2003 : WHAT ARE THE PRESSING SCIENTIFIC ISSUES FOR THE NATION AND THE WORLD, AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON HOW I CAN BEGIN TO DEAL WITH THEM? - GWB

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Senior Maverick, Wired, Author, Cool Tools; What Technology Wants; "The Three Breakthroughs That Have Finally Unleashed AI on the World" (Wired)
Editor-At-Large, Wired

Dear Mr. Bush,

Thank you for your confidence in me. Here are the three things you should encourage; these are neglected by our current science policy:

1) Develop Long Term Science.

Most science experiments, clinical studies, and data collection lasts about 4 years—the duration of a graduate student. Most problems we have before us last for generations. Science, like business, has been totally captured by the next quarter mentality, and it will require a deliberate effort to stress the long view so that our knowledge matches our predicament. Long-term studies can begin to alleviate much of our ignorance of climatic, environmental, health, social, and biological issues.

2) Foster a Global View.

While the United States is among the nations leading the world in monitoring and mapping its own territory, most of the world has not been mapped. We, as humans, lack a sufficient survey of the geology, habitat, weather, and biological diversity of our home planet. For instance we have identified as few as 5% of all the species living on earth. A detailed map of the planet, which would include geological assets, urban impacts, ecological assessments, and detailed cartographic information would be invaluable to business, military intelligence, social work, and peace and prosperity, at the very least, to the US. As it is we are trying to run a planet with only a dim sense of what it is.

3) Fund Blue Sky Work.

US universities were once renowned for funding work that could not possibly pay off for ten years or more. Much of university research was pure research that had no obvious application at all at the time of its funding. In an effort to weed out seemingly frivolous work that might wind up as a headline in a supermarket tabloid, a lot of bold research has simply been dropped. Research is now expected to show results quickly, and to fit into return on investment curves developed by business. This may be good for business, and maybe even for government in the short term, but it is disastrous for science, especially in the long term. Some federally funded research should aim for a ten- or even 25-year result horizon. This would create the strongest possible science culture.

These three things could be implemented without substantially increasing the science budget, although that is always a good idea.

Kevin Kelly
Editor-At-Large, Wired
Author of Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World; New Rules for the New Economy;and Asia Grace (all images, not words).