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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"A Vision for 21st Century Science and Engineering"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Korea Science and Engineering Foundatio
Hoseo University

June 9, 2000

Greetings to all of you, and to my good friend, Kun Mo Chung, President of Hoseo University.

Dr. Chung has provided many services and contributions to the world, not the least of which was his service to the National Science Foundation as Program Officer. The strong partnership between KOSEF and NS reflects the esteem with which he is regarded at NSF.

The KOSEF-NSF relationship has built a foundation of mutual respect and friendship between the scientists and engineers of our two countries. We are grateful for the cooperation KOSEF has given us over the years and we are especially grateful for your providing our graduate students with the opportunity to spend the summer in Korea engaged in research and education activities with Korean scientists and engineers.

We look forward to President Kim's visit to NSF on September 25th when we will jointly sign the KOSEF-NSF Memorandum of Understanding.

The long airplane trip over here afforded me some time to learn more about Hoseo University. I was intrigued that you have Korea's only graduate school of venture business and technology which develops world-class entrepreneurs and venture enterprises. I was also delighted to learn that you recently established Korea's first venture major for undergraduate students. These are enormously important national academic capabilities, inherent to societal success in the times ahead.

Hoseo University has been a national leader in this area for some time. In 1995, Hoseo established Korea's first Techno-Business Incubator. More recently, it was designated as a leading university in the field of venture business and technology under the nationwide Brain Korea 21 Project.

This kind of leadership positions Hoseo University to take a leading role in the new millennium and to be at the forefront of the era of information and globalization. Korea is a vibrant place because of institutions like Hoseo, which believe in the embryonic vision of a liberal education rooted in technology. Korea would not have been transformed into the vibrant place it is today, otherwise..

In the next few minutes, I want to talk about NSF's vision for science and engineering in the 21st Century. As I do this, I would like to explore with you a philosophical duality that underlies our creativity as human beings. Whether in science or in our economy, in the academic world or in industry, we continually do away with the familiar and give birth to the new--and do so in a way that relishes and cherishes our humanity.

As you are know, we live in a world that is profoundly different from that of our ancestors. Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, pursuing a deeper understanding of the world, have brought forth advances that have literally transformed our society. For example:

  • The microelectronics and related industries -- enabled by advances in condensed matter physics, materials science and engineering, and computer-aided design (CAD) - have created enormous wealth and millions of jobs.

  • Understanding the structure and properties of DNA is the basis for the new and dynamic biotechnology industry and has opened up new opportunities to address agricultural, environmental and health issues, as well as new venues for economic strength and societal prosperity.

  • Computer-communications technology, from bar code scanners to wireless phones, to the Internet, is transforming all sectors of life, leisure, and the economy.

As we are able to transfer information more and more easily, the rate of societal change rises. As information increasingly becomes the currency of everyday life, we watch this whole pattern accelerate.

It is useful to remind ourselves that the context and environment in which we have to operate will always change and so will the competition. In every era, new enabling technologies quickly influence our methods of commerce, of manufacturing, of service, and even the very social order of our society.

History gives us many examples of this influence -- the steam engine, electricity, and air transportation. Today's composite of digital, electronic, and optical technologies is reforming society as concept-driven, knowledge-ridden, and cognition-enabled.

Colleges and universities are facing information-age transformations as well -- with virtual centers and institutes, shared infrastructure, collaboratories and long-distance learning. The future portends even more. The education that we provide to our children must prepare them to be leaders in this era of change -- to be able "see" and act upon a changing world context.

In an interview three years ago with Forbes magazine, Peter Drucker was asked about his reputation as a futurist and forecaster.

He quickly corrected his questioner: "I never predict. I just look out the window and see what's visible -- but not yet seen."

So when we are trying to imagine the world of the future, we need to look around as well as look directly ahead. We need to learn to read patterns and trends from the larger context to envision the future.

The chances of having good future vision are much better if you understand the larger context in which you work - the sector, the society, and even the time in history, the moment in civilization. Learning to read the larger context gives us a path for imagining the future.

The kind of change engendered by innovation alters our familiar landscapes forever. Eventually, it reshapes our expectations in harmony with the future it has created. And yes, it lays down a new set of rules. Let me illustrate what I mean with an example.

