All members of the FPS community are invited to share their preferences for the upcoming 2021-22 Topics. 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, 2020.
Below are the proposed descriptors for each topic. They introduce key concepts of the topic, and offer questions to consider when researching the topic.
The need for humanitarian and development aid is a global phenomenon. Following natural disasters, people may need assistance to rebuild their homes and secure basic needs like food and water. At other times, aid is sent to poor or impoverished places to improve living conditions and create jobs in developing countries. While there are many ways assistance can be deployed to those in need, governments and charities traditionally favor using cash grants and low-interest loans. In what ways is the distribution of aid dependent on what organizations’ and governments’ motives?
Unfortunately, such aid does not always reach its intended recipients. Resources may be diverted because of a lack of infrastructure, inappropriate distribution methods, or corruption. When aid allocations are inconsistent with economic needs, the political motives of donors are often called into question. What is the best way for policymakers to give aid? Providing for the most vulnerable is a moral imperative, yet how to best accomplish this remains unclear. Will continuous aid lead to dependency on the part of recipients? What role can easing trade barriers have on creating economic opportunities?
Technology that employs biological systems to make or develop products is known as biotechnology. The principles of biotech have been employed for thousands of years in such ways as using microorganisms to make foods likes bread, beer, and cheese. As science has continued to expand, biotech ideas that were once considered science fiction have begun to be realized. Collaboration across scientific fields has led to innovative medicines, new biofuels, and environmental waste cleanup. Biotechnology has many benefits, but there are also considerations related to safety, regulation, and ethical applications. Scientific research can provide information for society to determine the best choices for applying biotechnology to industry to transform how we manufacture products for the future. Where will the biotechnology industry take us in the future? What new jobs, careers, and products will emerge?
The present trend of overconsumption throughout the world is often a subject of controversy in light of the world’s limited supply of natural resources and disparities in wealth and development. Advertising plays a significant role in creating a consumerist society, as goods are marketed through various platforms in nearly all aspects of life. People are bombarded with messages that encourage consumption and promote the notion that the viewer needs some product for fulfillment. Fast fashion supports the concept that clothes and shoes should not last for more than a season or two before they fall apart or are replaced because they are out of style. How long are things supposed to last? Products are regularly are designed with end-of-life dates predetermined, so that company revenues remain stable. How does this constant replacement of products impact consumers, businesses, and society?
Long waiting lists in public hospitals and excessively expensive medical procedures have led many people to seek treatments in countries other than their own. This has become so prevalent in some Asian countries that a new industry, medical tourism, has developed. For little more than the cost of a holiday In Malaysia or India, for example, Australians and New Zealanders can have dental or plastic surgery treatments done that would cost many thousands of dollars at home. As medical technology advances and providers around the globe establish different standards of care, access to treatments may expand, causing medical tourism to grow even more rapidly. Medical tourism appeals to those with the financial resources that want to sidestep long waiting lists and other barriers to care. Those with fewer resources seek out locations where medical treatment is subsidized, and better care is available for lower costs. What implications does this industry hold for existing healthcare systems? What happens if something goes wrong while being treated in a foreign country? Who is responsible? How might this change with increasing developments in medical technology? Do these options improve patient care or increase unnecessary risks?
Mining is a long-standing means of gathering resources of all varieties. As resources become increasingly limited, the mining process becomes more dangerous and poses heightened risks to nearby populations and the environment. As the extraction of minerals and gases depletes global resources, mining companies increasingly look further afield. Undersea mining exploration is spreading, with some mining specialists now contemplating how to mine the deepest parts of the oceans. New mining operations around the globe increasingly threaten Antarctica, marshlands, and other pristine ecosystems. Still, other developers consider the possibility of mining near-Earth asteroids and the moon. Mining methods can lead to global debate and political tension. What will the consequences of continued mining be for both the future of humans and the environment? Can the world agree on the best way to extract and share geological materials? Can the safety and efficiency of the excavation process be improved? Will mining of asteroids, the moon or other planets be feasible?
Ample, Accessible, and Sustainable Energy
With a projected population of 9.7 billion by 2050, even more demand for energy is expected. In our highly technological and automated world, global citizens’ high expectations of a limitless supply of electricity have grown. As resource reserves deplete and are found to be environmentally damaging in their extraction, production, consumption, and waste disposal, many people would prefer renewables. Ongoing development is needed from researchers, engineers, and scientists in a range of more effective energy sources such as solar, geothermal, wind, tidal wave, gas from algae, shale gas, tar sands oil, biomass, hydrogen, and fusion energy.
The energy trilemma of the future centers around environmental sustainability, energy security, and equity. Will everyone have access to affordable energy? What are the impacts of the infrastructure required for the generation and delivery of power? By removing energy from the environment such as the energy from wind or the ocean currents, will there be unforeseen, adverse impacts? How might the interconnectivity of smart grids be most efficiently employed?) What innovative energy sources might yet be discovered or created? How might consumer behavior and acceptance need to change?
Antibiotics are essential for treating bacterial infections in humans, animals, and plants. Antibiotics are added to livestock feed to protect them from diseases and to allow for greater growth and production. Antibiotic sprays are commonly used in agriculture, especially those involving fruit trees. Many plastics today, such as those used in public baby diaper-changing stations, have antimicrobial additives embedded within the materials to reduce bacterial growth on the plastic’s surfaces.
