geologists trying to map out new rock layers. But based on our survey, funding appears to be at the root of many of the problems facing scientists, and it’s one that deserves more careful discussion.

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

(2) Too many studies are poorly designed. Blame bad incentives.

Scientists are ultimately judged by the research they publish. And the pressure to publish pushes scientists to come up with splashy results, of the sort that get them into prestigious journals. "Exciting, novel results are more publishable than other kinds," says Brian Nosek , who co-founded the Center for Open Science at the University of Virginia.

The problem here is that truly groundbreaking findings simply don’t occur very often, which means scientists face pressure to game their studies so they turn out to be a little more "revolutionary." (Caveat: Many of the respondents who focused on this particular issue hailed from the biomedical and social sciences.)

Some of this bias can creep into decisions that are made early on: choosing whether or not to randomize participants, including a control group for comparison, or controlling for certain confounding factors but not others. (Read more on study design particulars  here .)

Many of our survey respondents noted that perverse incentives can also push scientists to cut corners in how they analyze their data.

"I have incredible amounts of stress that maybe once I finish analyzing the data, it will not look significant enough for me to defend," writes Jess Kautz, a PhD student at the University of Arizona. "And if I get back mediocre results, there's going to be incredible pressure to present it as a good result so they can get me out the door. At this moment, with all this in my mind, it is making me wonder whether I could give an intellectually honest assessment of my own work."

Increasingly, meta-researchers (who conduct research on research) are realizing that scientists often do find little ways to hype up their own results — and they’re not always doing it consciously. Among the most famous examples is a technique called "p-hacking," in which researchers test their data against many hypotheses and only report those that have statistically significant results.

In a recent study , which tracked the misuse of p-values in biomedical journals, meta-researchers found "an epidemic" of statistical significance: 96 percent of the papers that included a p-value in their abstracts boasted statistically significant results.

That seems awfully suspicious. It suggests the biomedical community has been chasing statistical significance, potentially giving dubious results the appearance of validity through techniques like p-hacking — or simply suppressing important results that don't look significant enough. Fewer studies share effect sizes (which arguably gives a better indication of how meaningful a result might be) or discuss measures of uncertainty.

"The current system has done too much to reward results," says Joseph Hilgard, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center. "This causes a conflict of interest: The scientist is in charge of evaluating the hypothesis, but the scientist also desperately wants the hypothesis to be true."

The consequences are staggering. An estimated $200 billion — or the equivalent of 85 percent of global spending on research — is routinely wasted on poorly designed and redundant studies, according to meta-researchers who have analyzed inefficiencies in research. We know that as much as 30 percent of the most influential original medical research papers later turn out to be wrong or exaggerated.

Fixes for poor study design

Our respondents suggested that the two key ways to encourage stronger study design — and discourage positive results chasing — would involve rethinking the rewards system and building more transparency into the research process.

"I would make rewards based on the rigor of the research methods, rather than the outcome of the research," writes Simine Vazire, a journal editor and a social psychology professor at UC Davis. "Grants, publications, jobs, awards, and even media coverage should be based more on how good the study design and methods were, rather than whether the result was significant or surprising."

Likewise, Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers argues that researchers should get recognition for advancing science broadly through informal idea sharing — rather than only getting credit for what they publish.

"We’ve gotten used to working away in private and then producing a sort of polished document in the form of a journal article," Gowers said. "This tends to hide a lot of the thought process that went into making the discoveries. I'd like attitudes to change so people focus less on the race to be first to prove a particular theorem, or in science to make a particular discovery, and more on other ways of contributing to the furthering of the subject."

When it comes to published results, meanwhile, many of our respondents wanted to see more journals put a greater emphasis on rigorous methods and processes rather than splashy results.

"I think the one thing that would have the biggest impact is removing publication bias: judging papers by the quality of questions, quality of method, and soundness of analyses, but not on the results themselves," writes Michael Inzlicht , a University of Toronto psychology and neuroscience professor.

Some journals are already embracing this sort of research. PLOS One , for example, makes a point of accepting negative studies (in which a scientist conducts a careful experiment and finds nothing) for publication, as does the aptly named Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine .

More transparency would also help, writes Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. Here’s one example: ClinicalTrials.gov , a site run by the NIH, allows researchers to register their study design and methods ahead of time and then publicly record their progress. That makes it more difficult for scientists to hide experiments that didn’t produce the results they wanted. (The site now holds information for more than 180,000 studies in 180 countries.)

Similarly, the AllTrials campaign is pushing for every clinical trial (past, present, and future) around the world to be registered, with the full methods and results reported. Some drug companies and universities have created portals that allow researchers to access raw data from their trials.

The key is for this sort of transparency to become the norm rather than a laudable outlier.

(3) Replicating results is crucial. But scientists rarely do it.

Replication is another foundational concept in science. Researchers take an older study that they want to test and then try to reproduce it to see if the findings hold up.

Testing, validating, retesting — it's all part of a slow and grinding process to arrive at some semblance of scientific truth. But this doesn't happen as often as it should, our respondents said. Scientists face few incentives to engage in the slog of replication. And even when they attempt to replicate a study, they often find they can’t do so . Increasingly it’s being called a "crisis of irreproducibility."

The stats bear this out: A 2015 study looked at 83 highly cited studies that claimed to feature effective psychiatric treatments. Only 16 had ever been successfully replicated. Another 16 were contradicted by follow-up attempts, and 11 were found to have substantially smaller effects the second time around. Meanwhile, nearly half of the studies (40) had never been subject to replication at all.

More recently, a landmark study published in the journal Science demonstrated that only a fraction of recent findings in top psychology journals could be replicated. This is happening in other fields too, says Ivan Oransky, one of the founders of the blog Retraction Watch , which tracks scientific retractions.

As for the underlying causes, our survey respondents pointed to a couple of problems. First, scientists have very few incentives to even try replication. Jon-Patrick Allem, a social scientist at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, noted that funding agencies prefer to support projects that find new information instead of confirming old results.

Journals are also reluctant to publish replication studies unless "they contradict earlier findings or conclusions," Allem writes. The result is to discourage scientists from checking each other's work. "Novel information trumps stronger evidence, which sets the parameters for working scientists."

The second problem is that many studies can be difficult to replicate. Sometimes their methods are too opaque. Sometimes the original studies had too few participants to produce a replicable answer. And sometimes, as we saw in the previous section, the study is simply poorly designed or outright wrong.

Again, this goes back to incentives: When researchers have to publish frequently and chase positive results, there’s less time to conduct high-quality studies with well-articulated methods.

Fixes for underreplication

Scientists need more carrots to entice them to pursue replication in the first place. As it stands, researchers are encouraged to publish new and positive results and to allow negative results to linger in their laptops or file drawers.

This has plagued science with a problem called "publication bias" — not all studies that are conducted actually get published in journals, and the ones that do tend to have positive and dramatic conclusions.

If institutions started to reward tenure positions or make hires based on the quality of a researcher’s body of work, instead of quantity, this might encourage more replication and discourage positive results chasing.

"The key that needs to change is performance review," writes Christopher Wynder, a former assistant professor at McMaster University. "It affects reproducibility because there is little value in confirming another lab's results and trying to publish the findings."

The next step would be to make replication of studies easier. This could include more robust sharing of methods in published research papers. "It would be great to have stronger norms about being more detailed with the methods," says University of Virginia’s Brian Nosek.

He also suggested more regularly adding supplements at the end of papers that get into the procedural nitty-gritty, to help anyone wanting to repeat an experiment.  "If I can rapidly get up to speed, I have a much better chance of approximating the results," he said.

Nosek has detailed other potential fixes that might help with replication — all part of his work at the Center for Open Science .

A greater degree of transparency and data sharing would enable replications, said Stanford’s John Ioannidis. Too often, anyone trying to replicate a study must chase down the original investigators for details about how the experiment was conducted.

