Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING RESEARCH RETREAT
March 10, 1997
I am very pleased to be here this evening. And
I want quickly to allay your fears about being
victims of a "droning after-dinner talk." I have
been audience to many of them and my remarks will
be in the category of "brief-after-a-big-meal-talk."
In fact, I hope that I adhere to the
advice on speeches that the comedian George Jessel
would often give. He said, "If you haven't struck
oil in your first three minutes, stop boring!" So
this may be even briefer than I intended.
I know you have had a demanding schedule
of diverse speakers and discussions today. I will
limit my remarks to some over-arching comments which
may provide a context for what has already been said.
Although many of us use terms like "post-cold
war economy" and the "information age" with frequency
and ease, we have not necessarily paid enough attention
to the far reaching implications of their meaning.
Or, indeed, if they are the right terms to use.
The end of the Cold War, just seven years
ago, was unpredicted. It did not even show up on the
radar screens of foreign policy experts and political
gurus. It caught the world by happy surprise. No one,
however, had imagined or planned for a global landscape
without the Free World/Soviet rivalry of the previous
Among other things, the end of this anomalous
period in world history set an already complex world
economy into a state of heightened transition. We
are currently immersed in a somewhat volatile but
also opportunistic period that will likely continue
for quite some time. The new openness in the world
political and economic arena has created a system
"in flux" where different leaders, as well as different
losers, can emerge.
America has grappled with the threat
of Japanese economic competition for over a decade
but still remains fairly unsophisticated in seeing
those trends in other nations. I think we are currently
underestimating the technological leadership coming
from companies in South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia,
and Taiwan. And perhaps our most dangerous myopia
is in relation to the behemoth capabilities of an
It is also significant to note that all
of these emerging economies are placing their primary
educational emphasis on training engineers.
This transition period is also characterized
by an explosion in the form and function of what we
have termed "information technologies." The emerging
economies of southeast Asia have quickly grasped the
value of these technologies as a critical driver for
technological and manufacturing capability. Needless
to say, they are heavily focused on educating so-called
"information" engineers for this new direction.
In order for America to compete in the
wake of such focused competition, we must forge a
"critical mass" of knowledge, skill, and infrastructure.
It must include public and private schools, colleges
and universities, industry and small business, government
at all levels, and the talented personnel from each
sector. It must be guided by a collective vision of
where we need to go and a collaborative spirit of
how we can get there.
In essence, it means going back to the
precepts of Vannevar Bush that we have either ignored
or forgotten. At the beginning of Bush's 1945 report,
Science: The Endless Frontier, he laid
down a concise vision. He said, "Science can be effective
in the national welfare only as a member of a team."
I think that his words become increasingly prescient.
It does not matter that we now talk of partnerships
instead of Bush's "teams." What does matter is that
we recognize the need for collective effort, for collaborations
where each partner has something to offer and each
has something to learn.
We no longer live in an era where academe
can provide an autonomous career sheltered from society's
needs and problems. We no longer live in a time when
U.S. industry believes it has nothing to learn from
other nations or other sectors, an attitude that persisted
for too long. We no longer live in the luxury of succeeding
on first-rate higher education and mediocre K-12 education.
We no longer live in the industrial age when a modestly-skilled
assembly-line workforce could propel the nation.
And, we can no longer expect public support
for science and engineering research in the form of
a blank check and an undefined agenda. Well, maybe
a modest blank check here or there, once in a while,
based on partnered trust, but certainly not an undefined
My generation of engineers and scientists
was among the first to flourish under the new and
generous government support of R&D at the start
of the Cold War. One might even label that first-time
historical period of serious federal funding as a
time of public innocence. Most funds were appropriated
under the rubric of national security, continuing
the World War II funding basis, and that was often
the sole dictate for the research. Many researchers
were supported to pursue their scientific curiosity
in increasingly narrow specialities. America had ample
resources to parcel out for any and all science and
engineering, and the belief was, the more the better
to keep the country safer. Those days are gone.
Today, those providing the funds not
only will require more accountability from researchers
but there is increasing pressure to use scarce public
funds solely for the support of public goals. With
the disappearance of the Cold War geopolitical threat,
federal research dollars will increasingly be viewed
as a quantifiable investment. Bush envisioned it this
way from the start, but the Cold War postponed that
accountability for four decades. Key to this issue
is realization by an astute professoriate that honest
partnering in pursuit of that accountability can also
yield the flexibility to follow research paths opened
The vast shifts in global political alignment,
economic expansion, and their accompanying social
change are already creating "domino activity" in government,
in industry, and slowly in our universities. This
is, I believe, just the beginning, and information
technologies will provide a hastening catalyst.
We are living in the infancy of what
scholars and song writers all term the "Information
Age," despite the fact that there are no adequate
definitions of what an information age means. We may,
in fact, face an era quite different from the word
"information" that we are using with impunity. The
period before us is much more than computing power,
digital transmission, global communication, multimedia
integration, and, yes, HPCC, and the Next Generation
Internet which appear so boldly in the FY98 Federal
Information systems and learning tools
are powerful but still somewhat enigmatic mechanisms.
We know what they can do today but we cannot actually
imagine what they will enable us to do tomorrow.
We do know from the history of medical
imaging systems, the Internet, the World Wide Web,
and countless other technological marvels that academic
science and engineering has helped us develop the
most visionary applications of the new tools and technologies.
They will have an increasing role as the "information
age," or whatever we wind up calling it, unfolds.
The convergence of insights from studies
in human cognition, linguistics, neurobiology, the
science of computer- communication, and other fields
will contribute to and shape what we do with these
new capabilities. I think few would doubt that these
integrated information forces will have a powerful
impact on both the economics and the sociology of
Well, I have covered a lot of ground
in just a few minutes. To summarize, with the end
of the Cold War we have entered a period of accelerated
transition where pitfalls and possibilities abound.
We must be astute observers and students of the shifting
global landscape. We must agree on a collective vision
and plot a path together to reach our goals. We will
be overtaken if we think each sector can operate independently,
as in the old days. We must be bold and experimental
in developing and leading this yet undefined, and
likely misnamed, information age. We must rekindle
the optimism of the American pioneers and delight
in the challenge of the journey.
Now let's talk about how to start.