4 key challenges facing America in the 21st Century


Technological innovations permeate nearly every facet of society and are changing the shape of major institutions such as computing infrastructure, the criminal justice system, the economy and the educational system. For each major change, ethical and accountability questions come to the forefront of discussion among public advocates, legislators and citizens.

All parties agree that newfound changes should be fair for all, but defining fair isn’t always clear in these new, untested waters. In the meantime, the policies that regulate new innovations stretch and bend as system architects and laws designed to protect public interests influence the use and implementation of new resources.

This environment requires a new kind of rapport between technology developers and societal stakeholders. Left unchecked, firms may primarily conform to activities that promote profit and corporate success. Although enterprises follow a predetermined set of ethics, the people who are affected by commercial activities need to observe and react to the operational outcomes that affect the community. This is where community advocacy and government intervention come into effect.

The rapid volley of technological innovations is changing the world drastically. The following 4 narratives highlight a few modern social issues that are experiencing a transformation due to technology and a changing social environment.

Challenge 1: Funding the Educational System

In the United States, the federal government provides a mere 10.8-percent of funding for elementary and secondary schools. The government calculates state funding disbursements using information compiled from national statistics. However, each state must generate the remaining funds needed to cover educational expenses for residents, despite the amount of their tax revenues. The federal government, however, fully outlines legislation for educational policies across the nation. Despite the disconnection of the nation’s education system on a state and federal level, educators are working to improve learning outcomes for the underserved and disabled as well as students who do not speak fluent English.

Challenge 2: Maintaining a Healthy Economy

Overall, the United States economy is positive compared to recent years. However,economists are bracing for a correction. The Federal Reserve is on alert and preparing for an economic downturn in the future. As a result, the Fed has raised interest rates on several occasions. Analysts are not sure exactly what will happen, but they acknowledge that the positive trends of low unemployment and relatively steady inflation cannot continue unless American productivity takes a turn for the better.

Challenge 3: Improving the Criminal Justice System

Crime is a timeless social ill. While officials will never completely rid society of crime, they will do their best to minimize it. One tool that law enforcement officials have successfully implemented to reduce crime is the CompStat data analysis system, introduced in 1994. Officials use CompStat to collect and analyze national crime statistics. The resource aids police departments in understanding and preventing crime in the United States.

By using big data technology to analyze crime trends from across the nation, police departments can learn more effective ways to deploy organizational resources. Over the last 20-years, many communities have enjoyed reduced crime rates due to CompStat insights. In fact, approximately 80-percent of medium to large police departments take advantage of CompStat technology.

Challenge 4: Managing Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is making its way into homes and businesses around the globe. Developers label currently available AI technologies as “weak AI,” or technologies that can only perform specific tasks, such as driving cars, playing chess or identifying faces. However, engineers are working on the next generation of AI, called “strong AI,” that will potentially outperform humans cognitively in nearly every way possible. While the technology already benefits society in many ways, developers continue to ensure that AI is advantageous for society by conducting research in several areas, such as:

  • Data validation

  • Data verification

  • Economics

  • Law

  • Research and development

  • Security

  • System control

On another front, legislators must figure out how to prevent powerful AI technologies from becoming a deadly influence in the global arms competition.

Economists have voiced concerns about the potential of technological innovations to displace workers. Along with satisfying personal relationships and personal interests, meaningful work is a significant part of individual identity. It’s very possible that future technology solutions for society’s biggest challenges may leave many pondering existential questions.

Advocates for public good are also working to improve progress in correcting social issues, such as classism, climate change, racism and segregation. In the meantime, the gap between affluent and low-income households continues to widen, but social advocates still make big differences in the lives of many individuals in society.

Technological advancements improve the safety and quality of life for many in society. To continue promoting this outcome, the world needs talented, skilled workers trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Currently the availability of skilled STEM workers outpaces available, qualified talent, and the demand for these professionals is on the rise.