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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Discovery, Learning and Innovation - The Wellsprings of Prosperity"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Executive Masters in Technology Management Seminar
University of Pennsylvania

May 4, 2001

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Thank you for the introduction. I am delighted to be here this evening. Pennsylvania is my home and most of my history. I am always proud to participate in its programs. The partnership between the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Wharton School, which has led to the Executive Master's in Technology Management Program, is well suited to 21st century needs.

I appreciate the opportunity to address a subject close to my heart - discovery, learning and innovation. They are at the center of NSF's mission, and critical to our nation's future.

It was a decade ago I that I began working at the National Science Foundation. But oh what a difference a decade makes! Then we were emerging from the cold war, fighting inflation and budget deficits, and worried that Japanese technology was going to take over our markets. Today, we see that technological innovation is blossoming at a breathtaking pace. Industrial cycles appear to be getting shorter and shorter. And as information increasingly becomes the currency of everyday life, we watch this whole pattern accelerate.

When I was Dean at Penn, "management of technology" was a just budding concept. Today that concept has flowered into excellent programs at many of the nation's premier universities and colleges.

I guess we would all like to know what the future holds. It's difficult to predict what things will be like ten or twenty years from now, let alone fifty or one hundred years. Let me give you an example. I will refer to two papers from the proceedings of the IEEE, spaced almost four decades apart.

In 1962 Maurice Ponte, an IEEE Fellow, published a paper entitled "A Day in the Life of a Student in the Year 2012 AD." In his paper, considered rather farsighted at the time, Ponte predicted that miniature algebraic computers would replace slide rules, and that students would receive satellite transmission of engineering courses. He also predicted that university cafeterias would serve perfectly balanced, nutritious - but tasteless food.

Thirty-seven years later, just this past year, Ponte's paper was followed up with another predictive paper by Lee & Messerschmitt, entitled "A Highest Education in the Year 2049." Here the vision is striking, with predictions of "cyber" universities and artificial universes, enabled by high-definition three-dimensional telepresence. This paper also envisions global education villages that are not just about interdependence but "mutual provenance". It discusses software as the new "literature" and universities offering courses in "network ontology" and "software linguistics."

What is the reality here? In envisioning what may be, perhaps we can turn to Peter Drucker for some wisdom.

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." His point was that, in trying to imagine the world of the future, we need to look around us as well as look directly ahead. We need to learn to read patterns and trends from the larger context to envision the future.

No one but mystics and psychics ever claim to be able to predict future events. But I believe that in the last several years our nation has turned the corner in thinking about how to better anticipate the future of technological change. There has been a growing tendency to think comprehensively about trends and patterns, and their collective outcomes. Again, we're not predicting, we're anticipating.

In order to anticipate where we need to go we must take stock of where we are. It is not enough to examine just how your field of study has evolved or veered in a new direction. It is not enough to know how a particular product-line has changed.

It is not enough to know how financial markets affect a specific business. Instead, we must ask how all fields are evolving -- in science and engineering, in manufacturing and marketing, in the arts and entertainment, in education and the environment. In all of these, new scientific and engineering knowledge, and new technologies, are enormous drivers of change.

Understanding the larger context in which we work - the sector, the society, and even the time in history - gives us a path for imagining the future. This is a subtle skill students must be helped to develop in a world now impacted by fast-paced innovation. This is the kind of skill that programs like the Executive Masters in Technology Management program seek to develop and strengthen.

The territory of Imagination is one place where scientists, engineers, and artists agree -. One would think that a world class scientist, Einstein, and an early 20th century American painter, Edward Hopper, would have little to say to each other. However, the exact opposite was the case. Both believed that 'imagination' was the key to their work. Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." And Hopper said, "No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination." Both of them, living in their separate universes, understood that imagination was the fundamental element of their creative thinking.

Imagining is at the very core of technological innovation. Let me illustrate this with an anecdote told by Danny Hillis, computer philosopher and designer, who pioneered the concept of parallel computing, and became vice president of R&D at the Walt Disney Company in the 1990s.

He relates, "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 asked, '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 you slide into slots in the doors. There was indeed a computer in every doorknob, as well as sensors, actuators, and other hardware to make the software sing. Danny Hillis may have seen that future for microprocessors, but right there in the midst of a computer conference, that insight or imagination was in short supply. That's probably why Danny Hillis became head of R&D for Walt Disney.

