This article is published in the August 2016 issue.

Can Research-Based Innovations in Computing Solve Compelling Societal Problems?

CR BannerComputing has become a powerful tool for productivity and connectivity. It powers companies, it fuels scientific research, and it delivers entertainment and social engagement for billions of people.

Could research-based innovations in computing also become a catalyst for addressing compelling societal problems?

CCC Symposium OrganizersTo explore this question, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) organized a two-day symposium titled Computing Research: Addressing National Priorities and Societal Needs. This meeting brought together more than 130 in-person participants and more than 1,000 online viewers to raise the visibility of work that connects innovative computing research to major societal needs. The seven panels, two plenaries, and an early-career poster session, all of which are now available on the CCC website, presented numerous ideas that could reshape our world.

Here are just a few thought-provoking examples:

  • The annual cost of healthcare in the U.S. is about $3 trillion. By some estimates, a third of that total could be saved through more efficient and effective delivery of care-–an amount equal to the entire contribution of the IT industry to the national GDP. There is no question that computing will play a large role in achieving these savings.
  • The modern urban environment is increasingly challenged by traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, and socioeconomic disparity. Creating flexible instrumentation at a citywide scale could provide a platform to acquire data resources that could transform the management of all aspects of urban life, such as improving traffic, enhancing air quality, and reducing crime.
  • The world population is expected to exceed 8 billion persons by 2025. Climate variation threatens our ability to grow food even as more than 10% of the world population is malnourished. Better models that increase food production efficiency by just 10% could save tens of millions of lives while sparing the environment from long-term damage.
  • The world’s population is aging, leading to both direct and intangible costs in terms of care needs, lost time, stress, and other social burdens. Could technology enable an elderly adult to live more safely and independently at home? Beyond the direct financial savings, the improvement in life quality would be immeasurable.
  • Data will play a key role in nearly all aspects of future society, but how do we realize the benefits of data while ensuring we maintain control of the data and not unnecessarily sacrifice privacy?

Achieving these goals requires finding ways to fund work that spans the gap between basic research and societal needs. The final plenary and panel session, which included representatives from government, industry, and foundations, discussed how to expand the impact and influence of basic computing research in shaping our society.

The 133 persons in attendance included 38 early-career researchers who participated in a poster session and more than 25 attendees from federal agencies such as National Science FoundationNational Institute of Standards of TechnologyThe Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) ProgramOffice of Science and Technology PolicyNational Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition to the videos and slides of the symposium, CCC white papers on symposium topics such as Next Generation RoboticsIndustry-Academia CollaborationsSmart Communities Internet of Things, and Next Generation Computing Challenges are available here.

In the end, we are limited only by our resolve and by our creativity to connect computing research to these societal challenges. We hope that you not only enjoy and learn from the symposium resources, but also find new perspectives on how your research may contribute to our collective future.

Please use the links below to read about the symposium’s sessions.