Additional Areas of Promising Computer Science
and Related Research for Sustainability
In addition to the research areas discussed in Chapter 2 of this report, following is a list presenting a sampling of topics and areas that arise in computer science and information technology more generally that are likely opportunities for making progress in sustainability.
• Science of resilience and adaptive systems. This is a likely area of opportunity especially as it applies to self-regulating processes, biodiversity, and metrics of adaptability.
• Design for robustness, resilience, graceful degradation, and the decoupling of abstractions from implementation (for instance, designing for average-use cases and building in techniques for degradation, as opposed to designing for peaks with safety margin).
• Mass customization, especially in the role of programming languages. This is a likely area of opportunity for many levels of programming, at many stages of the life cycle.
• Understanding technology in context. One cannot understand how technology will affect sustainability without understanding what people will do with it. The emphasis in computer science on extensibility in system design takes into account the fact that technology as used matters, not just as designed.
• Design thinking. This area is involved with the invention of things that people will use and engage with, which is crosscutting for multiple domains.
• Search—a profound advance resulting from decades of research and innovation in multiple areas. What is the equivalent of search in the physical world? How do we deal with unstructured search, taxonomy, structured query processing—search for data relevant to scientific discovery?
• Computer vision. This field offers likely opportunity as a modality for searching and understanding the physical world.
• Representation for purposes of discovery. This is an area of opportunity in terms of representation of the physical world and of sustainability problems.
• Social media. This area of opportunity relates to information support and sharing, building community, structured argumentation, sensing, modeling, and observation.
• Tools for the automated design of very large scale systems. This is an area of opportunity that includes the development of capabilities to cope with challenges where there is functional decomposition
As one example, many sustainability challenges, particularly those related to infrastructure, make salient the importance of architecture. Architecture encompasses not just structural connections among subsystems, but expectations regarding what a system will do, how its performance