The renowned physician and writer Lewis Thomas hit the nail on the head when he said, "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought." Since the dawn of civilization, there have always been some people whose thought process directed them to see things through another lens. These thinkers become triggers in society to propel us in completely new directions with their over-arching vision.

These people are not always the 'inventors' but rather the 'envisioners' -- those that see a scenario for the broad application of a new process or technology. We can glimpse this in every field, but our goal is to optimize it in fields that will revolutionize our economy and promote the well being of our citizenry.

Last February, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) unveiled a list of the 20 most influential engineering achievements of the 20th century.

The criterion for judging the nominations was the impact each advance had on improving quality of life across the nation. Electrification was voted #1. The NAE noted that it "...powers almost every pursuit and enterprise in society. ...including food production and processing, air conditioning and heating, refrigeration, entertainment, transportation, communication, health care, and computers." The automobile came in at #2, the airplane at #3. Safe and abundant water was 4th for preventing the spread of disease and increasing life expectancy.

I'm sure many of you are familiar with the list so I won't belabor it. However, it is instructive to note that electronics came in at #5 and computers, which emerged in society only a few decades ago, came in at #8. And, interestingly, the very first all-electronic, large scale, general purpose digital computer was imagined in 1943 and built by 1946 - right in this school.

Companies, industries, institutions, and even governments are constantly searching for that newest societal innovation or improvement. They hunger for the innovation that becomes so ubiquitous that it is almost an extension of ourselves. Electrification is undoubtedly in that category. In fact, I am always amused that when the power goes off how many of us go to flip the light switch to find the candles in the cupboard. Computers are fast entering that category.

We search for that something with pervasive applicability -- something that can imprint society. But we also know that something new usually renders something else obsolete. The advent of the automobile drove the livery stable into the history books. For those who owned livery stables the auto was not a welcome change. But on the whole, this disruption is a positive process.

There is another important aspect of "innovation," which I will call, for want of a better name, "breaking the rules."

In 1999 the Economist magazine did a study of innovation in industry. A sidebar to the text read, "Innovators break all the rules, trust them." In this sense, innovation is the task of breaking the economic rules and being rewarded, over and over again.

The "rule-breaking" theory of economics was actually developed in 1942 by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter who described it as "creative destruction" - or the constant disruption of the economic status quo by technological innovation.

He viewed it as a healthy and necessary force for economies. The reverse, an economy in equilibrium, is the unhealthy economy, according to Schumpeter.

None of us wants to be on the obsolescent side of creative destruction; we want to be on the innovation side with some new and startling conception. So, disruption is an important characteristic of innovation. And, it causes losses in its path of making gains. This creates the dynamism of healthy economies. Nonetheless, as all of you know, these healthy economic adventures can bring down a leading manufacturer or even a whole industry in their wake. Transistor technology disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, HMOs shook the foundation of the health insurance industry, and the CD killed the needle in the groove.

An amusing example of this process concerns how the invention of the light bulb led to Ivory soap. In the later part of the 19th century, Procter and Gamble's best seller was candles. But the company was in trouble. In 1882 Thomas Edison had invented the light bulb. The market for candles plummeted since they were now sold only for special occasions. The outlook appeared to be bleak for Procter and Gamble.

But then a forgetful employee at a small P&G factory in Cincinnati forgot to turn off his candle machine when he went to lunch. The result? A frothing mass of lather filled with air bubbles. He almost threw the stuff away but instead decided to make it into soap. The soap floated. Thus, Ivory soap was born and became the mainstay of the Procter and Gamble Company.

Why was soap that floats such a hot item at that time? In Cincinnati, during that period, people bathed in the Ohio River. Floating soap would never sink and consequently never got lost. So, Ivory soap became a best seller in Ohio and eventually across the United States.

It is useful to remind ourselves that 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.

Students (and I mean lifelong students) can learn the process of innovation, risk taking, and rule breaking from models taken from our collective experience. Not everyone will or can think this way, and the world might be too chaotic and disruptive if they could. But we can teach and reward a path of thinking where constant filtering and extrapolation bring patterns, trends, and shifts to the forefront. We'll never build wisdom and insight until we can reach that educational threshold.

This chart suggests some of the core capabilities of the 21st century technology leader. From this list, one gets the sense that, to be personally successful, 21st century leaders will need more than first-rate technical and scientific skills. In the global workplace, they need to make the right decisions about how enormous amounts of time, money, and people are tasked to a common end.