Recently, Danny Hillis, computer philosopher and designer, who pioneered the concept of parallel computing, and in 1996 became the vice president of research and development at The Walt Disney Company, related this incident from his past.

"I went to my first computer conference at the New York Hilton about 20 years ago. When somebody there predicted the market for microprocessors would eventually be in the millions, someone else said, 'Where are they all going to go? It's not like you need a computer in every doorknob!"

Years later, Hillis went back to the same hotel. He noticed that the room keys had been replaced by electronic cards that you slide into slots in the doors. There was, indeed, "a computer in every doorknob," as well as sensors and actuators -- and other hardware to make the software sing.

We live in a global environment where new competitors and partners are emerging like weeds after a spring rain. The ability to read the subtle signals will often make the difference between being the industrial leader or laggard in a field.

At the time when Hillis heard that ill-considered comment about microprocessors in hotel doorknobs, there was a lot more lead-time in the global economy to recoup from such a miscalculation than there would be today.

Today, new knowledge and innovation are the driving forces of the economy. Peter Drucker tells us that innovation is the process of applying new knowledge to tasks that are new and different, demanding that society's new knowledge bank be constantly renewed.

The innovation process is naturally disruptive. Innovation is the task of breaking the economic rules and being rewarded, over and over again.

This dynamic cycle was elaborated by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter. In 1942, Schumpter developed the "rule-breaking" theory of economics. He described the hallmark of technological innovation as "the perennial gale of creative destruction."

According to Schumpeter, a normal healthy economy was not one in equilibrium, but one that was constantly being disrupted by technological innovation. Disruption is an important characteristic of innovation. Transistor technology disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, the CD killed the needle in the groove, and the Internet is disrupting the retail industry.

For many of us, rapid change is not easy to live through. It questions our values and disturbs our sense of order. An institution such as Hoseo must its students for an underlying challenge: to be leaders in this era of change and to fashion a society of human values that reveres the past while embracing the future.

Still, this cycling between bringing forth and casting away is the very core of creativity. Only institutions with leaders (like President Chung, I might say) who are willing to take risks and think bigger and more creatively-may ultimately prosper and thrive in the new millennium.

We all need to nurture the creative zones at the borders of our disciplines - to be able to make connections among specialized areas of knowledge, to understand how seemingly disparate discoveries relate, and to integrate them to benefit the world.

Thinking in this fashion has been the bedrock of NSF's strategic agenda. I would like to share with you the vision statement we've drafted for the agency's strategic plan.

NSF's vision is clear and simple: "Enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation."

By design, this vision captures the dynamism that has shaped NSF. It's no accident that terms like discovery, learning, and innovation are all resting side-by-side in the same set of words. These concepts must be integrated in thought and action.

NSF's three strategic goals outlined in its plan also highlight this dynamic. They are summed up by three key words: People, Ideas, and Tools.

NSF is as much about preparing a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. That's a primary benefit from our support of academic research... and that's been the intent for NSF since its start.

And the tools -- the research platforms, telescopes, databases, and user facilities -- open up the new vistas and frontiers for learning and discovery.

"Learning" and "Discovery" -- these words are natural partners. The "integration of research and education," that is, education and research being as complementary parts of an integrated whole, goes to the heart of how we prepare students and shape the workforce for the future.

To support this intellectual context, encourages the early development of academic faculty as both educators and researchers. One such program entitled "Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER)" supports junior faculty within the context of their overall career development.

CAREER combines, in a single program, the support of quality research and education. In preparing a CAREER proposal, the applicant must propose activities to further both research and educational goals in the context of a holistic professional career vision.

Now let's imagine what science and engineering will be like within the 21st century research and education enterprise. The organizing principle may well be "complexity."

Mitch Waldrop writes in his book, Complexity, about a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos." That is "where the components of a system never quite lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into turbulence, either...The edge of chaos is where new ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling away at the edges of the status quo..."

If we look at science and engineering, we discern this zone of transformation at many scales, in many disciplines, and in the most unexpected places. Probing the frigid ocean waters that surround the continent of Antarctica, we find fish whose blood contains an antifreeze. As the liquid-water molecules in the fish's blood begin to line up to form the structure of ice, the antifreeze protein forces them apart. Order confronts chaos--a dynamic essential to life in this frontier environment.

