Looking to 2050: Ten Challenges For The Human Race

Peter Schwartz is recognized internationally as a futurist and strategist.  He honed his skills at Royal Dutch/Shell Group in London, where he led a widely respected scenario planning effort.   He has written a number of interesting books about the future, including The Art of the Long View. 

This past May he gave the commencement address at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  During the address, he outlined ten longer term challenges for the human race as we look forward to the next 40-50 years.  He encouraged the graduates to come up with innovative solutions to these challenges. 

The top challenges Schwartz outlined are:

  1. Creating long-term solutions to meet our energy demands sustainably.
  2. Launching a bio-industrial revolution with sustainable manufacturing.
  3. Understanding and enhancing the human brain to avert age-related impairments.
  4. Improving agriculture to reduce costs and increase its energy and water efficiency.
  5. Building sustainable cities through better urban planning and "smart architecture”.
  6. Stimulating job growth and economic development.
  7. Fusing the technological with the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of human culture.
  8. Advancing technological instruments to drive scientific discovery forward.
  9. Harnessing biological tools to advance human evolution.
  10. Discovering new ways to lower the costs and environmental impact of space flight and development.  

The list above is an interesting list.  I am not sure that these are the top ten most important challenges, but each of the above ten are certainly important. 

Some comments…

  • Energy tops his list and it is hard to argue that it should not be there.  I can’t see the demand for energy going down anytime soon and we need to figure out how to transition to clean energy. 
  • Improving agriculture processes in developing nations will have have a significant impact on the economy and quality of life.
  • Building smarter and sustainable cities is a very large challenge as the number of megacities grow and grow.
  • Number 9 on his list, “Harnessing biological tools to advance human evolution” sounds both scary and beneficial at the same time.
  • Regarding number 10, with announced plans to go back to the moon and to Mars, we will need innovative ways to travel through space and live at the destinations we travel to.

It is worth pointing out that many on the list kind of fall under the push for a smarter planet.

If you want to read a transcript of Peter Schwartz’s commencement address, check out http://news.rpi.edu/update.do?artcenterkey=2585

Can you think of any other challenges Schwartz’s list?  The only one that comes to my mind right now is the never ending desire to live in a world free from war and conflict, but I don’t suppose for one minute that that will be solved in the next 40-50 years.