Both science and engineering are cornerstones of innovation. They are always changing the present to become the future, so in essence they are fundamentally anticipatory. The distinguished mathematician Alfred North Whitehead laid down a simple guiding principle applicable to this anticipatory process when he said, "The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order."

For the remainder of my time, I want to talk briefly about five capabilities that I believe will be front-and-center in the first part of the 21st century. Here is the list. Let me spend a few minutes on each, and then I hope we can have a lively question and answer period.


The term nano encompasses nanoscale science and engineering. Its focus is at the molecular and atomic level of things, both natural and human-made. It was a brief twenty years ago, with the invention at IBM of the scanning/tunneling microscope, that we could first observe molecules on a surface.

But how small is nanoscale, and what can we do with this capability? First, nanoscale is three orders of magnitude smaller than most of today's human-made devices. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. We've become used to the term micro for the past few decades; well, it's going to be a nano world from here on.

Nanotechnology gives us the ability to manipulate matter one atom or molecule at a time. This technology could lead to a future of dramatic breakthroughs. For example, molecular computers could store the equivalent of the U.S. Library of Congress in a device any of us could wear.

Nanostructures are at the confluence of the smallest human-made devices and the large molecules of living systems. Individual atoms are a few tenths of a nanometer. To use another comparison, DNA molecules are about 2.5 nanometers wide. Biological cells, such as red blood cells, have diameters in the range of thousands of nanometers. Microelectromechanical systems are now approaching this same scale. This suggests a most exciting prospect. We are now at the point of being able to connect machines to individual living cells.

Nano application is not completely new; it has already been used in photography and in catalysis. But until recently, it was primarily confined to those areas. Now, we will be able to build a "wish list" of properties into structures large and small. We will design automobile tires atom by atom. With the nano-capability to pattern recording media in nanoscale layers and dots, the information on a thousand CDs could be packed into the space of a wristwatch. We could have golf club shafts as thin as fishing lines.

The new nano capability brings together many disciplines of science and engineering to work in collaboration. Its scope and scale create an overarching, enabling field, not unlike the role of information technologies today. The expansion of our nanocapability will depend on insightful researchers envisioning -- imagining -- its possibilities -- talented people with good ideas throughout academe and industry.


Terascale computing is shorthand for computing technology that takes us three orders of magnitude beyond prevailing computing capabilities. In the past, our system architectures could only handle hundreds of processors. Now we work with systems of thousands of processors. Shortly, we'll connect millions of systems and billions of 'information appliances' to the Internet. Crossing that boundary of 10^12th - one trillion operations per second - launches us to new frontiers.

Take for example protein synthesis within a cell. It requires 20 milliseconds for a nascent protein to fold into its functional conformation. However, it takes 40 months of processor time on current systems to simulate that folding. With a terascale system, we reduce that time to one day -- one thousand times faster. Think what that means for the task of functional genomics, that is, putting our DNA sequence knowledge to work.

The revolution in information technologies connected and integrated researchers and research fields in a way never before possible. The nation's IT capability has acted like 'adrenaline' to all of science and engineering. A next step was to build the most advanced computing infrastructure for researchers to use, while simultaneously broadening its accessibility.

Fields like physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering are high-end computational fields. Researchers need the fastest machines to predict the behavior of storms or simulate 'protein folding,' or find the origin of our rising sea level. Computer Science researchers also need this capability to continue advancing their field.

Our vision is to reach terascale competency and catapult capability into a whole new era of science and engineering. In essence, we want to create a "tera universe or era" for science and engineering ... and a freshly robust national "cyberinfrastructure." 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, infrastructure can be thought of as "perishable."

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. This chart contrasts the "traditional physical infrastructure" and what we might refer to as the "new cyber infrastructure." The former includes facilities and major instrumentation and research platforms, such as telescopes, research aircraft and ships, fabrication laboratories, and atomic particle detectors and accelerators. The new infrastructure includes items such as databases, digital libraries, and network capabilities.

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 engineering education needs and goals. 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.


This brings me to the third capability we need to expand, cognition. Most of us would use the term learning. Learning is the foundation of all other capabilities, human and institutional. Our understanding of the learning process holds the key to tapping the potential of every child, empowering a 21st century workforce, and, in fact, maintaining our democracy.

