Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Science, Technology and Research Trust of Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
April 20, 2004
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to be here in Puerto Rico, with its spectacular
cultural richness and natural beauty.
I am particularly honored to join you on this auspicious occasion
to celebrate another treasure—the talent and enterprise of Puerto
Ricans, and the spirit of innovation so evident in your new enterprise:
the Science, Technology, and Research Trust of Puerto Rico.
Our nation is immeasurably richer because Puerto Rican wisdom,
talent, and character are inscribed indelibly in our history. To
be sure, there are new chapters yet to be written as the 21 st
century unfolds! One of these will certainly chronicle the achievements
of the Trust all of you have labored with determination and expertise
This milestone is an excellent occasion to reflect on where we
have come from and where we may be headed next! I've titled my
remarks "Designing a Knowledge Society." I intend to cast a broad
net by first exploring the context that shapes our contemporary
research, education and innovation enterprise, and then offer some
perspectives on how we might design for the future. Then I will
conclude with some comments about National Science Foundation activities.
This morning we have heard excellent presentations highlighting
the extraordinary transformations that have ushered in the new "knowledge
economy." Changes that we scarcely could have imagined 20 years
ago are now common currency. Now, new technologies – and whole
industries – emerge in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Today, knowledge is both the source of inspiration and the object
of aspirations worldwide. People everywhere in the world see the
capacity to create and use knowledge as their best chance to foster
Crossing boundaries is a frequent journey. Scientists and engineers,
scholars, educators, and entrepreneurs are working across many
different disciplines and fields and in diverse sectors to make
the connections that lead to deeper insights and more creative
solutions, and an accelerated pace of progress.
Although we once envisioned the creation and exploitation of new
knowledge as a simple linear process – from research, to development,
to market – that's no longer the case. Not only can scientific
and engineering research drive technological innovation, but it
can also happen the other way around. Innovation can spur the search
for new knowledge and create the context in which the next generation
of research identifies new frontiers.
We live in a new age of opportunities and challenges, fueled by
unprecedented progress in science and engineering and fired by
Many threads intertwine to produce the innovative tapestry that
is the hallmark of our 21 st century knowledge economy. I'll mention
just three that will be familiar to you all.
The first is the realization that universities and their science
and engineering faculty and students are critical resources that
make a valuable contribution to economic development – much the
same way that agricultural, industrial and natural resources did
in the 19 th and 20 th centuries. New knowledge at the frontier
is our new capital, our engine of innovation.
The second is the notion that partnerships – among universities,
colleges, and community colleges, business and government – can
speed the transformation of new knowledge into new products, processes
and services. In their wake they produce new jobs, create wealth,
and improve our social well being.
Third, and perhaps the most radical of the three, is the idea
that we can design partnerships and institutions to achieve common,
long-term goals – in this instance, to bolster economic development
and raise the standard of living in regions, across nations, and
indeed, around the globe. This is what the Science, Technology
and Research Trust of Puerto Rico is all about!
These three conceptual innovations – knowledge as capital, partnerships
as transformational, and design as intent – are the heart and soul
of what has transformed research, education, innovation, and enterprise
over the past several decades.
Looking back, I'm struck above all, by how startling and visionary
these ideas once were—and equally, how much we take them for granted
today! We are now so steeped in the rhetoric of "innovation" and
the "knowledge economy" that it's a struggle to imagine how little
salience these terms had only a few years ago.
I have no doubt that in another twenty years, when we take stock
of what we have accomplished, we will discover conceptual innovations
that are equally visionary.
Of the three conceptual innovations I mentioned, "design as intent" is
the freshest, and the one we have not yet fully explored.
What I mean by design is captured perfectly by the architect and
ecologist William McDonough. "Design," he says, "is the manifestation
of human intent." 1 As
an engineer, I am accustomed to thinking in terms of systems designed
to meet specific ends. Applying this directly to the larger context
of economic and social prosperity is the radical step.
