Inventing the Future


Editor’s Recommendation

More Notes from the President

June 12, 2017

Invention is deeply embedded in the history of The Pew Charitable Trusts. In business, the Pew family patented groundbreaking technologies and offered their employees benefits that were equally novel, including one of the earliest profit-sharing plans in the country. Their desire to innovate in pursuit of progress extended to their philanthropy, with early investments devoted to researching cures for cancer and helping historically black colleges and universities educate a new generation of young leaders.

In this second edition of Trend, we explore the theme of putting knowledge to purpose, looking at the many aspects of invention today. From engineering to public policy to the internet, human ingenuity constantly changes how we analyze risk, prevent and treat disease, find information, travel, steward our resources, and govern ourselves. As award-winning epidemiologist Dr. Alfred Sommer explains, it’s both risk-taking and persistence that lead to breakthrough discoveries across diverse fields of endeavor.

There’s no doubt that experimentation can save lives, build prosperity, and leave the world a better place for future generations. But new knowledge—and innovative ways to live and work that are the result of technological change—also present new dilemmas. One is what Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center calls the “great re-sorting” of the roles people play in the world and the functions that machines will assume. While there are clear benefits, are we giving up too much of our privacy? How do we prepare workers for the computers and robots that alter their way of earning a living? And how do we assess and manage the impact of allowing algorithms that emphasize profit and efficiency to become more influential than human judgment?

Trend takes a close look at how some of these challenges are being addressed and why we must consider the broader implications of our own technological progress. We also examine how new discoveries can be harnessed to help us collaborate and solve problems, illustrating the fascinating ways in which data, science, and human creativity can spark astonishing advancements. I invite you to read along and offer your own thoughts about the blessings and quandaries that come with inventing the future. 

Please share your thoughts on this issue of Trend by writing us at trend@pewtrusts.org, or join the conversation on Twitter with #PewTrend.