The Roaring 20s, a hundred years later. The 1920s benefited from the Second Industrial Revolution: the widespread adoption of electricity, telecommunications, and cheap transportation. The 2020s will benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the rise of artificial intelligence (AI)—code that learns—which is perhaps the most important invention in history.
Imagine if today’s Roaring 20s came to be a time of great progress; not just extraordinary and exponential technologies, but rather human progress toward more just and equitable societies. In 2015, the United Nations adopted a set of Global Goals for Sustainable Development that provide a roadmap for a better future by 2030.
To serve as the Earth Owner’s Manual—a guide for difference makers and impact investors—the Global Goals need an update in order to reflect impact opportunities and emerging issues.
We considered the Grand Challenges for Engineering (GCE) from the National Academy of Engineering, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges (GFGC), the Global Shapers Community sponsored by the World Economic Forum (WEFGS). We also consulted the Future of Life Institute (FLI), Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), National Science Foundation (NSF), and Seth Godin (who built his own list of 23 problems worth solving). We’ve condensed our 2017 list from 32 to 25 by expanding a few of the Global Goals.
The first 17 goals are the UN Global Goals, with a few friendly amendments:
1. No poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere. GFGC suggests entrepreneurship
2. Zero hunger: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. GCE mentions better fertilization technologies and capturing and recycling waste. GFGC mentions the importance of agriculture policy and monitoring pests and communicable disease.
3. Good health and well-being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for everyone at all ages. GCE stresses better medicines and health informatics. The GFGC covers many aspects of this huge category, including nutrition, health supply chain, health workers, and diagnostics. Others add extending physical fitness and longevity.
4. Quality education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. GCE calls that personalized learning (like SPARK Schools, featured image). Seth Godin recommends a replacement for the traditional university.
5. Gender equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. WEFGS created a campaign called #WeSeeEqual.
6. Clean water and sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. WEFGS see water crises are among the fastest-growing social, political and economic challenges, ranking as one of the greatest long-term risks in the world. (See the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Challenges for water, sanitation, and hygiene.)
8. Decent work and economic growth: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. GFGC suggests prioritizing women and girls at the center of development. GCE supports enhanced training with virtual reality.
WEFGS says the Fourth Industrial Revolution is forcing us to rethink how countries develop, how organizations create value, and even what it means to be human. They add that entrepreneurship is essential in bringing markets into competitive balance through their creative use of underutilized resources.
9. Industry, innovation, and infrastructure: Build more resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation. GEC urges improved urban infrastructure.
10. Reduced inequalities: In order for nations to flourish, equality and prosperity must be available to everyone. The rise of AI is producing benefits but accelerating income inequality. The GFGC calls for effective advocacy for humanitarian aid and equitable policies.
11. Sustainable cities and communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. WEFGS launched the #ShapingMyCitysFuture campaign promoting efficient cities, and smart and sustainable solutions for liveability.
12. Responsible consumption and production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Godin added, “High efficiency, sustainable methods for growing sufficient food, including market-shifting replacements for animals as food.”
14. Life below water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
15. Life on land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.
16. Peace, justice and strong institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. WEFGS has advised broad civic participation.
17. Partnerships for the goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. The GFGC adds interoperability of social data.
The National Academy for Engineering with support from other leading think tanks adds a few emerging challenges and opportunities:
18. Understand the brain: Predict how interactions between the physical and social environment enable behavior. Inform AI and advances in healthcare, manufacturing and communication. The NSF said, “Understanding the brain’s activities promises innovative and integrated solutions to challenges in our ability to predict how collective interactions between brain function and our physical and social environment enable complex behavior.”
19. Cybersecurity: Prevent intentional or unintentional attacks on public systems and uses of AI systems that do harm or pose an existential risk. FLI said, “there is great opportunity to improve lives with AI, but if the technology is not developed safely, there is also the chance that someone could accidentally or intentionally unleash an AI system that ultimately causes the elimination of humanity.” And FHI prioritized AI governance and how geopolitics, governance structures, and strategic trends will affect the development of advanced artificial intelligence.
20. Prevent nuclear terror: Nuclear security represents one of the most urgent policy issues of the 21st century. FLI said a global war could kill a large percentage of the human population and the resulting nuclear winter could be even deadlier than the war itself.
21. Biotechnology for good: Reduce risk from especially dangerous pathogens and curb the negative effects of cloning, gene splicing, and a host of other genetics-related advancements. FHI is working with institutions around the world to reduce risk from dangerous pathogens.
22. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery: Acquire new knowledge about the physical and biological worlds; expand access to data science and impact partnerships. A growing list of impact organizations is expanding access to data and machine learning tools, including AI4All, youcubed, and AI4K12, among others.
The last two are widely supported, but differently phrased contribution opportunities:
23. Powerful expressions: Extend the quality of and access to human expression, visual and performing arts. WEFGS said, “Arts and culture are key ingredients of a healthy society, helping people to interpret the world and each other.” Godin suggests the creation of “dramatically new artistic methods for expression.”
24. Getting along: WEFGS stated that “Values serve as a pillar of a healthy society.” They are complemented, according to KnowledgeWorks, by empathy, perspective and self-regulation. They empower dignity and difference-making in a diverse society.
And one more, in case these don’t work:
25. Space and extraplanetary life: Explore outer space and the potential for life on other planets. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said, “We humans have to go to space if we are going to continue to have a thriving civilization” and that “eventually it will be much cheaper and simpler to make really complicated things, like microprocessors and everything, in space.” Godin suggests off-planet outposts and successful interactions with intelligent species off Earth.
Putting the UN Global Goals to Work
Studying the Global Goals is a good way to figure out how you can make the biggest difference. Getting to work on them in school is super motivating for kids and builds the most important skills: leadership and problem solving. It turns out that contribution is the superpower of the new economy—everyone is looking for people who can spot problems and deliver value. That’s why thousands of teachers are incorporating the Global Goals into their classrooms.
What if, instead of teaching subjects in high school, we allowed them to explore the Global Goals that provide a roadmap for a just and sustainable future while they figure out who they are, what they’re good at, and where they want to begin making a difference?
If half of high school was devoted to projects exploring the Global Goals (and the other half to skillbuilding), there would be time for a week or two on each goal and three or four deep dives for juniors and seniors. Integrate a few projects, and you’ve got a great opportunity to teach history and science in the making. Every goal has a big data set behind it, which is well suited for math applications.
Think big, but start small. Pick Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and use it to study the history and future of efforts to reduce inequality (Goal #10) in America. Use the Goals to inspire knowledge, skill and action—starting today!