If we look at materials science, we see a similar dynamic. Researchers are trying to put polymers together with silicon--a marriage of opposites because plastics are chaotic chains while silicon is composed of orderly crystals. The result could give us electronic devices with marvelous flexibility, which could be made much more cheaply and, as a result, empower more people. Again, it comes down to managing order and disorder, at once.

NSF is investing in a new terascale computing system for use by academic researchers. This will take us three orders of magnitude beyond present general purpose and generally accessible computing capabilities.

In the past, our system architectures could handle hundreds of processors. Now, we are working with systems of 10,000 processors. In a very short time, we'll be connecting millions of systems and billions of 'information appliances' to the Internet. Crossing that boundary of 10^12th - one million million operations per second - will launch us to new frontiers. For example, we will be able to run full-scale simulation of the reaction dynamics of biologically important molecules.

We have also been examining ways to enhance our investment in nanoscale science and engineering. This will take us three orders of magnitude smaller than any human-made devices today.

To appreciate what this is all about we need to step back for a moment. Individual atoms are about a few angstroms in diameter -- a few tenths of a nanometer. DNA molecules are about 2.5 nanometers wide.

Biological cells, like red blood cells, have diameters in the range of thousands of nanometers. Microelectromechanical systems are now approaching this same scale. This means we are now at the point of connecting machines to individual cells.

Another research area of profound importance is biocomplexity in the environment. Biocomplexity refers to phenomena that result from dynamic interactions among biological, physical and social components of the Earth's diverse systems. Studying biocomplexity requires a fundamentally new interdisciplinary approach, one that is able to integrate information across spatial and temporal scales, and consider multiple levels of organization and connectivity.

The development of molecular-scale tools, genomics, advanced sensing, modeling, and information technologies now make this approach possible.

As we face the uncertain future, we possess too little knowledge about learning, about cognition, about human behavior as we confront change and take risks. Thanks to new methods and new tools, many social and neuro scientists believe that this field is poised for many exciting new discoveries. We may end up with something like a "Cognitive or Knowledge Revolution" that is likely to make the information revolution look very small indeed.

Research in this area will lay the foundation for progress in many areas of national importance, from teaching children how to read, to understanding learning processes; from building computers that can intelligently interact to designing networks and systems capable of cognition. It will also improve our ability to learn, create and relate to one other -- and, importantly, relate to our machines, to our networks and to our databases.

Together, advances in these new capabilities -- tera, nano, complexity and cognition -- will bring about a future that is far beyond what is imaginable with today's technology. We'll be able to handle both complexity and the human-machine interface in ways that are friendlier and universally-useable. That in turn will enable complete connectivity among all people, and perhaps realize the collective wisdom of the world's peoples.

But as we value innovation and exploit it as the fuel of progress, we have a responsibility to explore the implications of what we do.

The French Poet, Jacques Darras, once said:

No longer must we thirst for novelty at any cost, but rather begin to develop a new sense of our own duration and of how to deal with it.

Bill Joy, cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems - in his April 2000 article in "Wired" entitled "Why the future doesn't need us" (see wonders why:

"Our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering and nanotech - are threatening to make humans an endangered species."

In the article, Joy speculates that in the not too distant future- information may available to everyone (for example, via the Internet) and that many disciplines, such as biology, will become "informational sciences." It is not beyond the realm of possibility that individuals may be able to acquire the information and technology to design lethal viruses.

Is this just a fanciful nightmare? Well, we have already experienced what a lone individual can do with a computer virus - the "love bug" shut down many computer systems around the world and cost us billions of dollars.

Carl Sagan, writing in 1994, described his future vision:
"This is the first moment in the history of our planet when any species, by its own voluntary actions, has become a danger to itself- as well as a vast number of others."

But how do we prevent such things from happening. The answers may lie as much in advances in the social sciences as in the development of new technology.

We are becoming increasingly aware that, collectively, we must take equal stock of the social limits -- or perhaps the social effects -- of our technologies. The social sciences and the technologies themselves provide us an essential means to make that assessment.

If we are to embrace complexity and change, I will argue that we vitally need the viewpoints of the social sciences in our endeavors. Our technologies have always brought consequences we could not foresee - both good and bad. That is as true about information technologies as it is about antibiotics and atomic energy.