It takes us beyond technical solutions to a whole new realm of
possibilities. Innovative thinking can drive design of all kinds – not
just in technology, but also in shaping educational and social
institutions, in crafting policies, and even in molding our perspectives
on a life worth living. It broadens the scope of our aspirations
so that we can begin to imagine entirely new paths, new options
to move us into the future.
Holistic design—or, design that incorporates a larger vision—is
our window into the future. Increasingly, it is possible – and
even necessary – to measure our own progress not by comparison
with others, but with an eye on the future we wish to create.
This takes us beyond the knowledge economy to the knowledge society
. In the knowledge society, we design the future of our choice
from the wealth of options available to us. Embracing this vision
is the vital step toward improving the quality of life, finding
new approaches to human dilemmas of long duration, and addressing
Those of you here today are pioneers with a daring and bold vision
for Puerto Rico. You have designed a trajectory that will carry
you to the knowledge economy. But you will want to go beyond .
That is: Move beyond the "knowledge economy" to a "knowledge society" in
which nobody gets left behind. The aim is to make everybody an
integral and contributing part of society. The knowledge society
should truly be "the rising tide that lifts all boats." You can
show us how to do this!
Now that I have challenged you—and it's a challenge that confronts
us all —let me don my National Science Foundation hat. Most of
you will be familiar with NSF activities here in Puerto Rico. These
range from the highly visible Aricebo Observatory, with the world's
largest single radio wavelength reflector, to the Puerto Rico Math
and Science Partnerships program, and include support for a host
of investigators and educators throughout Puerto Rico's colleges
and universities. These are valuable, long-term efforts. But there
is a vision and intent to do much more.
At NSF, we view ourselves as partners in the important work of
creating opportunity and capitalizing on new knowledge. Like discovery,
learning and innovation, that work is both an investment and a
One example is the NSF Partnerships for Innovation program. This
program aims to catalyze partnerships among colleges and universities,
state and local governments, and the private sector to develop
the people and tools needed to spur the transformation of knowledge
into the products, processes, systems and services that fuel economic
When we first set about designing this program, we had many hours
of lively debate about how it should be structured. We all knew
that the program would best serve its purpose if it attracted a
diversity of institutions, partnerships, and proposed experiments
in innovation. We wanted to provide maximum freedom for grantees
to be innovative about innovation.
In the end, we decided to impose very few restrictions on the
program. By imposing guidelines and boundaries at the onset, we
stifle the opportunity to reach beyond the limits of imagination.
As it turns out, we made the right choice. Like so many choices
viewed retrospectively, it now seems like the only one possible.
The quality and creativity of the proposals we received went beyond
our expectations. Each project has a unique flavor that can come
only through local knowledge, expertise, and specific experience,
applied to a concrete challenge.
This is where you come in—local knowledge and expertise, and specific
experience applied to a concrete challenge. I refer to the Partnerships
in Innovation program only as an instance of a more general mode
that characterizes how NSF supports discovery, learning and innovation.
The best ideas will come from your creativity and the strength
of your vision.
Over the years, the science and engineering research and education
community has collaborated with NSF in this way to design a number
of innovative partnership approaches. These range from partnerships
to improve educational outcomes at all levels, to partnerships
designed to encourage local innovation and stimulate economic development.
Partnerships are increasingly important. They bring to the table
participants with different expertise and resources, and a diversity
of perspectives. As our products, processes, and services continue
to increase in complexity, our need for a diversity of combinations
and partners will grow as well. Partnerships are also an important
strategy for linking new knowledge and a knowledge-rich workforce
to economic growth and other societal benefits.
But the promise that collaboration holds cannot be fully realized
unless the participants become genuine partners . Only then will
we create partnerships that address not only our needs, but also
build systems and institutions that embody our intentions for the
Today, responding to the rapid pace of change is a formidable
challenge. So we need to build relationships that are flexible
and adaptable to a rapidly changing environment, yet are robust.
Or, to put it in a slightly different light, we need to make our
partnerships sustainable over the long run.
