I've been asked to contribute to a coming WIRED issue that discusses "what we need from science." Here's a draft for comment. Of course, much of it will seem yawningly familiar to you folks....
Given the daunting range of problems and opportunities that we face, I'd have to say that our most urgent scientific and technological need is to develop better methods for problem-solving.
Some pieces to the puzzle are already getting attention. Governments and big institutions are developing ways to combine sensor meshes and data mining with powerful analytic and projection tools. But this emphasis on centralized or professional-level anticipation ignores the other half of the solution -- generating a resilient citizenry. A populace so knowing and capable that all problems get noticed and addressed, quickly, by a billion eyes.
Naturally, quild-credentialed professionals have mixed feelings about such a prospect. But, in fact, this trend is in keeping with the way markets, democracy and science all use lateral feedback, rather than than top-down control.
Of course, that won't be enough. We also need help from science to achieve rapid increases in effective human _intelligence and _sanity. This may be achieved somewhat through rising individual abilities, both at thinking and using advanced tools. But the real potential may be in better collective intelligence, through improved methods of positive sum debate and discourse. That will call for tools that are vastly better than the drivel that passes for "discussion" on today's websites and blogs.
Finally, I think the word "sanity" is ripe for rediscovery, after years of well deserved exile (for past, horrific mis-uses). We may be ready for a new, modern and eclectic definition -- one that is based upon tolerance, adaptability, satiability, positive-sum ambition and openness to change.
Above all, we may benefit immensely if science proves, at last, that self righteous indignation is an addictive, self-doped drug high. Imagine how moderate problem solvers of all kinds will be empowered, when they can point to yammering indignation-junkies at every end of the political spectrum, and tell them to get help.
Then, we might roll up our sleeves and start negotiating with each other like adults, finding ways to heal the world.