"It is better to do this in an organized fashion with buy-in from all leading investigators in a scientific discipline," he explained, "rather than have to try to find the investigator in each case and ask him or her in detective-work fashion about details, data, and methods that are otherwise unavailable."

Researchers could also make use of new tools , such as open source software that tracks every version of a data set, so that they can share their data more easily and have transparency built into their workflow.

Some of our respondents suggested that scientists engage in replication prior to publication. "Before you put an exploratory idea out in the literature and have people take the time to read it, you owe it to the field to try to replicate your own findings," says John Sakaluk, a social psychologist at the University of Victoria.

For example, he has argued, psychologists could conduct small experiments with a handful of participants to form ideas and generate hypotheses. But they would then need to conduct bigger experiments, with more participants, to replicate and confirm those hypotheses before releasing them into the world. "In doing so,"  Sakaluk says, "the rest of us can have more confidence that this is something we might want to [incorporate] into our own research."

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

(4) Peer review is broken

Peer review is meant to weed out junk science before it reaches publication. Yet over and over again in our survey, respondents told us this process fails. It was one of the parts of the scientific machinery to elicit the most rage among the researchers we heard from.

Normally, peer review works like this: A researcher submits an article for publication in a journal. If the journal accepts the article for review, it's sent off to peers in the same field for constructive criticism and eventual publication — or rejection. (The level of anonymity varies; some journals have double-blind reviews, while others have moved to triple-blind review, where the authors, editors, and reviewers don’t know who one another are.)

It sounds like a reasonable system. But numerous studies and systematic reviews have shown that peer review doesn’t reliably prevent poor-quality science from being published.

The process frequently fails to detect fraud or other problems with manuscripts, which isn't all that surprising when you consider researchers aren't paid or otherwise rewarded for the time they spend reviewing manuscripts. They do it out of a sense of duty — to contribute to their area of research and help advance science.

But this means it's not always easy to find the best people to peer-review manuscripts in their field, that harried researchers delay doing the work (leading to publication delays of up to two years), and that when they finally do sit down to peer-review an article they might be rushed and miss errors in studies.

"The issue is that most referees simply don't review papers carefully enough, which results in the publishing of incorrect papers, papers with gaps, and simply unreadable papers," says Joel Fish, an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. "This ends up being a large problem for younger researchers to enter the field, since that means they have to ask around to figure out which papers are solid and which are not."

That's not to mention the problem of peer review bullying. Since the default in the process is that editors and peer reviewers know who the authors are (but authors don’t know who the reviews are), biases against researchers or institutions can creep in, opening the opportunity for rude, rushed, and otherwise unhelpful comments. (Just check out the popular #SixWordPeerReview hashtag on Twitter).

These issues were not lost on our survey respondents, who said peer review amounts to a broken system, which punishes scientists and diminishes the quality of publications. They want to not only overhaul the peer review process but also change how it's conceptualized.

Fixes for peer review

On the question of editorial bias and transparency, our respondents were surprisingly divided. Several suggested that all journals should move toward double-blinded peer review, whereby reviewers can't see the names or affiliations of the person they're reviewing and publication authors don't know who reviewed them. The main goal here was to reduce bias.

"We know that scientists make biased decisions based on unconscious stereotyping," writes Pacific Northwest National Lab postdoc Timothy Duignan. "So rather than judging a paper by the gender, ethnicity, country, or institutional status of an author — which I believe happens a lot at the moment — it should be judged by its quality independent of those things."

Yet others thought that more transparency, rather than less, was the answer: "While we correctly advocate for the highest level of transparency in publishing, we still have most reviews that are blinded, and I cannot know who is reviewing me," writes Lamberto Manzoli, a professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Chieti, in Italy. "Too many times we see very low quality reviews, and we cannot understand whether it is a problem of scarce knowledge or conflict of interest."

Perhaps there is a middle ground. For example,  e Life , a new  open access journal that is rapidly rising in impact factor, runs a collaborative peer review process. Editors and peer reviewers work together on each submission to create a consolidated list of comments about a paper. The author can then reply to what the group saw as the most important issues, rather than facing the biases and whims of individual reviewers. (Oddly, this process is faster — eLife takes less time to accept papers than Nature or Cell.)

Still, those are mostly incremental fixes. Other respondents argued that we might need to radically rethink the entire process of peer review from the ground up.

"The current peer review process embraces a concept that a paper is final," says Nosek. "The review process is [a form of] certification, and that a paper is done." But science doesn't work that way. Science is an evolving process, and truth is provisional. So, Nosek said, science must "move away from the embrace of definitiveness of publication."

Some respondents wanted to think of peer review as more of a continuous process, in which studies are repeatedly and transparently updated and republished as new feedback changes them — much like Wikipedia entries. This would require some sort of expert crowdsourcing.

"The scientific publishing field — particularly in the biological sciences — acts like there is no internet," says Lakshmi Jayashankar, a senior scientific reviewer with the federal government. "The paper peer review takes forever, and this hurts the scientists who are trying to put their results quickly into the public domain."

One possible model already exists in mathematics and physics, where there is a long tradition of "pre-printing" articles. Studies are posted on an open website called  arXiv.org , often before being peer-reviewed and published in journals. There, the articles are sorted and commented on by a community of moderators, providing another chance to filter problems before they make it to peer review.

"Posting preprints would allow scientific crowdsourcing to increase the number of errors that are caught, since traditional peer-reviewers cannot be expected to be experts in every sub-discipline," writes Scott Hartman, a paleobiology PhD student at the University of Wisconsin.

And even after an article is published, researchers think the peer review process shouldn't stop. They want to see more "post-publication" peer review on the web, so that academics can critique and comment on articles after they've been published. Sites like PubPeer and F1000Research have already popped up to facilitate that kind of post-publication feedback.

"We do this a couple of times a year at conferences," writes Becky Clarkson, a geriatric medicine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. "We could do this every day on the internet."

The bottom line is that traditional peer review has never worked as well as we imagine it to — and it’s ripe for serious disruption.

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(5) Too much science is locked behind paywalls

After a study has been funded, conducted, and peer-reviewed, there's still the question of getting it out so that others can read and understand its results.

Over and over, our respondents expressed dissatisfaction with how scientific research gets disseminated. Too much is locked away in paywalled journals, difficult and costly to access, they said. Some respondents also criticized the publication process itself for being too slow, bogging down the pace of research.

On the access question, a number of scientists argued that academic research should be free for all to read. They chafed against the current model, in which for-profit publishers put journals behind pricey paywalls.

A single article in Science will set you back $30; a year-long subscription to Cell will cost $279. Elsevier publishes 2,000 journals that can cost up to $10,000 or $20,000 a year for a subscription.

Many US institutions pay those journal fees for their employees, but not all scientists (or other curious readers) are so lucky. In a recent issue of Science , journalist John Bohannon described the plight of a PhD candidate at a top university in Iran. He calculated that the student would have to spend $1,000 a week just to read the papers he needed.

As Michael Eisen, a biologist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Public Library of Science (or PLOS ) , put it , scientific journals are trying to hold on to the profits of the print era in the age of the internet.  Subscription prices have continued to climb, as a handful of big publishers (like Elsevier) have bought up more and more journals, creating mini knowledge fiefdoms.

"Large, publicly owned publishing companies make huge profits off of scientists by publishing our science and then selling it back to the university libraries at a massive profit (which primarily benefits stockholders)," Corina Logan, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Cambridge, noted. "It is not in the best interest of the society, the scientists, the public, or the research." (In 2014, Elsevier reported a profit margin of nearly 40 percent and revenues close to $3 billion.)