We know that although science is humanity's frontier, there are
also new and burgeoning "frontiers within science." One of NSF's
most urgent responsibilities is to encourage innovative, risky
and highly promising research areas. That is the logic behind our
ever-changing roster of priority areas: to help investigators get
to the frontier and to assist them in finding fresh and creative
directions for research and education.
Consider, for example, the new computer-communications and information
technologies that have transformed the very conduct of research—helping
us to handle vast quantities of data, enabling new ways to collaborate
around the globe, and letting us visualize what before we could
not even imagine. To the traditional methods of theory and observation,
we have added sophisticated modeling and simulation techniques
that allow us to probe the complexities and dynamics of systems
at all levels. We have not yet exhausted the possibilities, and
are now developing a "terascope" capability that will itself be
surpassed in the future.
These tools and methods have also powered advances in molecular
biology, genetics and ecology, stimulating a current revolution
in the life sciences. Nanoscale science and engineering promises
transformation that may be more profound: a "nanoscope" capability
to rival terascope.
I could elaborate on each of these. But you know where your own
strengths will lead you in these areas. Instead, I will focus on
two areas that will be driving forces for future progress and take
us into the knowledge society.
The first is NSF's newest priority area, Human and Social Dynamics.
NSF intends to jumpstart efforts already underway to transform
understanding of our society, our institutions, and ourselves.
Developments in cognitive and neuroscience, computer science, philosophy,
linguistics, mathematics, engineering, psychology, to name only
a few—are opening promising vistas not only in the social sciences
but within the physical and natural sciences, medical sciences
and engineering as well. This is a vast and fertile field for discovery—from
how we learn and make decisions, to the societal consequences of
technology, to the dynamics of democratization. It is difficult
to imagine the transformations this understanding will set in motion
as we begin to unravel these knotty issues.
As you well know, an integral part of progress in this—and in
every —priority area will be a fully capable and empowered citizenry.
That puts education in the spotlight.
We will need to engage in some radical rethinking about education—from
K-12 to lifelong learning. We will need a model of continuous education
suitable to a new world in which change and complexity are the
rule, a world transformed by new knowledge and the technology it
makes possible, a world linked globally, where differences can
be enriching but divisions, if they are allowed to fester, can
have immediate and large scale consequences.
Not only do students today need to know more basic science and
mathematics than ever before, they need skills that have never
before been part of a college curriculum. They will have to be
effective collaborators, innovators, risk takers, and communicators,
working across shifting boundaries, and embracing diversity.
One of NSF's most enduring strategies is to integrate research
and education. But we need to do more. NSF intends to foster innovation
in how we prepare students and faculty—from K-12 through higher
education—to meet the evolving challenges of the 21 st century.
Simultaneously, we aim to broaden participation and attract more
U.S. students to science and engineering fields.
Now let me conclude with some final thoughts. Transition is a
time of opportunity, evolution, and transformation, with all the
chaos, risks and uncertainty that accompany them. The progress
we see in science and engineering holds the potential to shape
a world that is better in important respects. We view discovery
and innovation, resting on the solid bedrock of education, as our
way through contemporary difficulties – to greater economic prosperity
and social well being.
Gathered here, we also see the strength that comes from embracing – and
celebrating – our diversity. I admire and respect your great progress,
and I'm confident that you will create designs for a knowledge
society that they will become part of the fabric of your future.
Our nation has always been blessed with men and women who firmly
believe in the power of discovery and education to transform the
world for the better. Benjamin Franklin, one of our earliest designers
of both institutions and implements, wrote that "the progress of
human knowledge will be rapid and discoveries made of which we
have at present no conception. I begin to be almost sorry I was
born so soon, since I cannot have the happiness of knowing what
will be known a hundred years hence."
Fortunately, we won't have to wait that long to see the fruits
of your efforts! I think we can all be confident that what you
begin today will reap impressive harvests in the near future and
1 William McDonough, "A Centennial Sermon:
Design, Ecology, Ethics and the Making of Things," delivered at The Cathedral
of St. John the Divine, February 7, 1993.
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