CAST releases top scientific and engineering questions for 2024

The China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) has released the 2024 edition of major scientific questions, engineering challenges and industrial technology questions, with 10 items in each category, covering hotspot areas such as artificial intelligence (AI,) deep space exploration, and pursuit of the country's dual carbon goals. This year's edition marked its seventh consecutive release. Since 2018, the CAST has leveraged its talent and organizational advantages, organizing national societies, federations of societies, enterprise associations, and relevant international organizations for seven consecutive years to list the major scientific questions and challenges. The CAST plays a crucial role in guiding national departments, including the Natural Science Foundation of China, in conducting research projects. More importantly, it has directed the broader scientific community to follow global scientific developments, focusing on original and leading research, thereby enhancing academic and scientific leadership. As a result, its overall influence on mainstream scientific discourse has been increasing year by year.

The year of 2024 is also of exceptional significance, as it is a crucial one for implementing the targets and tasks of the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-25) and this year's parliamentary sessions included accelerating the development of new quality productive forces in the government work report and listed it at the top of the ten major tasks for 2024. For the first time university science and technology associations also participated in compiling the list of questions and challenges.

Research and application of robots with emotion and intelligence was listed first in the list of frontier scientific questions as it is of great significance for the development of general AI technology. The selected areas also include the independent development of controllable high-performance GPU chips as most GPUs used in China's existing computer network are supplied by U.S. chip firms such as NVIDIA, AMD and Intel. The engineering technology challenges this year also include the exploration of Neptune, the farthest planet from the sun in the solar system. A mission to orbit Neptune, enter its atmosphere, and explore the moon Triton is expected to provide important clues about the origin of the solar system and planets, as well as the origin of life, holding significant scientific value, the Global Times was told by the Chinese Society of Astronautics (CSA). The CSA believed that there is an urgent need to conduct research on spacecrafts capable of reaching and conducting long-term observations at a distance of 30 astronomical units. This will drive the development of key technologies such as intelligent autonomy for long-distance spacecraft, efficient energy and propulsion systems, and telemetry and communication.

To achieve the country's dual carbon goal reaching the peak of carbon emissions by 2030 and attaining carbon neutrality by 2060, among the 10 selected industrial technology topics, research on carbon emission monitoring based on digital technologies was included. The project, proposed by the China Institute of Communications (CIC,) is significant in using digital technology to create a comprehensive carbon source database to complement the satellite, aerial, and terrestrial monitoring systems. The use of blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing in monitoring carbon emissions is still in its early stages.

The 10 major scientific questions also include research on whether the ancient hominids found in China were the ancestors of modern Chinese populations, and on high-efficiency combustion and near-zero emission control of heavy-duty internal combustion engines operated with ammonia-hydrogen. The 10 engineering challenges involve research on the safety and reliability of high arch dams in high seismic intensity zones with complex geological conditions and achieving brain-computer interaction through high-throughput multimodal approaches. The 10 industrial technology questions for 2024 also include the sustainable development of high-speed and high-capacity optical transmission systems, the Global Times reports.