"It seems wrong to me that taxpayers pay for research at government labs and universities but do not usually have access to the results of these studies, since they are behind paywalls of peer-reviewed journals," added Melinda Simon, a postdoc microfluidics researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Fixes for closed science

Many of our respondents urged their peers to publish in open access journals (along the lines of PeerJ or PLOS Biology ). But there’s an inherent tension here. Career advancement can often depend on publishing in the most prestigious journals, like Science or Nature , which still have paywalls.

There's also the question of how best to finance a wholesale transition to open access. After all, journals can never be entirely free. Someone has to pay for the editorial staff, maintaining the website, and so on. Right now, open access journals typically charge fees to those submitting papers, putting the burden on scientists who are already struggling for funding.

One radical step would be to abolish for-profit publishers altogether and move toward a nonprofit model. "For journals I could imagine that scientific associations run those themselves," suggested Johannes Breuer, a postdoctoral researcher in media psychology at the University of Cologne. "If they go for online only, the costs for web hosting, copy-editing, and advertising (if needed) can be easily paid out of membership fees."

As a model, Cambridge’s Tim Gowers has launched an online mathematics journal called Discrete Analysis . The nonprofit venture is owned and published by a team of scholars, it has no publisher middlemen, and access will be completely free for all.

Until wholesale reform happens, however, many scientists are going a much simpler route: illegally pirating papers.

Bohannon reported that millions of researchers around the world now use Sci-Hub , a site set up by Alexandra Elbakyan, a Russia-based neuroscientist, that illegally hosts more than 50 million academic papers. "As a devout pirate," Elbakyan told us, "I think that copyright should be abolished."

One respondent had an even more radical suggestion: that we abolish the existing peer-reviewed journal system altogether and simply publish everything online as soon as it’s done.

"Research should be made available online immediately, and be judged by peers online rather than having to go through the whole formatting, submitting, reviewing, rewriting, reformatting, resubmitting, etc etc etc that can takes years," writes Bruno Dagnino, formerly of the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. "One format, one platform. Judge by the whole community, with no delays."

A few scientists have been taking steps in this direction. Rachel Harding, a genetic researcher at the University of Toronto, has set up a website called Lab Scribbles , where she publishes her lab notes on the structure of huntingtin proteins in real time, posting data as well as summaries of her breakthroughs and failures. The idea is to help share information with other researchers working on similar issues, so that labs can avoid needless overlap and learn from each other's mistakes.

Not everyone might agree with approaches this radical; critics worry that too much sharing might encourage scientific free riding. Still, the common theme in our survey was transparency. Science is currently too opaque, research too difficult to share. That needs to change.

(6) Science is poorly communicated to the public

"If I could change one thing about science, I would change the way it is communicated to the public by scientists, by journalists, and by celebrities," writes Clare Malone, a postdoctoral researcher in a cancer genetics lab at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

She wasn't alone. Quite a few respondents in our survey expressed frustration at how science gets relayed to the public. They were distressed by the fact that so many laypeople hold on to completely unscientific ideas or have a crude view of how science works.

fixing science 3

They have a point. Science journalism is often full of exaggerated, conflicting, or outright misleading claims. If you ever want to see a perfect example of this, check out "Kill or Cure," a site where Paul Battley meticulously documents all the times the Daily Mail reported that various items — from antacids to yogurt — either cause cancer, prevent cancer, or sometimes do both.

Sometimes bad stories are peddled by university press shops. In 2015, the University of Maryland issued a press release claiming that a single brand of chocolate milk could improve concussion recovery. It was an absurd case of science hype.

Indeed, one review in BMJ found that one-third of university press releases contained either exaggerated claims of causation (when the study itself only suggested correlation), unwarranted implications about animal studies for people, or unfounded health advice.

But not everyone blamed the media and publicists alone. Other respondents pointed out that scientists themselves often oversell their work, even if it's preliminary, because funding is competitive and everyone wants to portray their work as big and important and game-changing.

"You have this toxic dynamic where journalists and scientists enable each other in a way that massively inflates the certainty and generality of how scientific findings are communicated and the promises that are made to the public," writes Daniel Molden, an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University. "When these findings prove to be less certain and the promises are not realized, this just further erodes the respect that scientists get and further fuels scientists desire for appreciation."

Fixes for better science communication

Opinions differed on how to improve this sorry state of affairs — some pointed to the media, some to press offices, others to scientists themselves.

Plenty of our respondents wished that more science journalists would move away from hyping single studies. Instead, they said, reporters ought to put new research findings in context, and pay more attention to the rigor of a study's methodology than to the splashiness of the end results.

"On a given subject, there are often dozens of studies that examine the issue," writes Brian Stacy of the US Department of Agriculture. "It is very rare for a single study to conclusively resolve an important research question, but many times the results of a study are reported as if they do."

But it’s not just reporters who will need to shape up. The "toxic dynamic" of journalists, academic press offices, and scientists enabling one another to hype research can be tough to change, and many of our respondents pointed out that there were no easy fixes — though recognition was an important first step.

Some suggested the creation of credible referees that could rigorously distill the strengths and weaknesses of research. (Some variations of this are starting to pop up: The Genetic Expert News Service solicits outside experts to weigh in on big new studies in genetics and biotechnology.) Other respondents suggested that making research free to all might help tamp down media misrepresentations.

Still other respondents noted that scientists themselves should spend more time learning how to communicate with the public — a skill that tends to be under-rewarded in the current system.

"Being able to explain your work to a non-scientific audience is just as important as publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, in my opinion, but currently the incentive structure has no place for engaging the public," writes Crystal Steltenpohl, a graduate assistant at DePaul University.

Reducing the perverse incentives around scientific research itself could also help reduce overhype.  "If we reward research based on how noteworthy the results are, this will create pressure to exaggerate the results (through exploiting flexibility in data analysis, misrepresenting results, or outright fraud)," writes UC Davis's Simine Vazire. "We should reward research based on how rigorous the methods and design are."

Or perhaps we should focus on improving science literacy. Jeremy Johnson, a project coordinator at the Broad Institute, argued that bolstering science education could help ameliorate a lot of these problems. "Science literacy should be a top priority for our educational policy," he said, "not an elective."

(7) Life as a young academic is incredibly stressful

When we asked researchers what they’d fix about science, many talked about the scientific process itself, about study design or peer review. These responses often came from tenured scientists who loved their jobs but wanted to make the broader scientific project even better.

But on the flip side, we heard from a number of researchers — many of them graduate students or postdocs — who were genuinely passionate about research but found the day-to-day experience of being a scientist grueling and unrewarding. Their comments deserve a section of their own.

Today, many tenured scientists and research labs depend on small armies of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to perform their experiments and conduct data analysis.

These grad students and postdocs are often the primary authors on many studies. In a number of fields, such as the biomedical sciences, a postdoc position is a prerequisite before a researcher can get a faculty-level position at a university.

This entire system sits at the heart of modern-day science. (A new card game called Lab Wars pokes fun at these dynamics.)

But these low-level research jobs can be a grind. Postdocs typically work long hours and are relatively low-paid for their level of education — salaries are frequently pegged to stipends set by NIH National Research Service Award grants, which start at $43,692 and rise to $47,268 in year three.

Postdocs tend to be hired on for one to three years at a time, and in many institutions they are considered contractors, limiting their workplace protections. We heard repeatedly about extremely long hours and limited family leave benefits.

"Oftentimes this is problematic for individuals in their late 20s and early to mid-30s who have PhDs and who may be starting families while also balancing a demanding job that pays poorly," wrote one postdoc, who asked for anonymity.

This lack of flexibility tends to disproportionately affect women — especially women planning to have families — which helps contribute to gender inequalities in research. ( A 2012 paper found that female job applicants in academia are judged more harshly and are offered less money than males.) "There is very little support for female scientists and early-career scientists," noted another postdoc.

