All members of the FPS community are invited to share their preferences for the upcoming Topics. These will be the topics for the Northern Hemisphere’s 2022-2023 season and the Southern Hemisphere 2023 season. At least one topic from each of three general themes will be included – Business/Economics, Science/Technology, and Social/Political. Five topics will be identified to be used for each of the five problem solving rounds; Practice Problem 1, Practice Problem 2, Qualifying Problem, Affiliate Problem, and the International Conference. Voting will remain open until March 31, 2021.
Below are the proposed descriptors for each topic. They introduce key concepts of the topic, and offer questions to consider when researching the topic.
Over the last century, refrigeration and transportation innovations have changed the way urban residents access fresh produce. As climate change impacts where and what can be grown, agricultural systems seek to diversify production. Would vertical farms answer the need for local, fresh food irrelevant of the climate? Will automated systems price products out of the market? As the world’s largest consumer of water, agriculture seeks sustainable farming practices to ensure their survival. Moisture and temperature sensors are changing the way large and small farms manage their crops. Sophisticated technologies provide opportunities for increased efficiency and profitability. How will the evolving approach to food production influence our relationship with food? What role will government regulations and trade policies have upon independent farmers? How can society revitalize an industry without which humanity cannot survive?
Humans have been using microorganisms for thousands of years to make useful products like bread and cheese; this is biotechnology using biology to create a product. Modern biotechnology is finding new ways to solve some of the most significant challenges globally by utilizing biomolecular processes. They create new medicines, fuels, and food. This dynamic industry will continue to grow as society looks for sustainable methods for production. Biotechnology is a collaboration between biologists and engineers. Biotechnology may provide the best sustainable solutions for life on Earth and in Space. Biotechnology has many benefits, but there are also ethical considerations related to safety, health impact, or ecological impacts. Scientific research can provide information for society to determine the best choices.
Money is anchored in trust. Though precious metal standards have gone to the wayside, the value of a commodity is linked to a piece of currency. International exchange standards shape essentially every society on Earth. Commodities are bought and sold; debts are carried and paid, goods and services exchanged, all utilizing currency. Governments and central banks often try to protect their country’s currency through monetary policy to improve domestic economic conditions. But what one country views as helpful policies are often considered by other countries as harmful manipulation. Should currencies be backed by precious metals, such as gold or platinum? Does the presence of a multinational currency foreshadow the possibility of a global currency in the future – or make a global currency less likely? The increasing digitization of currency calls into question the role banking institutions will play in the future. How would the end of tangible money impact societies around the world? How might the removal of government-backed currencies shape international relations and economic exchanges?
Machines were developed to assist with dangerous and difficult jobs. At present, unskilled human labor is being replaced with robotics more quickly than at any time in history. Advancements of such machines moved technology closer and closer to lights-out manufacturing. In countries with robust national safety nets, these changes are viewed as inevitable, and they have begun to explore new human employment concepts. Others are fearful of these looming changes and uncertain of how to proceed. A robotic workforce’s effects go beyond manufacturing as university-trained individuals such as lawyers and accountants are already being impacted by automation. What will the human workforce of the future look like?
Tourism serves as the economic foundation for countless communities around the globe. As groups seek to attract tourists and the revenue they generate, they often struggle to maintain their location’s unique appeal. Usually, once an area becomes popular, international corporations and developers from outside the region flock to popular destinations. Hotels and other infrastructure need to be built to house the increase in tourists. Indigenous peoples can have their cultures exploited, traditional lands destroyed, and may be forced into low paying jobs as tourist developers move in. How can the advantages of expanding tourism be balanced with the protection of destinations? Increasingly areas work to develop their locales into tourist destinations for the benefits it can draw by targeting niche tourist markets (e.g., ecotourism, theme tourism, destination weddings, event tourism). Tourism not only benefits host locales but those on holiday. Travel enriches their lives, expands their understanding of people and cultures, as well as a respite from daily life. How will changing forms and trends of tourism impact tourists and hosts alike?
A New “Reality”
Technologically, Virtual Reality is widespread and expanding its application through augmented, enhanced, mixed, and other forms of a new “reality.” The options and opportunities for its application appear boundless through the integration of 3-D images, gaming, computer-assisted instruction, equipment simulators, and entertainment platforms. The imposition of holographic images over real-world views have applications ranging from education, archaeology, and engineering, to sports training, video games, and artistic expression. The utilization of augmented reality technology is already making significant changes to the manufacturing industry. What other industries will it revolutionize? The inclusion of haptic, visual, and auditory overlays can be both constructive and destructive to users. New opportunities are provided to individuals with disabilities. New treatments are made available to the ill. How will enhanced reality impact human interactions? Virtual Reality is consistently evolving with advantages for all fields. How would we deal with the fiscal, educational, and psycho-social issues that might arise to impact us?
Biospheric Control will be vital if and when humankind needs to adapt to hostile environments on Earth or another planet. Biospheric research will provide the tools that will help humanity create long-term sustainable colonizing settlements. Biospheres are complex, interrelated systems integrating the environment, human health and basic needs, and system infrastructure (technology and leadership). To develop reliable life support plans and infrastructure, many experiments, and much time and resources will be required to create habitable spaces for future generations. These might be sponsored by governments, corporations, or collaborations of the two. Biospheric research provides an opportunity for the most innovative ideas for future generations.
