7/15/18 – China joined the world’s top 20 most innovative economies and is aiming to move higher, while the United States fell out of the top 5, according to the recently released Global Innovation Index 2018, cosponsored by the United Nations. Although measuring an economy’s innovativeness is inherently difficult, and many experts would challenge the rankings in this study, no one doubts that China’s innovative capacity is on the rise. The United States should not take its strength relative to China for granted, a leading scholar and former government adviser says in Issues, and he proposed actions to both boost US innovation capability and respond to China’s technological ambitions.
7/14/18 – California has become something of a test case for mandatory vaccination laws, as many parents in some communities are obtaining medical exemptions for their children. Convincing such parents to have their kids vaccinated will require more than pointing to scientific evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, a philosopher and data analyst said recently said in Issues, because vaccines have become a proxy for a much deeper controversy about the nature of risk and the role of experts, and more work is needed to learn how to address the concerns of both medical experts and vaccine-hesitant parents.
7/11/18 – A nonprofit group in Israel is leading a mission to softly land a spacecraft on the moon early next year, thereby becoming the first nongovernmental enterprise to do so. The group proposes to do this using an innovative two-months-long launch process that will be far cheaper than conventional methods. The effort illustrates in spades how space activities are becoming increasingly diverse, as an analyst recently explained in Issues, adding that the shift is requiring the United States to adjust its space programs and policies accordingly.
7/9/18 – A new US jobs report declared that companies are finding it difficult to find qualified workers to fill open positions. But in Issues, a longtime workforce analyst recently looked behind the curtain, arguing that employers’ complaints about skill shortages mask a deeper struggle to extend their leverage in the labor market, and that “What everyone needs are opportunities to learn and to advance in accord with their wishes and motivations without sacrificing already meager paychecks.”
7/9/18 – Seven states recently increased their fuel tax that funds highway construction and maintenance projects, while some California politicians are pushing to repeal a recent hike in the tax. But in Issues, an energy analyst has proposed a totally different route, charging motorists by the miles they travel, arguing that the new system would be better suited to the changing nature of automobiles and driving habits.
6/29/18 – Rising sea levels driven primarily by climate change put more than 300,000 homes in the contiguous United States at risk of chronic flooding within the next 30 years, the lifespan of a typical mortgage, according to a new study and an interactive map tool for viewing threat levels of particular communities. Some of the actions proposed to mitigate the risks align with recommendations recently advanced by a decision-sciences expert in Issues for making the soon-to-be-reauthorized National Flood Insurance Program more cost-effective, more equitable, and more appealing to property owners.
6/ 28/18 – Potent new diseases may be only an airplane-ride from becoming a pandemic, but a deep read in the Atlantic says the world is not prepared. In addition to posing immense medical needs, the next pandemic will raise unprecedented communications challenges in providing people with accurate and credible information—to offset an almost-certain deluge of erroneous blasts via social media—and in Issues a technology innovator has called for developing a volunteer corps of scientists and communicators to help handle the job.
6/25/18 – Roaming the waters off California, a 51-foot-long “unmanned undersea vehicle”—essentially a submarine that can operate for months at a time with little or no contact with human operators—is undergoing tests ahead of possible deployment by the US Navy. And it won’t be alone. Various types of drone seagoing vehicles are being groomed for both underwater and surface applications, an analyst said in Issues, though a variety of technical and policy questions must be resolved.
6/18/18 – Amid concerns about the impact of robots on the workplace, an economic analyst described in Issues his study of first principles: what skills do robots have or may soon acquire, and what jobs can robots with those skills perform. The conclusion: robots and advanced information technologies can likely handle 80% of current jobs. Emerging ideas on how society can respond range from big, such as a government-funded universal basic income, to small, such as employer-funded lifelong learning accounts that enable workers to take short paid leaves to gain new skills.
6/17/18 – The University of New Hampshire has become the first flagship state school in the United States to adopt an admissions test that may make it easier for students from China to enroll, bringing along the more than $45,000 they will pay for tuition and housing each year. But recruiting more higher-paying foreign students, along with a number of other actions that schools are taking to offset decreasing state aid, is shortsighted, two academic scholars say in Issues, and they propose alternative measures that would give universities some breathing room.
