2021-2022 Topics

Here are the Future Problem Solving topics for the 2021-2022 Competition Season.

Practice Problem 1: WATER SUPPLY

Suggested Readings

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?

Practice Problem 2: BUILDING GREEN

Suggested Readings

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?

Qualifying Problem: INSECTS

Suggested Readings

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 ever-growing 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?

Affiliate Bowl: MINING

Suggested Readings

Mining is a long-standing means of gathering a wide range of resources vital to aspects of everyday life. The growing demands of mined materials continues to see the mining industry expand at an incredible pace. The technologies in use today and projected for the future are more minerals intensive than ever before. While technology that has made mining both safer and more environmentally sensitive than any other time in history, environmental and other risks remain. Yet without the collection of these important materials, the cornerstones of society like buildings, machines, and communication would not be possible. With environmental protections varying greatly from country-to-country, how can the world collaborate on the best way to extract and share geological materials? With mining as the foundation of countless communities, how will they be impacted by the changing landscape of mining? In the future, are there new areas that might be mined for resources?

 

 

 

International Competition 2022

 

 

 

To Be Announced

2022-2023 Topics

Topics and Suggested Readings for the 2022-2023 Competition Season are now available!

Practice Problem 1: E-Waste

Suggested Readings

Electronic devices are often replaced with the latest version at an alarmingly fast pace. These constant upgrades add to e-waste, significantly impacting the environment and reducing natural resources while consumer demand is being met. Tens of millions of tons of such materials are discarded every year worldwide. Electronic products are full of hazardous substances such as toxic materials and heavy metals that can threaten humans, plants, animals. One method of disposal often employed by developed states is to offload e-waste to low-income countries for resale or demolition. This offloading places developing nations at greater risk of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials. Meanwhile the high rate of device upgrades in developed countries has significant consequences for both people and the environment. What impact does planned disposal have on the amount of e-waste? What incentives can be developed to promote software upgrades for existing devices? As the appetite for ever-increasing technological devices continues, what are the implications for how we dispose of these devices? How can more effective and ethical responses to recycling and disposal policies be encouraged to protect human life and the global environment in the future?

 

 

Practice Problem 2: Digital Realities

Suggested Readings

Technologically, virtual reality is widespread and expanding its application through augmented, enhanced, mixed, and other forms of digital realities. The options and opportunities for its application appear boundless through the integration of 3-D images, gaming, computer-assisted instruction, equipment simulators, and entertainment platforms. The imposition of holographic images over real-world views have applications ranging from education, archaeology, and engineering, to sports training, video games, and artistic expression. The utilization of augmented reality technology is already making significant changes to the manufacturing industry. What other industries will it revolutionize? The inclusion of haptic, visual, and auditory overlays can be both constructive and destructive to users. New opportunities are provided to individuals with disabilities. New treatments are made available to the ill. How will enhanced reality impact human interactions? Digital reality is constantly evolving with advantages for all fields. How will we deal with the fiscal, educational, and psycho-social issues that might arise?

 

 

Qualifying Problem: Robotic Workforce

Suggested Readings

Machines were developed to assist with dangerous and difficult jobs. At present, unskilled human labor is being replaced with robotics more quickly than at any time in history. Advancements of such machines move technology closer and closer to lights-out manufacturing. In countries with robust national safety nets, these changes are viewed as inevitable, and they have begun to explore new human employment concepts. Robotic workers often provide for human safety as in the case of bomb disposal. Laborers are fearful of how these looming employment changes and uncertain of how their work life will proceed. A robotic workforce’s effects go beyond manufacturing as university-trained individuals such as lawyers and accountants are already being impacted by automation. What will the human workforce of the future look like? Will specialized training and education be needed for a combined human and robotic workforce? What will our future work force look like? How will our future economy be impacted by robotics in the workforce?

 

 

Affiliate Bowl: Throw Away Society

Suggested Readings

Consumerism has promoted a ‘throw-away’ society – one in which people do not keep things for very long, preferring single-use and disposable items. This societal approach leads to overconsumption of short term items instead of durable goods that can be repaired. Widespread social influencing often encourages people to focus on the consumption, ownership, and display of material possessions to mark an individual’s social status, identity, and standing. This impacts the environment, lifestyles, and distribution of wealth. Consumerism stretches the world’s limited natural resources. Production is dictated by consumer demand, and businesses try to provide consumers with a growing number of options, including branded goods, to stay afloat. Many products are often fads or are adapted and modified regularly to entice consumers to buy the upgrades despite already having durable ones. Constant upgrades are sought in an effort to achieve greater social standing through material possession instead of meaningful acts. How can societies value all of their members while allowing for – and encouraging – individual perspectives and desires? What are the appropriate balances between local values and global aspirations for consumers?

 

 

 

International Competition 2023

 

 

 

To Be Announced

2008-2009 Topics

FUTURE PROBLEM SOLVING PROGRAM INTERNATIONAL

2008-2009 Topics

 

    
Note that some affiliate programs change the topic order in their affiliate.

The Olympic Games – Once the Olympics was the symbol of pure sport and world peace.  Yet over the years, we have seen terrorism, politics and economics tarnish it.  Currently, we have professional athletes competing, steroid use, biased judging, bribing of officials, and corruption at the highest levels of the IOC.  In addition, there are political and economic implications of hosting it.  What is the role of the Olympics in the future?