"There is very little long-term financial security in today's climate, very little assurance where the next paycheck will come from," wrote William Kenkel, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroendocrinology at Indiana University. "Since receiving my PhD in 2012, I left Chicago and moved to Boston for a post-doc, then in 2015 I left Boston for a second post-doc in Indiana. In a year or two, I will move again for a faculty job, and that's if I'm lucky. Imagine trying to build a life like that."

This strain can also adversely affect the research that young scientists do. "Contracts are too short term," noted another researcher. "It discourages rigorous research as it is difficult to obtain enough results for a paper (and hence progress) in two to three years. The constant stress drives otherwise talented and intelligent people out of science also."

Because universities produce so many PhDs but have way fewer faculty jobs available, many of these postdoc researchers have limited career prospects. Some of them end up staying stuck in postdoc positions for five or 10 years or more.

"In the biomedical sciences," wrote the first postdoc quoted above, "each available faculty position receives applications from hundreds or thousands of applicants, putting immense pressure on postdocs to publish frequently and in high impact journals to be competitive enough to attain those positions."

Many young researchers pointed out that PhD programs do fairly little to train people for careers outside of academia. "Too many [PhD] students are graduating for a limited number of professor positions with minimal training for careers outside of academic research," noted Don Gibson, a PhD candidate studying plant genetics at UC Davis.

Laura Weingartner, a graduate researcher in evolutionary ecology at Indiana University, agreed: "Few universities (specifically the faculty advisors) know how to train students for anything other than academia, which leaves many students hopeless when, inevitably, there are no jobs in academia for them."

Add it up and it's not surprising that we heard plenty of comments about anxiety and depression among both graduate students and postdocs. "There is a high level of depression among PhD students," writes Gibson. "Long hours, limited career prospects, and low wages contribute to this emotion."

A 2015 study at the University of California Berkeley found that 47 percent of PhD students surveyed could be considered depressed. The reasons for this are complex and can't be solved overnight. Pursuing academic research is already an arduous, anxiety-ridden task that's bound to take a toll on mental health.

But as Jennifer Walker explored recently at Quartz, many PhD students also feel isolated and unsupported, exacerbating those issues.

Fixes to keep young scientists in science

We heard plenty of concrete suggestions. Graduate schools could offer more generous family leave policies and child care for graduate students. They could also increase the number of female applicants they accept in order to balance out the gender disparity.

But some respondents also noted that workplace issues for grad students and postdocs were inseparable from some of the fundamental issues facing science that we discussed earlier. The fact that university faculty and research labs face immense pressure to publish — but have limited funding — makes it highly attractive to rely on low-paid postdocs.

"There is little incentive for universities to create jobs for their graduates or to cap the number of PhDs that are produced," writes Weingartner. "Young researchers are highly trained but relatively inexpensive sources of labor for faculty."

Some respondents also pointed to the mismatch between the number of PhDs produced each year and the number of academic jobs available.

A recent feature by Julie Gould in Nature explored a number of ideas for revamping the PhD system. One idea is to split the PhD into two programs: one for vocational careers and one for academic careers. The former would better train and equip graduates to find jobs outside academia.

This is hardly an exhaustive list. The core point underlying all these suggestions, however, was that universities and research labs need to do a better job of supporting the next generation of researchers. Indeed, that's arguably just as important as addressing problems with the scientific process itself. Young scientists, after all, are by definition the future of science.

Weingartner concluded with a sentiment we saw all too frequently: "Many creative, hard-working, and/or underrepresented scientists are edged out of science because of these issues. Not every student or university will have all of these unfortunate experiences, but they’re pretty common. There are a lot of young, disillusioned scientists out there now who are expecting to leave research."

Science needs to correct its greatest weaknesses

Science is not doomed.

For better or worse, it still works. Look no further than the novel vaccines to prevent Ebola, the discovery of gravitational waves , or new treatments for stubborn diseases. And it’s getting better in many ways. See the work of meta -researchers who study and evaluate research — a field that has gained prominence over the past 20 years.

More from this feature

We asked hundreds of scientists what they’d change about science. Here are 33 of our favorite responses.

But science is conducted by fallible humans, and it hasn’t been human-proofed to protect against all our foibles. The scientific revolution began just 500 years ago. Only over the past 100 has science become professionalized. There is still room to figure out how best to remove biases and align incentives.

To that end, here are some broad suggestions:

One: Science has to acknowledge and address its money problem. Science is enormously valuable and deserves ample funding. But the way incentives are set up can distort research.

Right now, small studies with bold results that can be quickly turned around and published in journals are disproportionately rewarded. By contrast, there are fewer incentives to conduct research that tackles important questions with robustly designed studies over long periods of time. Solving this won’t be easy, but it is at the root of many of the issues discussed above.

Two: Science needs to celebrate and reward failure. Accepting that we can learn more from dead ends in research and studies that failed would alleviate the "publish or perish" cycle. It would make scientists more confident in designing robust tests and not just convenient ones, in sharing their data and explaining their failed tests to peers, and in using those null results to form the basis of a career (instead of chasing those all-too-rare breakthroughs).

Three: Science has to be more transparent. Scientists need to publish the methods and findings more fully, and share their raw data in ways that are easily accessible and digestible for those who may want to reanalyze or replicate their findings.

There will always be waste and mediocre research, but as Stanford’s Ioannidis explains in a recent paper , a lack of transparency creates excess waste and diminishes the usefulness of too much research.

Again and again, we also heard from researchers, particularly in social sciences, who felt that their cognitive biases in their own work, influenced by pressures to publish and advance their careers, caused science to go off the rails. If more human-proofing and de-biasing were built into the process — through stronger peer review, cleaner and more consistent funding, and more transparency and data sharing — some of these biases could be mitigated.

These fixes will take time, grinding along incrementally — much like the scientific process itself. But the gains humans have made so far using even imperfect scientific methods would have been unimaginable 500 years ago. The gains from improving the process could prove just as staggering, if not more so.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Noah Grand's title. At the time of the survey he was a lecturer in sociology at UCLA, not a professor.

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Science leads the response to COVID-19. These 25 scientists are tackling the other global challenges

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Introducing the Class of 2020 Young Scientists Image:  Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

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Martha chahary.

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Stay up to date:.

  • Scientists have maximum visibility in the COVID-19 response, while proposing solutions to other global challenges, from climate change to cybersecurity, poverty to pandemics, and food technologies to fracking.
  • The World Economic Forum created the Young Scientists Community in 2008, to engage leaders with science and the role it plays in society. The class of 2020 represents 25 researchers at the forefront of scientific discovery from 14 countries across the world.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted science’s vital role in society. Science will provide us with an “exit strategy” from the pandemic when a vaccine is finally developed but until then, scientists are helping to understand the origins of the virus, how it spreads, what treatment(s) are most effective and indeed if a cure is possible.

Scientists have maximum visibility right now as different groups of people turn to them looking for answers. COVID-19 aside, science proposes solutions to the myriad of other global challenges facing society, from climate change to cybersecurity, poverty to pandemics, and food technologies to fracking.

Have you read?

Here’s how ‘science diplomacy’ can help us contain covid-19, bill gates explains how the world can use science to tackle the crisis.

That’s part of the reason why the World Economic Forum created the Young Scientists Community in 2008, to engage leaders with science and the role it plays in society. Science is no longer a specialist concern. It is the driving force behind the highest-level decisions on global governance and policy-making, while also informing the individual choices people make about how they want to live and what changes they want to make.

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Today we announce our Class of 2020 Young Scientists, representing 25 exceptional researchers at the forefront of scientific discovery from 14 countries across the world.

