US Science and Technology Leadership, and Technology Grand Challenges

Robert Hummel, PhD, Patrick Cheetham, and Justin Rossi

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2012; 3(1):G14-39

The US enjoys a science and technology (S&T) enterprise that is the envy of the world. Our universities, industries, laboratories, and government institutions have developed and used technology that has driven economic benefits and secured superpower defense status. The US remains the leader in S&T innovation, a position enjoyed since World War II. While the health of the US S&T enterprise remains strong, there are considerable stresses within each major component. Some believe that the US position as leader in S&T could falter, at least in some fields. We review the stresses in various components of the S&T enterprise and the evidence of trends in S&T quality. We conclude that the enterprise maintains a leadership position for now.

We believe that this leadership position, in order to be maintained, requires specific challenges, to aim at “goalposts.” While most of the work in the S&T fields result in incremental improvements to products and capabilities, certain grand challenges are within our grasp if the science and technology community is provided with specific directions and priorities. Much as the 1961 call by then-President Kennedy, for a manned mission to the moon and safe return with a deadline of less than a decade, provided an impetus for advances and accomplishments that benefited the nation, national security, and society in general, so too it should be possible to develop certain specific applications in reasonable time-frames that achieve new specific goals. In a second part of this paper, we survey a range of application domains and potential grand challenges that could be accomplished with concerted efforts by the S&T community.


Keywords: science, technology, S&T policy, S&T leadership, futurism, technology transition, technology challenges