Carnegie Mellon University
July 02, 2012

News Brief: NRC Report Says Computing Advances Vital to Sustainability Efforts

Panel Recommends Problem-Focused, Iterative Approach to Research

Innovation in computing will be essential to finding real-world solutions to sustainability challenges in such areas as electricity production and delivery, global food production, and climate change, according to the report of a National Research Council committee that included Jennifer Mankoff, associate professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

The immense scale, numerous interconnected effects of actions over time, and diverse scope of sustainability challenges require the ability to collect, structure, and analyze vast amounts of data. The study committee concluded that advances in computing — such as ones that allow us to make trade-offs, understand complex systems and their connections, and account for uncertainty — will be critical to meeting sustainability challenges.

"These problems are as complex as they are important; we need to engage deeply across disciplines to have any hope of meeting global sustainability challenges," said Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of the committee. The report uses smart energy grids, sustainable agriculture, and resilient infrastructure as examples to illustrate the potential impact of advances in computing. In each example, the report shows how information, data management, and computational approaches can be used to weigh costs and benefits of alternative approaches, minimize the risks of failures and disaster, and cut waste and unnecessary redundancy.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The report, "Computing Research for Sustainability," can be downloaded from the National Academics Press site.