From chemical oceanography to child psychology and artificial intelligence, these brilliant young academics are joining a community whose aims are to:

  • Communicate cutting-edge research and position science discourse within the context of scientific evidence.
  • Develop leadership skills and a fuller understanding of global, regional and industry agendas.
  • Build a diverse global community of next-generation scientific leaders, committed to engaging in collaborations related to collectively identified issues.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community , which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

Since its launch on 11 March, the Forum’s COVID Action Platform has brought together 1,667 stakeholders from 1,106 businesses and organizations to mitigate the risk and impact of the unprecedented global health emergency that is COVID-19.

The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

By joining Forum events, engaging in personal and professional learning modules and sharing experiences with each other, we’re looking forward to working with the Class of 2020 Young Scientists to help leaders from the public and private sector engage more meaningfully with science and in doing so, help these amazing young researchers become stronger ambassadors for science.

Here are the World Economic Forum’s Young Scientists of 2020:

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From Africa:

Sarah Fawcett (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Sarah researches the role of ocean chemistry and biology in climate, as well as the impacts of human activities on marine environments.

Salome Maswime (University of Cape Town, South Africa, South African): Salome seeks to understand surgical health systems and causes of maternal death during caesarean section in poorly resourced areas to improve surgical care across populations.

From the Americas:

Gao Wei ( California Institute of Technology, USA, Chinese): Gao Wei develops skin-interfaced wearable biosensors that will enable analytics through sweat rather than blood, leading to non-invasive and real-time analysis and timely medical intervention.

Francisca Garay (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Francisca is studying what are the most basic building blocks of the universe by developing technologies to accelerate and enhance the capabilities of particle accelerators.

Diego Garcia-Huidobro (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile, Chilean): Diego uses human-centred design methods to develop sustainable and scalable community-level health interventions in Chile.

Jennifer Ronholm (McGill University, Canada, Canadian): Jennifer is working to strengthen the microbiome of agricultural animals to resist infections in the absence of antibiotics, with the aim of reducing the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Stefanie Sydlik (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, American): Stefanie designs new materials that stimulate the body's healing response to enable the regeneration of natural bone as an alternative to metal implants currently used to heal bone injuries.

Fatma Zeynep Temel (Carnegie Mellon University, USA, Turkish): Fatma uses mathematical models and physical prototypes to test and explore biologically inspired designs, leading to the development of small-scale robots and sensors

Lee Sue-Hyun (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea, Korean): Sue-Hyun researches how memories are recalled and updated, and how emotional processes affect human memory, to inform therapeutic interventions for mental disorders.

Meng Ke (Tsinghua University, China, Chinese): Meng Ke seeks to understand the socio-economic causes of population ageing and declining fertility rates to suggest what public policy measures and innovations can be used to address them.

Shi Ling (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, China, Chinese): Shi Ling researches the vulnerability of cyber-physical systems to protect safety-critical infrastructures – such as power utilities and water transportation systems – from attacks.

Sho Tsuji (University of Tokyo, Japan, Japanese): Sho Tsuji seeks to understand how an infant’s social environment affects language acquisition – a key predictor of future literacy – to inform culturally sensitive, science-based, societal interventions.

Wu Dan (Zhejiang University, China, Chinese): Wu Dan is researching technological advances in MRI techniques to improve its ability to detect tumours and stroke, as well as monitor foetal brain development.

Yi Li (Peking University, China, Chinese): Yi Li researches social-communicative impairments in children with autism in China to develop more precise screening and diagnosis, as well as innovative treatment approaches in the country.

Ying Xu (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, Chinese): Ying Xu’s research focuses on enhancing China's low-orbit Beidou navigation satellite system, which could lead to advances in the commercial aerospace industry

From Europe:

Celeste Carruth (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, American): Celeste is developing a new 2D ion trap experiment for quantum information processing that is expected to be more reliable and cheaper to scale up than competing technologies and aims to lead to breakthrough quantum computing results.

Nicola Gasparini (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Italian): Nicola is developing novel technologies to treat severe and incurable vision problems caused by degeneration of the retina, which affects almost 200 million people worldwide.

Joe Grove (University College London, United Kingdom, British): Joe investigates how viruses enter human cells and evade the immune system to reveal new biology and inform the design of future vaccines.

Philip Moll (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland, German): Philip is developing new methods to make micro-scale modifications to material structures with the potential to improve quantum computing.

Mine Orlu (University College London, United Kingdom, British): Mine is designing patient-tailored pharmaceutical and healthcare technologies that contribute to healthy and independent ageing across the life course.

Michael Saliba (University of Stuttgart, Germany, German): Michael is developing inexpensive, stable and highly efficient perovskite solar cells that will enable the acceleration of sustainable energy technology.

Andy Tay (Imperial College London, United Kingdom, Singaporean): Andy is developing new technology and materials to engineer immune cells, tissues and systems, with the aim of preventing and treating cancer.

Jan Dirk Wegner (ETH Zurich, Switzerland, German): Jan develops novel artificial intelligence methods to analyse large-scale environmental data and accelerate humanity’s ability to solve ecological problems

From the Middle East:

Joseph Costantine (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Joseph’s research leverages electromagnetism to design a new generation of wireless communication systems, biomedical sensors and wirelessly powered devices through radio frequency energy harvesting.

Joanna Doummar (American University of Beirut, Lebanon, Lebanese): Joanna seeks to better understand complex underground drainage systems, known as karst aquifers, to better address and solve national water quality and quantity challenges.

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A.I.’s Original Sin

A times investigation found that tech giants altered their own rules to train their newest artificial intelligence systems..

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.

From “The New York Times,” I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”


Today, a “Times” investigation shows how as the country’s biggest technology companies race to build powerful new artificial intelligence systems, they bent and broke the rules from the start.

My colleague Cade Metz on what he uncovered.

It’s Tuesday, April 16th.

Cade, when we think about all the artificial intelligence products released over the past couple of years, including, of course, these chatbots we’ve talked a lot about on the show, we so frequently talk about their future their future capabilities, their influence on society, jobs, our lives. But you recently decided to go back in time to AI’s past, to its origins to understand the decisions that were made, basically, at the birth of this technology. So why did you decide to do that?

Because if you’re thinking about the future of these chatbots, that is defined by their past. The thing you have to realize is that these chatbots learn their skills by analyzing enormous amounts of digital data.

So what my colleagues and I wanted to do with our investigation was really focus on that effort to gather more data. We wanted to look at the type of data these companies were collecting, how they were gathering it, and how they were feeding it into their systems.

And when you all undertake this line of reporting, what do you end up finding?

We found that three major players in this race OpenAI, Google, and Meta as they were locked into this competition to develop better and better artificial intelligence, they were willing to do almost anything to get their hands on this data, including ignoring, and in some cases, violating corporate rules and wading into a legal gray area as they gathered this data.

Basically, cutting corners.

Cutting corners left and right.

OK, let’s start with OpenAI, the flashiest player of all.

The most interesting thing we’ve found, is that in late 2021, as OpenAI, the startup in San Francisco that built ChatGPT, as they were pulling together the fundamental technology that would power that chatbot, they ran out of data, essentially.

They had used just about all the respectable English language text on the internet to build this system. And just let that sink in for a bit.

I mean, I’m trying to let that sink in. They basically, like a Pac-Man on a old game, just consumed almost all the English words on the internet, which is kind of unfathomable.

Wikipedia articles by the thousands, news articles, Reddit threads, digital books by the millions. We’re talking about hundreds of billions, even trillions of words.

So by the end of 2021, OpenAI had no more English language texts that they could feed into these systems, but their ambitions are such that they wanted even more.

So here, we should remember that if you’re gathering up all the English language text on the internet, a large portion of that is going to be copyrighted.

So if you’re one of these companies gathering data at that scale, you are absolutely gathering copyrighted data, as well.

Which suggests that, from the very beginning, these companies, a company like OpenAI with ChatGPT, is starting to break, bend the rules.

Yes, they are determined to build this technology thus they are willing to venture into what is a legal gray area.