6/12/18 – The technology giant Google will not develop artificial intelligence (AI) for use in weapons or other applications “that cause or are likely to cause overall harm,” its chief executive has announced in setting forth a set of principles to guide the company’s work in the field. The move aligns with a recent exploration by two scholars in Issues of whether and how AI should be regulated. They suggested that banning “fully autonomous weapons that operate entirely independent of human input” makes sense, while also calling for an interlocking oversight system for making decisions about “many if not all so-called smart technologies.”
6/10/18 – More countries and private companies are pursuing activities in space, an analyst recently noted in Issues. But in actions that would seemingly push even this expanded envelope, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is considering “a range of options” to privatize the International Space Station, including having a global team of corporations take over operations and run it as a commercial space lab, or even splitting it into components, some of which could be “de-orbited,” to make private management easier.
6/5/18 – Coal is in the news for reasons seemingly at odds. In Issues recently, a longtime analyst showed that coal has declined as an energy source over the past century primarily because of technology innovation, social forces, and price decreases of other forms of energy. Yet the Trump administration has announced plans to stop the closure of struggling coal mines putatively to protect national security, while also cutting the tax that coal companies pay to help miners with the deadly disease black lung, even as new research reveals that more miners have the disease than previously thought.
6/4/18 – Immigrants outpace US residents in forming new start-up companies, especially in technical fields, as observers have documented in Issues (here) and elsewhere (here). But in what some groups see as a shortsighted move (here and here), the Trump administration wants to end an Obama-era program that lets young foreign entrepreneurs remain in the United States for up to five years to manage start-ups they had created. More promising, some experts argue, would be to streamline the federal system for bringing in immigrants with technological and entrepreneurial prowess, and Issues has explored ways to make this happen.
6/1/18 – In a challenge to her political party, a young conservative says that addressing environmental challenges, including climate change, must become a priority. But, she adds, solutions will require “trusting businesses to do what is best for their bottom line and for the ecosystem without government intervention.” In this vein, a scholar of conservative thought has broadly examined in Issues why “conservatives are critical of policy-relevant science in climate and other domains,” and he said that if solutions are to be realized, “they must be compatible with individual liberty and democratic institutions, and cannot rely on coercive or unaccountable bureaucratic administration.”
5/25/18 – Universal conscription—the draft—ended 45 years ago, and NPR is marking the milestone with a new series on the shift to an all-volunteer military. In Issues, two analysts have taken an even deeper look, concluding with a call for return of the draft. “Our thesis is simple,” they said. “We believe it is neither socially nor technically advisable to rely on a progressively smaller group of specialists, increasingly separate from the rest of society, to provide the collective defense, nor does having such a small elite control the tools of modern, automated, and computerized war comply with democratic principles.”
5/24/18 – After examining progress in growing meat in the laboratory, two environmental scholars argued in Issues that it is time to “start thinking about how factory-grown meat might transform our food system, the environment, and even our culture.” Well, thinking has started—and is getting a bit contentious. Missouri may soon become the first state to legally define what “meat” is or is not, and proponents and critics are arguing over whether the legislation will protect food integrity and reduce consumer confusion or thwart an emerging industry that can provide healthier, more humane, and environmentally sustainable food products.
5/23/18 – US residents are losing some confidence in the value and safety of vaccinations for measles and other diseases, according to a new survey, with 70% now saying vaccines are very important, down from 80% a decade ago. Why a decline? In Issues, a philosopher and data analyst recently noted that opinions about vaccines don’t depend solely on scientific evidence, but also reflect deepening social disagreements about the nature of risk and the role of experts.
5/23/18 – Current fears of a “reproducibility crisis” in research are shortsighted, a quartet of scientists and philosophers say, because a key part of scientific inquiry is in fact the integration of conflicting observations and ideas into a coherent theory. But even as failures may lead to success, a longtime science reporter recently argued in Issues that an increasing amount of “poor-quality” biomedical science is amplifying reproducibility problems, and he offered suggestions for reducing built-in pressures on researchers that are having a corrosive effect on output from scientific labs.
