Each year, the Modeling the Future Challenge selects a new technology as the theme for the competition. Any area of cutting-edge technology may be selected as the theme. Themes will be broad enough for students to analyze a range of areas within the chosen technology, but kept to one overarching field. For example, the 2017 technology theme was Autonomous Vehicles.
For the 2018-2019 Modeling the Future Challenge we have narrowed the technology theme to three exciting areas of rapidly developing technologies. We are seeking educator and student feedback on these three potential topics until June 29th. Please review the introductory statements below and provide input by completing the rankings at the bottom of this page on which topic you think would be best for your class to research for the Modeling the Future Report.
Potential Theme 1: Genetic Engineering
In 2003, the Human Genome Project was completed, sequencing the human genome for the first time! This allowed researchers to begin to understand how specific genes affect our likelihood of getting certain diseases, or having other conditions develop throughout our lives. It has also opened the door to many legal and ethical concerns and questions. There is no question however, that understanding the human genome better can have profound effects on our future. Since 2003, much has already advanced in our understanding of the human genome. Genes influence health and disease, as well as human traits and behavior. Researchers are just beginning to use genetic technology to unravel the genomic contributions to these different traits, and as they do so, they are also discovering a variety of other potential applications for this technology. For instance, ongoing advances make it increasingly likely that scientists will someday be able to genetically engineer humans to possess certain desired traits.
Of course, the possibility of human genetic engineering raises numerous ethical and legal questions. Although such questions rarely have clear and definite answers, the expertise and research of bioethicists, sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists, and of course, actuaries, can inform us about how different individuals, cultures, and religions may want to use genomics. Moreover, such insights can assist in the development of new government guidelines and policies. Actuaries will play a role in determining many aspects of how companies and governments handle these advancements in genetic engineering - helping to determine the risk associated with various aspects of new drugs, new genetic tests, and other related procedures.
Potential Theme 2: Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology is the design and construction of new biological entities such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells or the redesign of existing biological systems. Synthetic biology builds on the advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology and seeks to transform biology in the same way that synthesis transformed chemistry and integrated circuit design transformed computing. The element that distinguishes synthetic biology from traditional molecular and cellular biology is the focus on the design and construction of core components (parts of enzymes, genetic circuits, metabolic pathways, etc.) that can be modeled, understood, and tuned to meet specific performance criteria, and the assembly of these smaller parts and devices into larger integrated systems to solve specific problems.
Just as engineers now design integrated circuits based on the known physical properties of materials and then fabricate functioning circuits and entire processors (with relatively high reliability), synthetic biologists will soon design and build engineered biological systems. Unlike many other areas of engineering, biology is incredibly non-linear and less predictable, and there is less knowledge of the parts and how they interact. Hence, the overwhelming physical details of natural biology (gene sequences, protein properties, biological systems) must be organized and recast via a set of design rules that hide information and manage complexity, thereby enabling the engineering of many-component integrated biological systems. Actuaries will help project how these new organisms will change the future in everything from computers, to agriculture, to energy production.
Potential Theme 3: Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine
In recent years, researchers have begun to engineer physical structures using human biology. The goal of tissue engineering is to assemble functional constructs that restore, maintain, or improve damaged tissues or whole organs. Artificial skin and cartilage are examples of engineered tissues that have been approved by the FDA; however, currently they have limited use in human patients. Regenerative medicine also incorporates research on self-healing technologies and cell or gene therapies – where the body uses its own systems, sometimes with help foreign biological material to recreate cells and rebuild tissues and organs. This field continues to evolve as new technologies are researched. Particularly 3D bioprinting is opening the door to advanced tissue constructs that may help save lives of patients who have lost primary organ function - such as having damaged kidneys, livers, pancreatic tissue, or cardiovascular tissue.
In addition to medical applications, there are also many non-therapeutic applications including using tissues as biosensors to detect biological or chemical threat agents, and tissue chips that can be used to test the toxicity of an experimental medication. Actuaries will play a role in determining the risk associated with the use of these advanced tissue therapies for patients in need. What is the risk in wide spread adoption of a tissue engineered kidney patch? How will insurance have to respond to the availability of regenerated muscle tissues for elderly patients? Healthcare could see a radical change happening in the coming decades thanks to tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, actuaries will be needed to help project that change and manage the associated risks.
The complete 2018-2019 theme will be announced in July.
Stay tuned for more information about this year's theme! Signup for our email list to receive important updates and notifications about the MTF Challenge!