The Human Genome Project showed the ability of the international science community, when working in harmony to an ambitious and imaginative goal, to exceed expectations of progress that seemed hopelessly unrealistic at the outset. In the new century, a challenge to build an intelligent brain can similarly drive progress in electronics, nanotechnology, computation and neuroscience. This is well beyond our current capacity; it would be a challenge to the pretensions of both physics and biology. The by-products would include a new, fundamental understanding of ourselves, and a new means of control over our environment. The consequences of both are unforeseeable, but in an uncertain world, we must equip ourselves with the tools to respond to constantly changing threats.
For society, a major challenge will be to sustain democratic structures, and avoid disintegration based on deepening separation between those who understand and control the new technologies and those who feel threatened by them. We must include people in decisions that will affect their lives, or face growing alienation. This needs an unprecedented drive to popular education and understanding of science. We have to engage people so that they can share in the ambitions of science, in the pride of achievement and in the debates about its applications.
See Gareth Leng‘s website