So given that, what does OpenAI do once it, as you had said, runs out of English language words to mop up and feed into this system?

So they get together, and they say, all right, so what are other options here? And they say, well, what about all the audio and video on the internet? We could transcribe all the audio and video, turn it into text, and feed that into their systems.


So a small team at OpenAI, which included its president and co-founder Greg Brockman, built a speech-recognition technology called Whisper, which could transcribe audio files into text with high accuracy.

And then they gathered up all sorts of audio files, from across the internet, including audio books, podcasts —

— and most importantly, YouTube videos.

Hmm, of which there’s a seemingly endless supply, right? Fair to say maybe tens of millions of videos.

According to my reporting, we’re talking about at least 1,000,000 hours of YouTube videos were scraped off of that video sharing site, fed into this speech recognition system in order to produce new text for training OpenAI’s chatbot. And YouTube’s terms of service do not allow a company like OpenAI to do this. YouTube, which is owned by Google, explicitly says you are not allowed to, in internet parlance, scrape videos en masse from across YouTube and use those videos to build a new application.

That is exactly what OpenAI did. According to my reporting, employees at the company knew that it broke YouTube terms of service, but they resolved to do it anyway.

So, Cade, this makes me want to understand what’s going on over at Google, which as we have talked about in the past on the show, is itself, thinking about and developing its own artificial intelligence model and product.

Well, as OpenAI scrapes up all these YouTube videos and starts to use them to build their chatbot, according to my reporting, some employees at Google, at the very least, are aware that this is happening.

Yes, now when we went to the company about this, a Google spokesman said it did not know that OpenAI was scraping YouTube content and said the company takes legal action over this kind of thing when there’s a clear reason to do so. But according to my reporting, at least some Google employees turned a blind eye to OpenAI’s activities because Google was also using YouTube content to train its AI.

So if they raise a stink about what OpenAI is doing, they end up shining a spotlight on themselves. And they don’t want to do that.

I guess I want to understand what Google’s relationship is to YouTube. Because of course, Google owns YouTube. So what is it allowed or not allowed to do when it comes to feeding YouTube data into Google’s AI models?

It’s an important distinction. Because Google owns YouTube, it defines what can be done with that data. And Google argues that it has a right to that data, that its terms of service allow it to use that data. However, because of that copyright issue, because the copyright to those videos belong to you and I, lawyers who I’ve spoken to say, people could take Google to court and try to determine whether or not those terms of service really allow Google to do this. There’s another legal gray area here where, although Google argues that it’s OK, others may argue it’s not.

Of course, what makes this all so interesting is, you essentially have one tech company Google, keeping another tech company OpenAI’s dirty little secret about basically stealing from YouTube because it doesn’t want people to know that it too is taking from YouTube. And so these companies are essentially enabling each other as they simultaneously seem to be bending or breaking the rules.

What this shows is that there is this belief, and it has been there for years within these companies, among their researchers, that they have a right to this data because they’re on a larger mission to build a technology that they believe will transform the world.

And if you really want to understand this attitude, you can look at our reporting from inside Meta.

And so what does Meta end up doing, according to your reporting?

Well, like Google and other companies, Meta had to scramble to build artificial intelligence that could compete with OpenAI. Mark Zuckerberg is calling engineers and executives at all hours pushing them to acquire this data that is needed to improve the chatbot.

And at one point, my colleagues and I got hold of recordings of these Meta executives and engineers discussing this problem. How they could get their hands on more data where they should try to find it? And they explored all sorts of options.

They talked about licensing books, one by one, at $10 a pop and feeding those into the model.

They even discussed acquiring the book publisher Simon & Schuster and feeding its entire library into their AI model. But ultimately, they decided all that was just too cumbersome, too time consuming, and on the recordings of these meetings, you can hear executives talk about how they were willing to run roughshod over copyright law and ignore the legal concerns and go ahead and scrape the internet and feed this stuff into their models.

They acknowledged that they might be sued over this. But they talked about how OpenAI had done this before them. That they, Meta were just following what they saw as a market precedent.

Interesting, so they go from having conversations like, should we buy a publisher that has tons of copyrighted material suggesting that they’re very conscious of the kind of legal terrain and what’s right and what’s wrong. And instead say, nah, let’s just follow the OpenAI model, that blueprint and just do what we want to do, do what we think we have a right to do, which is to kind of just gobble up all this material across the internet.

It’s a snapshot of that Silicon Valley attitude that we talked about. Because they believe they are building this transformative technology, because they are in this intensely competitive situation where money and power is at stake, they are willing to go there.

But what that means is that there is, at the birth of this technology, a kind of original sin that can’t really be erased.

It can’t be erased, and people are beginning to notice. And they are beginning to sue these companies over it. These companies have to have this copyrighted data to build their systems. It is fundamental to their creation. If a lawsuit bars them from using that copyrighted data, that could bring down this technology.

We’ll be right back.

So Cade, walk us through these lawsuits that are being filed against these AI companies based on the decisions they made early on to use technology as they did and the chances that it could result in these companies not being able to get the data they so desperately say they need.

These suits are coming from a wide range of places. They’re coming from computer programmers who are concerned that their computer programs have been fed into these systems. They’re coming from book authors who have seen their books being used. They’re coming from publishing companies. They’re coming from news corporations like, “The New York Times,” incidentally, which has filed a lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft.

News organizations that are concerned over their news articles being used to build these systems.

And here, I think it’s important to say as a matter of transparency, Cade, that your reporting is separate from that lawsuit. That lawsuit was filed by the business side of “The New York Times” by people who are not involved in your reporting or in this “Daily” episode, just to get that out of the way.

I’m assuming that you have spoken to many lawyers about this, and I wonder if there’s some insight that you can shed on the basic legal terrain? I mean, do the companies seem to have a strong case that they have a right to this information, or do companies like the “Times,” who are suing them, seem to have a pretty strong case that, no, that decision violates their copyrighted materials.

Like so many legal questions, this is incredibly complicated. It comes down to what’s called fair use, which is a part of copyright law that determines whether companies can use copyrighted data to build new things. And there are many factors that go into this. There are good arguments on the OpenAI side. There are good arguments on “The New York Times” side.

Copyright law says that can’t take my work and reproduce it and sell it to someone. That’s not allowed. But what’s called fair use does allow companies and individuals to use copyrighted works in part. They can take snippets of it. They can take the copyrighted works and transform it into something new. That is what OpenAI and others are arguing they’re doing.

But there are other things to consider. Does that transformative work compete with the individuals and companies that supplied the data that owned the copyrights?

And here, the suit between “The New York Times” company and OpenAI is illustrative. If “The New York Times” creates articles that are then used to build a chatbot, does that chatbot end up competing with “The New York Times?” Do people end up going to that chatbot for their information, rather than going to the “Times” website and actually reading the article? That is one of the questions that will end up deciding this case and cases like it.

So what would it mean for these AI companies for some, or even all of these lawsuits to succeed?

Well, if these tech companies are required to license the copyrighted data that goes into their systems, if they’re required to pay for it, that becomes a problem for these companies. We’re talking about digital data the size of the entire internet.

Licensing all that copyrighted data is not necessarily feasible. We quote the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in our story where one of their lawyers says that it does not work for these companies to license that data. It’s too expensive. It’s on too large a scale.

Hmm, it would essentially make this technology economically impractical.

Exactly, so a jury or a judge or a law ruling against OpenAI, could fundamentally change the way this technology is built. The extreme case is these companies are no longer allowed to use copyrighted material in building these chatbots. And that means they have to start from scratch. They have to rebuild everything they’ve built. So this is something that, not only imperils what they have today, it imperils what they want to build in the future.

And conversely, what happens if the courts rule in favor of these companies and say, you know what, this is fair use. You were fine to have scraped this material and to keep borrowing this material into the future free of charge?

