As we all know, there are many serious problems facing the U.S. and the world today that could become catastrophic and make the world a very unpleasant place to live in for our grandchildren, say 50 years from now. In particular, I am referring to those problems that may require 10, 20, or more years of research, development, and implementation to have any chance of solving those problems.
Unfortunately, politicians and government agencies in general are not interested in such long-term projects because the beneficial results won’t be available to help them with their next election, or even the next couple of elections after that. Similarly, corporations also do not want to invest in that kind of long-term R&D. With corporations’ focus on the annual, if not quarterly, financial reports, R&D that can give rise to financial benefits in 3-5 years is already considered to be long-term.
How can the world address problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, energy shortage, AIDS, urban traffic congestion and mass transit, garbage disposal and recycling, food to feed the world’s growing population simultaneously with shrinking agricultural lands, etc.? These problems are already serious today, and they will become critical as the world’s developing and under-developed countries become more industrialized.
What will be the magnitude of the problems associated with energy shortage and resulting environmental pollution if the population of these developing and under-developed countries consume as much energy on a per-capita basis on an amount that is equal to even just 20% of the consumption of the average U.S. citizen? The AIDS virus is spreading like wildfire in some of the countries in Africa; what will happen to these and neighboring countries if this trend continues? Serious traffic congestion already exists in metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Beijing, London, Moscow, Paris, Sao Paulo, Tokyo, etc. What will traffic congestion be like in Beijing 20-30 years from now when a significant percentage of Beijing households own one or more automobiles, considering that private car ownership in Beijing basically began just a few years ago?
It seems that there is a critical need to establish a Center for Future Studies (CFS) to provide the seed money that can sustain long-term R&D. Its goal is to identify and develop solutions to significant global problems that will become critical 25-50 years in the future. The answers to these problems may involve social, political, as well as technology solutions. CFS will address all these aspects of the solutions, and provide the lead at least in the technology aspects of the solutions, since implementing the solutions may involve social and political aspects that go beyond the reach of CFS. I recognize that solving the social and political aspects of these problems may be significantly more difficult and more important than solving the technology aspects. On the other hand, knowing the existence of technology solutions can provide a great impetus for the world to address the social and political aspects of the solutions.
The investigation of CFS could be ground breaking research, such as finding a cure for a contagious disease, or it could be novel integration of existing science and technology knowledge with large-scale business and management applications.
The initial seed money could come from one or more large foundations, the U.S. government, or even the United Nations. As explained below, I believe that part of the annual operating fund can be supplemented by financial resources outside of the initial seed money. Besides the return on the seed money investment, I foresee that there could be at least four other sources of operating fund.
- First, if this CFS is associated with a university, then we can expect that the university and the residing state will be willing to provide some matching R&D operating fund on an annual basis.
- Second, besides the initial seed money funding organization(s), foundations, U.S. government agencies, and perhaps even the United Nations may want to participate in this program by contributing to the operating fund (or perhaps even some additional seed money).
- Third, the core of the CFS investigation will be on problems and solutions that could be applicable globally. However, often the general solutions (or potential general solutions) still need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of a specific country or region; a region could be larger than a country (such as Asia or Africa), or smaller than a country (such as a state or a city). CFS can sign contracts with specific countries or regions and collaborate with the client to tailor the general solutions (or potential general solutions) for the specific client. Furthermore, implementing a solution in a country or region may require substantial consulting expertise that could be provided by CFS. Thus, the tailoring of a general solution and the implementation of a solution could provide a significant source of operating fund, especially after CFS has established itself as a viable entity a few years after its establishment and with some potential general solutions on the horizon.
- Fourth, if such a CFS exists, corporations may want to invest some of their own money on such long-term R&D if part of the investment will be supported by the CFS.
Thus, it is probably reasonable to expect that these other sources can provide additional annual operating fund to sustain the CFS without eroding the initial seed money.
CFS will fill a critical gap in funding investigations in long-term critical global problems. Perhaps its establishment can lead to a paradigm shift from mostly near-term R&D to much longer-term R&D. Its goal is to make the world still a good place to live in for our grandchildren.