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Remarks

Photo of Joseph Bordogna

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation
Biography

Science, Technology and Research Trust of Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico
April 20, 2004

Governor Calderon
Secretary Segarra
Dr. Villamil
Dr. Bell
President Padilla
Subsecretary Torres
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

Buenos dias.

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 to create.

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 economic prosperity.

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 technological innovation.

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 common goals.

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 never-ending adventure.

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 development.

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 future.

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 far beyond.

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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