Well, one significant roadblock drops for these companies. And they can continue to gather up all that extra data, including images and sounds and videos and build increasingly powerful systems. But the thing is, even if they can access as much copyrighted material as they want, these companies may still run into a problem.

Pretty soon they’re going to run out of digital data on the internet.

That human-created data they rely on is going to dry up. They’re using up this data faster than humans create it. One research organization estimates that by 2026, these companies will run out of viable data on the internet.

Wow. Well, in that case, what would these tech companies do? I mean, where are they going to go if they’ve already scraped YouTube, if they’ve already scraped podcasts, if they’ve already gobbled up the internet and that altogether is not sufficient?

What many people inside these companies will tell you, including Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, they’ll tell you that what they will turn to is what’s called synthetic data.

And what is that?

That Is data generated by an AI model that is then used to build a better AI model. It’s AI helping to build better AI. That is the vision, ultimately, they have for the future that they won’t need all this human generated text. They’ll just have the AI build the text that will feed future versions of AI.

So they will feed the AI systems the material that the AI systems themselves create. But is that really a workable solid plan? Is that considered high-quality data? Is that good enough?

If you do this on a large scale, you quickly run into problems. As we all know, as we’ve discussed on this podcast, these systems make mistakes. They hallucinate . They make stuff up. They show biases that they’ve learned from internet data. And if you start using the data generated by the AI to build new AI, those mistakes start to reinforce themselves.

The systems start to get trapped in these cul-de-sacs where they end up not getting better but getting worse.

What you’re really saying is, these AI machines need the unique perfection of the human creative mind.

Well, as it stands today, that is absolutely the case. But these companies have grand visions for where this will go. And they feel, and they’re already starting to experiment with this, that if you have an AI system that is sufficiently powerful, if you make a copy of it, if you have two of these AI models, one can produce new data, and the other one can judge that data.

It can curate that data as a human would. It can provide the human judgment, So. To speak. So as one model produces the data, the other one can judge it, discard the bad data, and keep the good data. And that’s how they ultimately see these systems creating viable synthetic data. But that has not happened yet, and it’s unclear whether it will work.

It feels like the real lesson of your investigation is that if you have to allegedly steal data to feed your AI model and make it economically feasible, then maybe you have a pretty broken model. And that if you need to create fake data, as a result, which as you just said, kind of undermines AI’s goal of mimicking human thinking and language, then maybe you really have a broken model.

And so that makes me wonder if the folks you talk to, the companies that we’re focused on here, ever ask themselves the question, could we do this differently? Could we create an AI model that just needs a lot less data?

They have thought about other models for decades. The thing to realize here, is that is much easier said than done. We’re talking about creating systems that can mimic the human brain. That is an incredibly ambitious task. And after struggling with that for decades, these companies have finally stumbled on something that they feel works that is a path to that incredibly ambitious goal.

And they’re going to continue to push in that direction. Yes, they’re exploring other options, but those other options aren’t working.

What works is more data and more data and more data. And because they see a path there, they’re going to continue down that path. And if there are roadblocks there, and they think they can knock them down, they’re going to knock them down.

But what if the tech companies never get enough or make enough data to get where they think they want to go, even as they’re knocking down walls along the way? That does seem like a real possibility.

If these companies can’t get their hands on more data, then these technologies, as they’re built today, stop improving.

We will see their limitations. We will see how difficult it really is to build a system that can match, let alone surpass the human brain.

These companies will be forced to look for other options, technically. And we will see the limitations of these grandiose visions that they have for the future of artificial intelligence.

OK, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Glad to be here.

Here’s what else you need to know today. Israeli leaders spent Monday debating whether and how to retaliate against Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s Military Chief of Staff, declared that the attack will be responded to.

In Washington, a spokesman for the US State Department, Matthew Miller reiterated American calls for restraint —

^MATTHEW MILLER^ Of course, we continue to make clear to everyone that we talked to that we want to see de-escalation that we don’t want to see a wider regional war. That’s something that’s been —

— but emphasized that a final call about retaliation was up to Israel. ^MATTHEW MILLER^ Israel is a sovereign country. They have to make their own decisions about how best to defend themselves. What we always try to do —

And the first criminal trial of a former US President officially got underway on Monday in a Manhattan courtroom. Donald Trump, on trial for allegedly falsifying documents to cover up a sex scandal involving a porn star, watched as jury selection began.

The initial pool of 96 jurors quickly dwindled. More than half of them were dismissed after indicating that they did not believe that they could be impartial. The day ended without a single juror being chosen.

Today’s episode was produced by Stella Tan, Michael Simon Johnson, Muge Zaidi, and Rikki Novetsky. It was edited by Marc Georges and Liz O. Baylen, contains original music by Diane Wong, Dan Powell, and Pat McCusker, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly.

That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

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  • April 17, 2024   •   24:52 Are ‘Forever Chemicals’ a Forever Problem?
  • April 16, 2024   •   29:29 A.I.’s Original Sin
  • April 15, 2024   •   24:07 Iran’s Unprecedented Attack on Israel
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  • April 10, 2024   •   22:49 Trump’s Abortion Dilemma
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Hosted by Michael Barbaro

Featuring Cade Metz

Produced by Stella Tan ,  Michael Simon Johnson ,  Mooj Zadie and Rikki Novetsky

Edited by Marc Georges and Liz O. Baylen

Original music by Diane Wong ,  Dan Powell and Pat McCusker

Engineered by Chris Wood

Listen and follow The Daily Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music

A Times investigation shows how the country’s biggest technology companies, as they raced to build powerful new artificial intelligence systems, bent and broke the rules from the start.

Cade Metz, a technology reporter for The Times, explains what he uncovered.

On today’s episode

problems in the world that can be solved by technology

Cade Metz , a technology reporter for The New York Times.

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How tech giants cut corners to harvest data for A.I.

What to know about tech companies using A.I. to teach their own A.I.

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We aim to make transcripts available the next workday after an episode’s publication. You can find them at the top of the page.

The Daily is made by Rachel Quester, Lynsea Garrison, Clare Toeniskoetter, Paige Cowett, Michael Simon Johnson, Brad Fisher, Chris Wood, Jessica Cheung, Stella Tan, Alexandra Leigh Young, Lisa Chow, Eric Krupke, Marc Georges, Luke Vander Ploeg, M.J. Davis Lin, Dan Powell, Sydney Harper, Mike Benoist, Liz O. Baylen, Asthaa Chaturvedi, Rachelle Bonja, Diana Nguyen, Marion Lozano, Corey Schreppel, Rob Szypko, Elisheba Ittoop, Mooj Zadie, Patricia Willens, Rowan Niemisto, Jody Becker, Rikki Novetsky, John Ketchum, Nina Feldman, Will Reid, Carlos Prieto, Ben Calhoun, Susan Lee, Lexie Diao, Mary Wilson, Alex Stern, Dan Farrell, Sophia Lanman, Shannon Lin, Diane Wong, Devon Taylor, Alyssa Moxley, Summer Thomad, Olivia Natt, Daniel Ramirez and Brendan Klinkenberg.

Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. Special thanks to Sam Dolnick, Paula Szuchman, Lisa Tobin, Larissa Anderson, Julia Simon, Sofia Milan, Mahima Chablani, Elizabeth Davis-Moorer, Jeffrey Miranda, Renan Borelli, Maddy Masiello, Isabella Anderson and Nina Lassam.

Cade Metz writes about artificial intelligence, driverless cars, robotics, virtual reality and other emerging areas of technology. More about Cade Metz


Scientists solved the 70-year-old mystery of an insect's invisibility coat that can manipulate light

  • Leafhoppers are the only species that secrete brochosomes: rare nanoparticles with invisibility properties.
  • But for the first time, a group of scientists has created their own synthetic brochosomes.
  • They hope their brochosomes will one day be used for invisible cloaking devices and other technologies.

