Welcome to the Werbos World!


6 MegaChallenges for the 21st Century


·      Key Challenges To Basic Scientific Understanding:


1.   What is Mind? (how to build/understand intelligence)

·       Intelligence up to the subsymbolic level, ordinary neural nets today

·       Symbolic/semiotic intelligence and beyond

2.   How does the Universe work? (Quantum physics...)

3.   What is Life? (e.g., quantitative systems biotechnology)


·      Key Broader Challenges to Humanity:


4. Sustainable growth on Earth

·       Global sustainable energy/environment & mid-term survival

·       “yin sustainability,” e.g. population, related women’s issues, peace

5. Cost-effective sustainable space settlement

6. Human potential  -- growth/learning in brain, soul, integration (body)

·        World Religions




  For many years, I have been doing research, publishing papers, giving talks and doing what I can to help, addressing most of the big “megachallenges” above. You can find many of my papers (and some citations to papers in press), and important papers of others, simply by clicking on the section or subsection you are interested in today. But I have also tried to understand these complex issues as a single whole, and to see the larger patterns here; I have added a lot of text to serve as a kind of introduction or unification of the various strands. The artwork is just a pictorial representation of the same six megachallenges.   


NEW IN 2021: In 2009, when I handled climate, cybersecurity and other issues for Senator Specter, working with the Senate EPW Committee (which handled climate legislation like the Obama bill), I understood the need for 1-4 page summaries of important complex issues. That is why I started my personal blog. Click on one of these three lists (with titles and links) which address the world’s two most urgent “existential risks,” threats which really are moving now to make the human species extinct.

(1)  Climate extinction, the real risk and low cost ways to stop it

(2)  Sustainable Intelligent Internet (SII), How to prevent a fast coming disaster which today’s regulation strategies alone are only making worse

(3)  How climate extinction and internet connect  (and other connections)

True progress in building intelligent and human centered internet requires deeper understanding of human minds, brains and even souls (for those of us who believe in all these things). For blogs on those connections, starting from the NSF research initiative I formulated and ran in 2008, see:

   Minds, Brains, Souls in a unified new mathematical viewpoint explaining what seem like contradictions between objective reality and first person experience


2015: Click here to see the one-paragraph bio  we used in our 2015 paper in Automatica proving stability for a class of neural network intelligent control systems. Retired from the National Science Foundation in February (2/15/15). Have not been able to include all my new papers on this website, but many of  them are easy enough to locate on google scholar or even researchgate. One of my publishers sent me a list of the different fields I have published in, and it was an incredibly long list.


      2011: Click here to see my official bio at the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year, I have been awarded the Hebb Award, one of the two highest awards of the International Neural Network Society, the award which recognizes work in understanding how learning works in biological brains; click here to see an interview for a general audience on the occasion of that award. 2009: resume put together for members of Congress, as part of my Brookings Legislative Fellowship that year. Back in 2006, this website had more information on my family, but it became so out of date that I drop that until it can be updated (accommodating growing privacy concerns).


Some general comments cutting across the megachallenges:


            2011: Book chapter, “Strategic thinking for leadership in Science and technology”, in  Leadership in Science and Technology, W. Bainbridge, Ed., Sage, 2011.


            The six megachallenges fall into two big groups: (1) challenges to our objective, clear understanding of the foundations of our life and our world; and (2) challenges to protect and improve the future condition of humanity.

The second set of challenges calls us all to protect the future of humanity and life in general in three places – earth, outer space and inner space. These three challenges include everything. They are really just a kind of bookkeeping device, to focus our attention more clearly on the future of humanity in general.

Better understanding will be crucial to our ability to address the humanity challenges effectively. You can see that by looking at each of the six challenges, and seeing how strong the connections are between them. I have also discussed these connections in two global talks given in 2006 in South Korea arranged by the “State of the Future” Millennium Project of the United Nations system; click here to see the (1 meg) talk for futurists, or click here to see the (1 meg) talk for science policy people.

The views on this web page are my own personal views. (None of the organizations I work with would take such strong positions across all of the issues I discuss here!) These views are all very different from the standard conventional wisdoms which you would find in any of the hundreds of self-confident cultures which criss-cross the earth. But in fact – the conventional wisdoms all contradict each other. The more one probes deeply, and tries to resolve the contradictions, the more one ends up seeing things quite differently.

Richard Clark (U.S. National Security advisor under Clinton) recently published an important novel, Breakpoint. In that novel, the argues that the real trends and issues and problems in our world are very different from what is seems on the surface. He is right – but he has only drilled down one level closer to reality. He has only taken one “red pill.” Every level changes things a lot. We need to take many “red pills.”

In addressing all six of these challenges – even the challenge of enhancing subjective human experience – I try to take a systematically rational approach. This means that I try to define a clear goal in each case, and work out a concrete strategy designed to maximize progress towards that goal. For example, I ask: how can we find a rational strategy to understand how the universe works better than we do today? If we push sheer logic to the limit, without any regard to conventional wisdom, where does it point to? How can we unify our understanding of how it all works? I like to believe that the resulting strategies are a lot more vigorous, focused and viable than the fuzzy, ineffective vision papers we see coming out of most of the policy community. Yet some policy makers, like bean counters, do more harm than good by going to the opposite extreme, when they apply “rationality” to the wrong goals or blind themselves to important aspects of human life. What kind of rationality do we really want, in making global policy decisions? Click here for my view…

Thank you very much for considering these views… and for thinking hard about the challenges which belong to all of us…