In the future, technology will be able to help address issues such as crop failure in the developing world, the competitiveness of the U.K. economy and even understand the motivation of historical figures.
The British Computer Society (BCS) has laid out the most pressing economic, environmental and social issues facing the world that it feels could be solved with technology within the next two decades.
One of the challenges listed by the BCS is to develop a way for computers to virtually map out the external and internal functions of plants as they grow, helping scientists to see what's happening within the plant and understand why it's taking place.
The challenge is currently being tackled by the In Vivo-In Silico project, led by professor Andrew Bangham from the D'Arcy Thompson Centre for Computational Biology in the University of East Anglia's School of Computing Sciences.
The project has a deadline of 2020 and is seen as a way to increase understanding around crop failure and to work out how to tackle it.
Meanwhile the Memories for Life project is aimed at organizing, managing and exploiting a lifetime of human experience. The challenge is inspired by the idea that the whole waking life of an individual will be able to fit on a single computer disc in 20 years' time.
The work could lead to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and virtual reality, leading to the development of technologies such as a care companion for the elderly or a 'nomenclator'--a device that can provide people with information about others when they first meet.
The project is chaired by professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Southampton, Nigel Shadbolt.
Speaking at the Grand Challenges in Computing Research Conference last year Shadbolt said: "One theme that has emerged is the idea of a posthumous memory. We're all aware of questions we'd liked to have asked people who are no longer with us. There are issues around how one interacts and sympathetically records the memories and traditions of people who are dear to us."
Another project is Bringing the Past to Life for the Citizen, which is aimed at virtually recreating past events to understand circumstances and the motivation of the leading figures in history. One use of this would be to allow people to visit historical locations without having to travel to them.
This project is chaired by professor David Arnold, professor of computer science and dean of the Faculty of Management and Information Systems at the University of Brighton.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall, former BCS president and co-author of the Grand Challenges report, said people do not fully appreciate the ability of technology to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society in the future.
She added that IT's impact on infrastructure, food, climate and personal lives will be similar to the industrial revolution of the late 19th century.
The BCS is working on the Grand Challenges with the UK Computing Research Committee, the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing.
This article was originally posted on Silicon.com.