With the ingestion of antibiotic laced foods, many broad-spectrum antibiotics are far less effective as medical treatments have contributed to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For example, the treatment of tuberculosis requires an increasingly diverse cocktail of antibiotics as bacteria becomes more resistant to previously effective medications. Scientists are continually developing new therapies in a race to stay ahead of the emergence of new antibiotic-resistant pathogens. However, despite these precautions, multi-resistant bacteria continue to emerge.
How can the overuse of antibiotics be addressed? How can we protect the individual who is being treated by broad-spectrum antibiotics, while still protecting the population as a whole? What percentage of our ever-growing population will potentially suffer from emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
The development of autonomous vehicles, which operate without human intervention, continues to increase exponentially. Autonomous cars ‘learn’ by utilizing artificial intelligence to access vast amounts of data and by surveying their environment with 360-degree ‘vision’. They need to be able to learn since all possible scenarios are not programmable. Autonomous vehicles can deliver on-demand, refuel, park, and store themselves. Cities will change dramatically. Car ownership may become a thing of the past. How will autonomous vehicles cope with unexpected risk situations?
Autonomous planes are even more common than autonomous land transport, and autonomous container ships are being tested. Autonomous vehicles will have significant impacts on industries from real estate and manufacturing, to shipping and travel. The expansion of autonomous vehicles of land sea and air will alter many existing professions. In what ways will autonomous vehicles impact on jobs, industries, and lifestyles?
Insects – human’s best friends and worst enemies. We are surrounded by more than a million species of insects. Without them, humankind couldn’t survive. Some insects destroy crops and carry diseases. Mosquitoes, which carry diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Ross River, Zika, and West Nile viruses, kill and maim more people each year than any other animal. Others do essential jobs like pollinate blossoms, aerate the soil, decompose dead plant material, or eat other harmful insects, making them essential to the food web. As weather patterns and temperatures change, the distribution and habitat of many insect species are likely to change dramatically. The numbers of bees around the world have been radically reduced due to disease. How does the reduction of some species and relocation of others impact health, agriculture, and horticulture?
Over 1,900 insect species have been identified as suitable for human consumption and animal feed and could assure food security. Incorporating insects into the human food and medical supply indicates the evergrowing importance of insects in the world. Will insects and their products, such as genetically modified mosquitoes or manuka honey help to fight diseases? Will toasted grubs, fried crickets, and other edible insects become important global protein choices?
In many parts of the world, freshwater is in short supply. Water is often pumped for miles, streams diverted and reservoirs and dams are constructed to provide for the growing populations in dry areas. As water levels drop and aquifers decline, people become more concerned about preserving their water resources. More than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water services, and more than 4 billion lack safely managed sanitation services. Differing governmental and commercial demands must be balanced so that communities have enough safe water for their needs. As available water supplies deplete, adjacent areas begin to battle with water contracts and water rights. How might the right to access clean water be achieved? How will regulations shape the future of access to water? How will water scarcity shape society?
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?
The world is now more urbanized than ever before, and more and more people are flocking to live in large cities. Singapore was once known as the ‘Garden City,’ now it is being promoted as the ‘Garden in the City’ as new buildings incorporate trees and other greenery in their designs. Many quickly growing population centers are more environmentally aware as they expand the living spaces for their citizens. This awareness is not just a case of saving the environment and reducing emissions; it is a matter of necessity for creating healthy cities. Buildings can be designed to conserve both energy and water while improving the indoor and outdoor environment. Advancing technology is changing how architects are incorporating sustainable living practices into buildings. Light-based modulated sunlight, improved insulation, enhanced ventilation, eco-friendly building materials are a few of the ecologically-preferred innovations changing the face and function of buildings. Some buildings now incorporate wind turbines to provide the necessary energy to power the building. Will these developments solve the problems they have set out to address? Will these change the way cities work and the way people live in them? Will these changes improve safety during natural disasters or introduce new problems?
E-Technology and Visual Technology have all but replaced hard copy forms of sharing news. Reports of events are almost instantaneously recorded and broadcast everywhere. The immediacy of social media and the ability of anyone 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. It’s a bit like the game of Telephone played in the 1900s, the information changes as it is passed from person to person. 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?
Basic 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?
Nature Deficit Disorder
Richard Louv, an American journalist, created the term “nature-deficit disorder” to lament the tendency among children not to spend time outdoors, which he believes resulted in a wide range of mental and physical problems. He highlighted humans’ intrinsic need for outdoor spaces and nature without which they suffer. In the past, children in developed nations have spent more time in the outdoors, more closely connected to the natural environment.
In some countries and societies, children still have these opportunities. The rise in urbanization and dependence on technology may have contributed to children spending less time engaged in nature. Many childhood conditions such as obesity, nearsightedness, hyperactivity, decreased creativity, and depression have all been increasing over the last few decades. How might these be connected to an increase in nature-deficit disorder? How do children who have little contact with nature perceive the world? How might this impact on their understandings and stewardship of the natural environment? Some critics say it is crucial to understand dysfunctional cultural practices to address the long term effects of the troubling trend adequately. How does N-DD affect the health of future generations and the health of the planet, and can solutions cross global and cultural boundaries? What role does technology play?