Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
February 21, 2001
Let me start with one short story that combines levity
A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he
is lost. He lowers his altitude, spots a woman down
below, and asks, "Excuse me, can you help me? I promised
to return this balloon to its owner, but I don't know
where I am."
The woman below says: "You are in a hot air balloon,
hovering approximately 350 feet above mean sea level
and 30 feet above this field. You are between 40 and
42 degrees north latitude, and between 58 and 60 degrees
"You must be an engineer," says the balloonist.
"I am," replies the woman. "How did you know?"
"Well," says the balloonist, "everything you told me
is technically correct, but I have no idea what to
make of your information, and the fact is I am still
The woman below says, "You must be a manager."
"I am," replies the balloonist, "but how did you know?"
"Well," says the engineer, "you don't know where you
are, or where you are going. You have made a promise
which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect
me to solve your problem. The fact is you are in the
exact same position you were in before we met, but
now it is somehow my fault."
The story has many interpretations and I can tell you
from being both an engineer and a manager, they are
all right and all wrong.
No matter what your perspective, I'm sure we can all
agree that this is truly an amazing time in our nation's
history. Much of that promise is directly related
to what we're here to discuss today.
The very concept of crafting devices at the nano-scale
has captured our society's imagination. We're going
to a scale three orders of magnitude smaller than
anything ever before fashioned by human hands. This
will give us probes, sensors, structures, robots -
all on the same scale as human cells.
We're taking similar leaps forward in computing power
- leap-frogging several orders of magnitude into the
terascale - enabling us to manage information that
comes by the trillion.
We've got teraflop processors connected by terabit
networks all linked to terabyte storage devices -
and all are solidly grounded on terra firma.
With this capability comes responsibility - and that's
where you come in.
Let me close by giving you a few thoughts on our overall
vision for infrastructure here at NSF.
There is a very important "discussion-debate" occurring
within NSF at the moment that is clearly related to
this issue of an information system.
-- What is the future of infrastructure, and in particular
of information infrastructure?
We know first that there are different kinds of infrastructure.
Facilities and equipment, and the like make up physical
There are human infrastructures. In our S&T system,
the scientists, engineers, teachers, mentors and technicians
comprise this most critical infrastructure. The newest
infrastructure territory is cyber infrastructure and
it is fast becoming an overarching and imprinting
influence on the conduct of everything from science
and engineering to songwriting and shopping.
We know from past experience that infrastructure can
either expand or inhibit our potential. An infrastructure
system can provide potential in one era, but drag
us into obsolescence in another era. So, in a sense,
infrastructures can be thought of as "perishable."
Our railroad infrastructure was the nation's primary
transportation network in one era and even became
a critical element in the outcome of the Civil War.
But over time, the national highway system and then
the air transport system eclipsed much of the railroad's
work. Today we see overwhelming pressure in our air
system as changing needs overtake the ability of the
infrastructure to respond.
Now that the S&T information system has evolved through
the Internet and high-speed networks, we need to think
about and plan a future cyber infrastructure that
is oriented to 21st century S&T needs and
We should think in terms of an infrastructure that
can be envisioned from whole cloth, designed for some
specific long-term goals, and remain flexible to the
unpredictable. It would be an infrastructure of
anticipation. This will require thinking beyond
the here and now, an infrastructure for the far-future.
I hope that you will all keep those thoughts in mind
as you leave here today.