We live in a time of vast, and even uncontrollable, information. "Information overload" is a term the public is only too aware of. Technology leaders are especially vulnerable because they have to correlate and make sense of vast amounts of disparate data. But how do we impart this increasingly necessary skill to our students?

Sixty-six years ago, in 1934, the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in "The Rock",

Where is the life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

What would Eliot say if he could see us now? More importantly, he seems to have laid down a hierarchy that should make us question where we are today.

In Eliot's scale, information is the lowest rung of the ladder, knowledge next, wisdom beyond that, and finally the meaning of life. To that scale, I would add the modern day concepts of data and bits. If, in the education of our technology leaders, we are turning out bumper crops of information generators without the skills to sift and extract signs, shifts, trends, and patterns buried in this information tidal wave, we are falling far short of our task. We need to pay more attention to teaching the steps beyond information -- the steps that move us from information to understanding.

I like the way the Pulitzer- Prize winning scientist E. O. Wilson puts it in his book, Consilience: "Profession-bent students should be helped to understand that in the twenty-first century the world will not be run by those who possess mere information alone...The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers..."

Now to the 4th and 5th capabilities, complexity and holism. They act as two sides of a coin to guide us in the best way to use our accumulated knowledge of science and technology to discover new knowledge and better understand how to use it.


Mitch Waldrop, in his book Complexity, writes about a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos." That is, (read slide 13)

This territory of complexity is 'a space of opportunity,' a place to make a marriage of unlike partners or disparate ideas. Today, 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 can give us electronic devices with marvelous flexibility that are also much less expensive. The awareness of 'complexity' makes us nimble and opportunistic seekers not only in our science and engineering knowledge but in our industrial institutions. If we develop learning systems that enable us to think with this awareness, we will be able to identify and capitalize on those fringe territories which have so much potential.


Holism is the "flip side" of the complexity coin. Holism and complexity have a symbiotic relationship. Complexity teaches us to look at places of dissonance or disorder in a field as windows of possibility. Holism teaches us that combinations of things have a power and capability greater than the sum of their separate parts. Holism is far from a new idea. We have seen it work in social structures since the beginning of civilization. We see its power today in areas as diverse as our communities, science and engineering partnerships, and teams in any field of sports.

Something new happens in this integration process. A singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction. That's probably why when economists are analyzing productivity inputs they refer to the residual, what's left after you factor in capital, labor, land, etc., as the "black box." They can't explain the dynamism or interaction of the leftovers such as R&D, education, workplace interaction, and the like. They can only recognize that something better or more enhanced comes out on the other side. This integration and interaction works at many levels - the sociology of a team of workers can be a stimulant, with ideas firing-off in many directions. Holism creates supportive space where taking risks and challenging the unquestionable is acceptable. Holism engenders elucidation, the discovery of your own knowledge transformed by other perspectives.

The mid-20th century philosopher, Josť Ortega y Gasset wrote in his work, Mission of the University: (read slide 14)

Although holism is an ancient dynamic, what is new is that it can be applied to the vast accumulated knowledge of science and engineering and the new knowledge that is burgeoning as we speak.

So when we train ourselves to think about complexity and holism as two sides of a coin, we develop a pattern or attitude to search for the disordered fringes of a field and to pick out fragments of possibility. With these pieces of potential, different 'wholes' can be created in new integration. The possibilities are endless when you think about the flexible building power that nanotechnology will provide, the enormous insight from research in cognition, and the ratcheting up of speed that terascale computing offers. Now if you take each of these five capabilities and you ask, what is the 'constant' or fundamental ingredient, it's the simple formula of talented people and the power of their new ideas. The "imaginers" are never confined by what they know, never restricted by existing rules, and never afraid to propose what no one else had seen or imagined. They swing with no net but never lose sight of the ground. They created everything from Velcro to America's democracy. Any corporation or industry can do the same.

In closing - I like to think of Penn and NSF as partners in the innovation process. Programs like Penn's Executive Master's in Technology Management Program are critically needed to prepare America's technology leaders of the future. In a world that is increasingly defined by science and technology, there will be a growing need for you to not only be leaders in your own fields of research and education but to step forward and lead in the larger arena.

Society increasingly calls out for the talents that you possess. You - and others like you - are our hope for the future. But remember - that as the complexity and power of our new knowledge in science and engineering bring us--all of us-- tremendous opportunities, they also bring us tremendous responsibilities to match.

Thank you. I look forward to a robust discussion.



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