Cyber-Conflict – When the Internet was first envisioned, there was probably no thought as to how the use of computers and computing could potentially become an instrument of war. However, with the increased reliance on the computer for maintaining and even operating the critical infrastructures that are key to the smooth operation of not only businesses, but also governments, and the conduct of war, this probability has become reality. The art of war requires that soldiers be able to shoot, move and communicate. With the increased reliance on computers and computer chips to operate vehicles, weapons systems, and communications nodes, it is evident that attacking those computers from a distance becomes desirable. How will these challenges be addressed even as technological advances increase the possibility of cyber warfare?  

Space Junk
 – Since the early days of space flight, a wide variety of discarded materials have been left floating in multiple orbits around the earth.  Will this space junk pose a peril for future flights?  When the discards fall to earth as meteorites, what damage might occur on Earth?  Who should be responsible for the management on Earth?

 

The Counterfeit Economy – At the store in the mall, on the streets of any major city, even on the internet, consumers are bombarded with a variety of merchandise, which is a copy of the original.  This can include the clothes on our backs, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and there is no guarantee that the baseball in your bedroom was actually signed by that favorite athlete.  Although some copies may be legal, many are not.  The counterfeit economy presents several problems to the consumer, retailers, as well as manufacturers.  What are these issues and how can they be addressed within the scope of the global economy?


Pandemic – A pandemic is an illness that strikes over a large number of countries and people all over the world.  STARS, Ebola, AIDS, Mad Cow Disease.  These words strike fear in most people’s hearts for good reason.  We have yet to show that humans can prevent them.  In addition, a variety of old germs, such as tuberculosis, have been showing that they are resistant to all known antibiotics.   In the event of a pandemic, given the wide difference in health care in different countries all over the world, how will we prepare and respond?

2009-2010 Topics

FUTURE PROBLEM SOLVING PROGRAM INTERNATIONAL

2009-2010 Topics

 


Note that some affiliate programs change the topic order in their affiliate.

Sensory Overload – Musak, iPods, cell phones, visual imagery, TV, advertising, the Internet, fusion food, exotic restaurants, sports entertainment, animated billboards, and flashing signs are just a few examples of the kinds of sensory input humans receive on a daily basis. The average supermarket has over 30,000 products and scientists have discovered that this overwhelming assault on our senses impacts our brain-waves. Our senses are continually inundated in ways that would not have been thought possible in our grandparents’ and great grandparents’ era.  We embrace multitasking in all areas of our lives even as investigators raise questions about its effectiveness and advisability. What is the possible future impact of this sensory overload and how will we accommodate our need to process increasing amounts of information?

 

Invasive Species – We find Asian long horned beetles in New York, Australian wattles found in Africa, and Canadian geese in Europe. Globalization has led to increased human travel and trade, and as people move around more, they bring with them species of plants, animals, and diseases from their home regions, introducing these invasive species into non-native habitats.  Such movement of species can harm ecosystems, economies, and human health.  Can such harm be effectively mitigated through eradication and quarantine efforts, including mechanical, chemical, and biological controls?  How much of a role should governments play in these efforts, or should efforts be left to private businesses and organizations?  What role will increased globalization and global climate change play in addressing these concerns or in making matters worse?

Orphaned Children –Throughout the world, places exist where acts of man and acts of nature have conspired to create well over 100 million orphans who struggle to survive every day.  Poverty and suffering are caused by famine, disease, poor economic conditions, social decay, lack of social infrastructure, and natural disasters.  Whatever the reason, the results are the same as that of innocent children with no parents, no home, and diminished chances of survival.  These children often live in doorways and makeshift tents, begging, stealing, or scrounging to find what little food they can. Alone and scared, some orphans live on the streets while others live in underground sewers for protection from the elements.  Many live in crumbling orphanages where the children’s food, medicine, and clothing reflect governments’ meager contribution of sometimes just a penny per day per child.  What can be done to change the conditions for these children?  What will their future be?  How do these situations affect the world as a whole?  If we truly believe that children are our future, what can be done to generate sustainable opportunities for these children?  Who should take the lead in creating these opportunities – nonprofits, governments, or businesses?

 

Food Distribution –A global information and early warning system on food and agriculture was set up some years ago, but the two main elements of the system of food security, namely food reserves and a better deal for developing countries in agricultural trade, have made very little progress.  Unlike developing countries, the world’s richer states have controlled the bulk of surplus grains and could afford to pay for and manage a system of food security. They did not need the surplus for themselves, but now surpluses are shrinking as more grains are used for bio-fuels.  Is it fair for the ‘haves’ to pay for the ‘have-nots’?  How can we fairly and effectively make sure the world’s poorer inhabitants are fed?  What kind of threats, such as terrorism, transportation disruptions, or technological failures, may the world’s food supply be subject to in the future, and how should these threats be dealt with?

 

Green Living – If the global environment is to be saved for future generations, many experts warn that more of the world’s citizens need to participate in “green living.”  This means using materials that reduce pollution of all types in various aspects of daily life, thereby reducing consumption of fossil fuels, and producing less waste.  Homes, clothing, and other everyday items can be made of recycled materials.  Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power can be used in the home or office.  But how necessary are these changes in the way people live?  Do the benefits of change justify the economic costs and personal inconveniences of green living?  What other consequences of change are likely to occur, and can these consequences be mitigated?  If necessary, how can people be persuaded to change the way they live for the sake of the planet’s future health and well-being?