Computers, cellphones, tablets, and gaming consoles are replaced with the latest version at an alarmingly fast pace. Tens of millions of tons of such materials are discarded every year worldwide. Electronic products are full of hazardous substances like toxic materials and heavy metals that can threaten humans, plants, animals, and even the environment more generally. Many developing economies often gather electronic waste to be processed for resale. In low-income countries, workers are exposed to these toxic materials as they demolish the devices. This offloading puts developing nations at risk of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials. In contrast, developed countries can dispose of technology with little thought about the consequences for both people and the environment. What impact does planned obsolescence have on the amount of E-Waste? As our appetite for ever-increasing technological devices continues, what are the implications for how we dispose of these devices when we have had enough of them?
Rising Sea Levels
Sea level rise is caused by two processes: thermal expansion (ocean water expansion as it heats up), and additional water flows into the oceans from ice that melts on land. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) finds that sea levels have risen by 0.19m since the beginning of the 20th Century. Sea level rise will continue for centuries, if not thousands of years after greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilized due to long lag times involved in warming of the oceans and ice sheets’ response. Historically human civilizations have responded to the risk of sea levels rising with retreat and adaptation. As our cities have become more permanent in modern times, a strategy of defense has developed. The modeling and projections of sea level rises are uncertain, with a 20-30cm rise expected by 2050 and 30cm-1m by 2100. King tides and storm surges that currently occur every few years are likely to occur every few days in 2100. The adequate protection of low-lying regions and coastal cities from flooding, land loss, water-logging, and groundwater salinity is both costly and technologically complex process. Small island nations are most vulnerable with the relocation of coastal communities already occurring.
From rich black volcanic and river soils to poor red desert soils, humanity relies on soil to grow plants and raise animals. However, over one-third of the Earth’s land area has already been degraded through human activities, impairing the land’s capacity to support agriculture and horticulture. The impact on quantity and quality of food production is severe. Mechanization, the building of roads and cities, clearing land for farms, and damming rivers all lead to soil loss. The overuse of fertilizer and herbicides can cause the soil to restructure. Taking too much water for irrigation can cause desalination, making large tracts of soil infertile or lacking micronutrients that are important for human health. Deforestation also impacts the quality and fertility of soils. The most severely degraded soils are located in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Increases in human population and increasing agriculture and horticulture have placed a tremendous strain on the world’s soil systems. How can humans combat soil degradation, not only for food security and ecological health but also for the guarantee of global sustainability?
Accessibility to buildings, products, or environments for all people, regardless of age, ability, or other factors, is widely accepted. Such accessibility is often the result of awkward arrangements and makeshift renovations. Despite increased legislation and unparalleled tools to pursue universal design, diversely-abled individuals often struggle to participate in public spaces. How are schools, transportation, healthcare, and businesses impacted by a lack of accessibility? While extensive legislation has passed, many areas are unable to implement and enforce necessary adaptations. Though accessibility modifications are dominated by physical architectural design features such as ramps, demarcations, and handrails, there are growing efforts for increased accessibility to websites, software, and other technologies. What would accessibility look like if functions and features were part of the original design? How can accessible designs impact individuals and societies around the globe?
Reports of events are almost instantaneously recorded and broadcast everywhere as digital media has all but replaced hard copy forms of sharing news. The immediacy of social media and anyone’s ability to post their take on events as they happen means that not everything is well written or reported, nor is everything accurate. All writing is influenced to some extent by personal views or bias. It is also limited by the writer’s knowledge of the topic. Almost anyone can write or record anything and post it for others to see. With growing concerns about false news, could citizen journalism affect how we feel about the events happening around us and how people respond? Will this mean the end of journalism careers? How might future citizen journalism affect society as we know it?
Essential academic competencies will always be needed – language skills, computation, analysis, and civic education. However, in today’s global and high-tech economy, the education students receive no longer has the shelf life it once did. University graduates struggle to find jobs as the market is flooded, and the skills they learned are quickly outdated by the rapid evolution of knowledge. The traditional lines between high school, college, and career must be reimagined to allow students a more affordable and direct pathway to gainful employment. How can we prepare people for a society in which most people will have at least three careers in a lifetime? Predicting individual jobs and skills and aligned training will require constant rethinking, evidence building, and adjustment. Partnerships with industry will be essential so that education can stay connected to emerging skills and employment opportunities. How can education systems adapt to provide societies with the necessary educational opportunities?
Changing ways of life are introducing new threats into daily routines for many people around the world. An increasing number of jobs require minimal, if any, physical effort, and thus sedentary habits are increasing. Food is increasingly processed, which introduces chemicals into our bodies. Additional chemicals are introduced to our daily lives from various types of pollution, cleaning solvents, and technology. Diminishing boundaries between work and personal life is often held responsible for heightened stress-levels and physiological conditions. Residents in many wealthy countries that have experienced increasing life expectancy for decades are beginning to see that number decrease. Threats to health increase as the economic prosperity of an individual decreases. What impacts will these have on the next generation?
“Throw Away” Society
Consumerism and capitalism have created a ‘throw-away’ society. Excessive demand leads to overproduction of short term /disposable items instead of durable goods that can be repaired. When people consume goods or services for reasons beyond their basic needs, they only acquire goods they desire, not need. Society begins to focus on the consumption, ownership, and display of material possessions to mark an individual’s social status, identity, and standing. This impacts the environment, lifestyles, and distribution of wealth. Consumerism stretches the world’s limited natural resources. Production is dictated by consumer demand, and businesses try to provide consumers with a growing number of options, including branded goods, to stay afloat. Many products are often fads or are adapted and modified regularly to entice consumers to buy the upgrades despite having their old durable ones. Constant upgrades add to e-waste, impact on the environment, and reduce natural resources while consumer demand is being met. Social media has created more opportunities with the bombardment of advertisements that encourages overconsumption. Furthermore, consumers are more informed to become a force about products and services. Is it possible or necessary to rein in consumption? How can we find a balance between local values and global aspirations?