Insider Today

We tend to think of invisibility cloaks as science fiction . But one group of scientists has taken a big step toward making them a reality.

For the first time, scientists at Pennsylvania State University have created synthetic replicas of brochosomes, naturally occurring nanoparticles that could one day be used to make invisibility cloaking devices .

Invisibility cloaking isn't the only application for synthetic brochosomes. In the next few years, they could find their way into a range of commercial applications — from solar energy to pharmaceuticals, according to lead investigator Tak Sing Wong, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering at Penn State.

Solving a 70-year-long geometric mystery

Brochosomes are bucky-ball-shaped, hollow nanoparticles covered in holes — known as through-holes — that go all the way through them. This complex structure allows them to absorb or scatter certain wavelengths of light, depending on the size of the brochosome and its holes.

The only place in the world where you can find naturally occurring brochosomes is on the back of a leafhopper — a common backyard insect . Their brochosome coats were first discovered in the 1950s, and they probably help them blend into their surroundings.

Scientists aren't sure why leafhoppers secrete and cover themselves in brochosomes. Until now, they didn't even understand the purpose of the nanoparticles' intricate geometry.

"This is really the first study to understand how the brochosome's complex geometry interacts with light," Wong said.

Related stories

To reach that understanding, Wong and his colleagues had to figure out how to make a replica of a brochosome. After almost a decade of research, they managed to 3D print the world's first synthetic brochosomes.

The invisibility properties of brochosomes

There are two important elements of brochosome geometry: the diameter of the particle, and the diameter of its through-holes.

If a wavelength of light is the same length as the diameter of the brochosomes, it will be scattered in all directions when it hits the particle. But if the wavelength of light is the same length as the diameter of the brochosomes' through-holes, it will pass through the particle and get absorbed by it.

This absorption coupled with light-scattering means that brochosomes have very limited light reflection — and can be invisible over certain electromagnetic ranges. Covering an object in them could, in theory, work as an invisibility cloak.

The beauty of synthetic brochosomes is that they could be made at different sizes, and thus tailored to absorb and scatter different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum . That means that engineers can customize brochosomes for specific functions, such as invisibility to infrared radiation to help with military defense.

In fact, Wong's brochosomes are the right size to do that. They're about 40 to 50 times larger than naturally occurring ones, and they only interact with infrared radiation. Wong's future research will partly focus on making smaller synthetic brochosomes to target the shorter end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The commercial potential of brochosomes

Although Wong's synthetic brochosomes mark a major step towards invisibility-cloaking technology, scientists are still decades away from bringing anything to market.

"I think in my lifetime, it's possible," said Hao Xin , a professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at the University of Arizona who was not involved in the study. It will take at least 50 years, he said.

But in just three to five years, Wong hopes to produce brochosomes on a large enough scale to use them in pigments, pharmaceuticals, and solar panels .

For example, titanium oxide, a white pigment that's used in everything from candy to sunscreen , was recently banned as a food additive by the European Union. Wong believes that brochosomes could eventually replace titanium oxide in foods like candy and coffee creamers.

"Depending on our imagination, I think there are many cool applications that can come out of brochosomes," Wong said.

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Millions of gamers advance biomedical research

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Leveraging gamers and video game technology can dramatically boost scientific research according to a new study published today in Nature Biotechnology .

4.5 million gamers around the world have advanced medical science by helping to reconstruct microbial evolutionary histories using a minigame included inside the critically and commercially successful video game, Borderlands 3 . Their playing has led to a significantly refined estimate of the relationships of microbes in the human gut. The results of this collaboration will both substantially advance our knowledge of the microbiome and improve on the AI programs that will be used to carry out this work in future.

Tracing the evolutionary relationships of bacteria

By playing Borderlands Science , a mini-game within the looter-shooter video game Borderlands 3 , these players have helped trace the evolutionary relationships of more than a million different kinds of bacteria that live in the human gut, some of which play a crucial role in our health. This information represents an exponential increase in what we have discovered about the microbiome up till now. By aligning rows of tiles which represent the genetic building blocks of different microbes, humans have been able to take on tasks that even the best existing computer algorithms have been unable to solve yet.

The project was led by McGill University researchers, developed in collaboration with Gearbox Entertainment Company , an award-winning interactive entertainment company, and Massively Multiplayer Online Science ( MMOS ) , a Swiss IT company connecting scientists to video games), and supported by the expertise and genomic material from the Microsetta Initiative led by Rob Knight from the Departments of Pediatrics, Bioengineering, and Computer Science & Engineering at the University of California San Diego.

Humans improve on existing algorithms and lay groundwork for the future

Not only have the gamers improved on the results produced by the existing programs used to analyze DNA sequences, but they are also helping lay the groundwork for improved AI programs that can be used in future.

“We didn’t know whether the players of a popular game like Borderlands 3 would be interested or whether the results would be good enough to improve on what was already known about microbial evolution. But we’ve been amazed by the results.” says Jérôme Waldispühl , an associate professor in McGill’s School of Computer Science and senior author on the paper published today. “In half a day, the Borderlands Science players collected five times more data about microbial DNA sequences than our earlier game, Phylo , had collected over a 10-year period.”

The idea for integrating DNA analysis into a commercial video game with mass market appeal came from Attila Szantner, an adjunct professor in McGill’s School of Computer Science and CEO and co-founder of MMOS . “As almost half of the world population is playing with videogames, it is of utmost importance that we find new creative ways to extract value from all this time and brainpower that we spend gaming,” says Szantner. “ Borderlands Science shows how far we can get by teaming up with the game industry and its communities to tackle the big challenges of our times.”

“Gearbox’s developers were eager to engage millions of Borderlands players globally with our creation of an appealing in-game experience to demonstrate how clever minds playing Borderlands are capable of producing tangible, useful, and valuable scientific data at a level not approachable with non-interactive technology and mediums,” said Randy Pitchford , founder and CEO of Gearbox Entertainment Company. “I'm proud that Borderlands Science has become one of the largest and most accomplished citizen science projects of all time, forecasting the opportunity for similar projects in future video games and pushing the boundaries of the positive effect that video games can make on the world.”

Relating microbes to disease and lifestyle

The tens of trillions of microbes that colonize our bodies play a crucial role in maintaining human health. But microbial communities can change over time in response to factors such as diet, medications, and lifestyle habits.

Because of the sheer number of microbes involved, scientists are still only in the early days of being able to identify which microorganisms are affected by, or can affect, which conditions.

Which is why the researchers’ project and the results from the gamers are so important.

“We expect to be able to use this information to relate specific kinds of microbes to what we eat, to how we age, and to the many diseases ranging from inflammatory bowel disease to Alzheimer’s that we now know microbes to be involved in,” adds Knight, who also directs the Center for Microbiome Innovation at the UC San Diego. “Because evolution is a great guide to function, having a better tree relating our microbes to one another gives us a more precise view of what they are doing within and around us.”

Building communities to advance knowledge

“Here we have 4.5 million people who contributed to science. In a sense, this result is theirs too and they should feel proud about it,” says Waldispühl . “It shows that we can fight the fear or misconceptions that members of the public may have about science and start building communities who work collectively to advance knowledge.”

“ Borderlands Science created an incredible opportunity to engage with citizen scientists on a novel and important problem, using data generated by a separate massive citizen science project,” adds Daniel McDonald, the Scientific Director of the Microsetta Initiative. “These results demonstrate the remarkable value of open access data, and the scale of what is possible with inclusive practices in scientific endeavors.”

“ Improving microbial phylogeny with citizen science within a mass-market video game ” by Roman Sarrazin-Gendron et al was published in Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/s41587-024-02175-6

The research was funded in part by Genome Canada and Génome Québec.

About McGill University

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