Today, however, we have the potential to integrate our disparate wisdom. By incorporating the perspective of the social sciences we can proceed more intelligently and ethically to achieve the best of many possible futures.

As scientists and engineers, we are graced with the capabilities to succeed in a millennial world that grows ever more complex and interconnected. However, this "grace" imparts special responsibilities to help shape our world, apply our intellectual gifts and honed skills to harness our technologies for the betterment of society.

The phrase "noblesse oblige" comes to mind. The concept is an ancient one. In the fourth century B.C. the Greek playwright Euripides said, "The nobly born must nobly meet his obligation."

Although it originally refereed to the class of nobles, in modern times it has come to mean that high station carries an obligation. -- the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior that is expected of high rank.

As leaders, we have a significant obligation -- to ennoble science and engineering -- to enhance its public image by:

  • communicating its value to the broad public;

  • maintaining strong ethics in the profession;

  • engendering a responsibility for the larger society, for the environment, and for the quality of life, and

  • joining together with others to share responsibility for enabling our society to run better.

All of this must be done in the context of connecting science and technology to the people. Science should make people feel smarter -- not dumber.

As members of a noble profession, we have a high honor and obligation to work for the betterment of humanity. This a global imperative.

We know that energy, environment, and economics form the triple challenge of the coming century; they are inextricably wedded. We know that despite national and cultural differences, each is woven into the interlaced global fabric, some would say a post-industrial digital fabric, of the world's economy and ecology. We are all partners in the stewardship of the planet Earth.

There is an old Korean proverb: Baek Jit Jang Do Mat Tul Myun Gah Byup Dah

Which translates to English as: "Even a sheet of paper seems lighter when two people lift it together."

This proverb is about helping one another and working together. Even if the work may be easy and simple, as lifting a piece of paper, if you have someone to help, it would be much easier.

Applying this proverb to today's world, cooperation and teamwork between our two counties -- Korea and the United States -- will bring better results to both.

Partnerships are becoming increasingly important because discovery and innovation can only rarely get on without them. They bring to the table participants with different expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives.

A new inter-organizational way of international science and engineering life is forming. The most talented and highly skilled workers in every country comprise the modern phenomenon of a global and mobile workforce. They can easily gravitate to where the best jobs are located. But information technologies have also made it possible for them to stay home and yet work abroad.

Partnerships must be responsive to innovation. Corporations have had to reinvent themselves -- over and over again. Universities have begun moving to this mode. Partnerships must permute, reshape, and regenerate to stay fresh and responsive to the demands of new knowledge and innovation.

Many of the problems that we face today, such as preserving the natural environment, understanding the vectors of disease, and bridging the growing information and education gaps between rich and poor nations, are global problems that demand cooperation among our nations.

Korea and the United States are in a position help lead the way. Because of our respective democracies, we have many freedoms to cherish. As put by James Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, "What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?"

As we jointly contemplate these great challenges for our science, engineering and technology, we must understand that there is no peak that we can reach that will assure success. It is not the final destination that we must focus on - but the journey itself.

As we proceed, we must be guided by our social responsibilities to help shape our world, applying our intellectual gifts and acquired skills to harness our technologies for the betterment of society. We must proceed more intelligently and ethically to achieve the best of many possible futures.

In closing, I would like to offer you a quote that has very special meaning to me. It is from the poet and philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952), who once said:

Our knowledge is a torch of smoking pine
that lights the pathway but one step ahead.

To me this quote evokes some wonderful imagery. Humankind cannot see very far into the future. It is indeed unknown to us, yet we suspect that it is likely to be different from the present.

With the advent of high-paced knowledge creation, the technological innovation it prompts, and the growing sophistication we enjoy in our ability to process both, change becomes increasingly more rapid, drawing the world's peoples closer in globally-based markets, and creating almost continual shifts in the way we interact with each other.

To prosper in this eclectic milieu, we must become increasingly astute in making connections, establishing partnerships- and integrating the parts of the innovation process for the common good.

With the help of Santayana's torch of smoking pine, we can take that vital step into the path -- into our future. But remember-- we must thrust the torch forward into the path so we can see - just carrying it over a shoulder won't do.

Thank you.



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