30 Stories in 30 Days #9 – “One Question”
“Hello and welcome to our panel discussion on how to better use technology to solve the problems society faces. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m John Lemke the Chairman of the Physics Department here at the university. I specialize in making very fine tuned laser pulses that have a variety of uses, but the one I’m focusing on now is using them in the production of nanomachines, which will almost certainly play a large roll in our lives in the future.
“But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about me. We have a wide range of panelists here today, and I think it best to start by giving them a few minutes to tell you about themselves.
“Our first panelist is Catherine Green who is running for President of the United States as an Independent. And I’m told she wants to announce one of her campaign issues here today. Miss Green.”
“Thank you Professor Lemke. First off, a bit of a clarification. I want to run for President of the United States as an Independent, it’s just I’m having trouble getting on the ballot in this state, not to mention the other forty-nine. But the reason I am here is I wanted to announce an initiative that if I – by some miracle – became President I would start, which I feel fits in perfectly with this conference. I call it The One Question a Year Project. Basically, at the beginning of each year a question would select that anyone – from universities to people shooting the breeze at their local bar – would work on answering during that year. There would be some funding to explore aspects of the question, but the main goal of the project would just be getting everyone thinking about the problem. As a species, by putting our minds to a task we should be able to come up with a solution. Now these questions would not be philosophical questions that have been and will be debated for thousands of years, but more the nuts and bolts sort of questions.
“Now, part of the reason I feel this should be done is that there are numerous problems we face in this country and in the world. But there usually needs to be three things to solve these problems; a solution, the political will, and some unknown, historical X factor. The goal of the project is to provide solutions to the problems and bring focus to the problems which will – hopefully – turn into political will. As to the X factor, we can only hope for the best. History is littered with examples of solutions existing for a problem, there being some political will to solve the problem, and yet nothing being done.
“To better explain what I want this project to do, this is what I would pick as the first question, ‘How can we eliminate hunger?’ Or to rephrase it ‘How can we feed everyone?’ It’s a simple question, but there is no simple answer. Do we need to grow more food? Do we need to grow different types of food? Do we need better methods of preservation or transportation so the food can arrive where it’s needed? Do we need to remodel the economics of food? The possible solutions could range from developing better strains of wheat, or rice, or whatever, to developing new trade routes so the food we do have goes where it’s most needed.
“And a side benefit to working on such a problem would be partial solutions for other problems. As an example, I am a big proponent of vertical farming. For those who don’t know, one version of vertical farming is building a skyscraper, but instead of filling it with offices, fill it with crops, like tomatoes, lettuce, corn, or whatever grown with special lighting. Depending on how big it is, it could supply food for several blocks or neighborhoods to entire towns. Besides the food, you would cut down on greenhouse gasses emitted by shipping all that food from distant farms and you would provide steady work to hundreds or thousands of workers. Like any idea, there are problems, but hopefully if we got everyone thinking about those issues we could find ways around them.
“And I realize I’ve talked long enough, but I hope we can talk more about this during the discussion. I turn it back to you, Professor Lemke.”