5/17/18 – With this year’s US hurricane season approaching and damage from last year’s storms still vivid, the nation has “not fixed the underlying major problem, which is an utterly nonresilient infrastructure that at the end of the day will determine how much suffering there is after a large storm,” says an expert on disaster preparedness. On this front, three researchers recently noted in Issues that social, ecological, technical, and institutional issues often seem to set up infrastructure for failure, and they proposed an integrated and systemic approach for building and maintaining systems that will be more resilient.
5/17/18 – In arguing that college may no longer be worth it for many students, a Boston-based professor says many jobs don’t really require a college degree. So “why do employers demand a degree for jobs that don’t require them?” she asks. “Because they can.” In Issues, a longtime workforce scholar recently foreshadowed this assessment, and he proposed policy changes that would help provide everyone with “opportunities to learn and to advance in accord with their wishes and motivations without sacrificing already meager paychecks.”
5/15/18 – The Open Government Partnership, created to bring citizens and governments closer in policy-making, just released a new “toolkit” that details best practices and action plans proven to work in projects around the world and explains how other groups can use the lessons in pursing open government reforms. In Issues, a self-described “change maker and engineer” recently offered a view from the trenches at ways, including expanding public participation, to scale up policy innovations in federal government.
5/12/18 – Negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement have reportedly hit a snag that may make it impossible to reach agreement on a new deal by a fast-approaching deadline for gaining approval from the US Congress. But in a broader look behind the scenes, an economic analyst has argued in Issues that the three partners, who are already well served by the agreement, could gain even greater benefit by acting as a regional partnership to jointly engage the global community on a range of trade issues.
5/11/18 – An Arizona-based scholar of emerging technologies recently described in Issues what he called weaponized narratives, or the use of communication tools and services to spread stories intended to undermine an adversary’s resiliency. Even as he saw the United States being particularly vulnerable, the threat has now reached into Mexico, with a variety of false messages flooding both mainstream and social media in advance of the country’s upcoming presidential election.
5/9/18 – Months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, some rural areas of the island still lack electricity, and even restored sections of the power grid face regular outages. Such disruptions of basic infrastructure by extreme weather events are likely to become more common with climate change, a trio of analysts recently noted in Issues, and they proposed some technological and policy innovations for designing, building, and maintaining energy and other critical infrastructure systems that will be more resilient to future challenges.
5/7/18 – Recent accidents involving self-driving cars have rekindled debate about regulating their use and prompted one state to require companies testing them to more fully report glitches that occur. In Issues, an analyst who focuses on governance of emerging technologies recently took a deep look at how self-driving cars may change the world in ways both anticipated and unexpected, and he proposed that any new rules should be flexible while ensuring that the vehicles are safe, broadly accessible, and avoid problematic unintended consequences.
5/5/18 – The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency recently told a New York radio show that he planned to end what he called the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” declaring that the government should not use its regulatory power to pick “winners and losers” in the energy industry. But in Issues, the head a major consulting firm recently explained coal’s decline as an energy source over the past century, tracing it to technological and social changes rather than to political factors, let alone a presumptive war on coal.
4/30/18 – Entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates says the US government needs to develop an overarching strategy and new tools to prepare the nation and the world for the “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes.” One challenge will be counteracting the misinformed texts, tweets, e-mails, blogs, and videos that will run rampant, another technology innovator recently explained in Issues, calling for the creation of a volunteer corps of scientists and communicators who can quickly provide accurate, clear, and credible information to the public.
4/25/18 – Around the globe—except in the United States—climate change is a nonpartisan issue even among conservatives, says a video report in the New York Times. And as Issues has presented, even as US political waters roil there are a number of ways to address climate change that could find political and public support across the ideological spectrum, including some specific ideas that reflect core conservative convictions.
4/24/18 – Not long ago in Issues, a space analyst described how private industry was moving increasingly into the space business, adding that the shift would require the US government to adjust its space programs and policies accordingly. Well, that trend is only gaining altitude, says a report in the Washington Post, as an expanding roster of companies are building rockets to carry satellites—and people—into orbit or beyond.