For each area, examples of research problems focused on sustainability opportunities are given. The discussions do not provide a comprehensive list of problems to be solved, but do provide exemplars of the type of work that both advances computer science and has the potential to advance sustainability objectives significantly. In examining opportunities for research in CS and sustainability, questions that one should attempt to answer include these: What is the potential impact for sustainability? What is the level of CS innovation needed to make meaningful progress?
As discussed in Chapter 1, complete solutions to global sustainability challenges will require deep economic, political, and cultural changes. With regard to those changes, the potential role for CS and IT research discussed in this chapter is often indirect, but it is still important. For example, CS research could focus on innovative ways for citizens to deliberate over and to engage with government and with one another about these issues, with the deliberations closely grounded in data and scientific theory. For some critical sustainability challenges, such as the anticipated effects of global population growth, the potential CS research contribution is almost entirely of this indirect character. For instance, there is potential for using the results of modeling and visualization research toward the aim of improved education and better understanding of population and related issues. In addition, advances in IT in the areas of remote sensing, network connectivity services, adaptive architectures, and approaches for enhanced health diagnosis and care delivery—especially in rural areas—also have a bearing on population concerns. Other contributions from CS and IT research toward meeting such challenges could be aimed at developing tools to support thoughtful deliberation, with particular emphasis on encompassing widely differing views and perspectives.
The research areas described in this chapter correspond well with the broader topics of measurement, data mining, modeling, control, and human-computer interaction, which are, of course, well-established research areas in computer science. This overlap with established research areas has positive implications—in particular, the fact that research communities are already established making it unnecessary to develop entirely new areas of investigation. At the same time, the committee believes that there is real opportunity in these areas for significant impacts on global sustainability challenges. Finding a way to achieve such impacts effectively may require new approaches to these problems and almost certainly new ways of conducting research.
In terms of a broad research program, an important question is how to structure a portfolio that spans a range of fundamental questions, pilot efforts, and deployed technologies while maintaining focus on sustainability objectives. For any given research area in the sustainability space,