Common Ground for the Science Community and Society at Large

e) We envision the bond of humanity driven by an interconnected virtual brain of the Earth's communities searching for intellectual comprehension and conquest of nature (Roco 1999). In the 21st century, we estimate that scientific and technological innovation will outperform for the first time the societal output of the physical activities separated by geographical borders. Knowledge and technologies will cross multiple institutional boundaries on an accelerated path before application, in a world dominated by movement of ideas, people, and resources. National and cultural diversity will be a strength for the new creative society. The interplay between information, nano-, bio- and healthcare technologies, together with cognitive sciences and cultural continuity will determine the share of progress and prosperity of national communities, no matter their size.

f) Researchers need the big picture of different disciplines. The current focus on reductionism and synthesis in research will be combined with and partially overtaken by a recognition of various aspects of unity in nature and a better understanding of complexity, crossing streams in technology, crossing national and cultural borders. The ability to see complex systems at the molecular and atomic level will bring a New Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci, equally brilliant in the art of painting and in mechanical, hydraulic, military, and civil engineering, embodied the quintessence of the original Renaissance. The laboratory investigations that began in the 17th century led researchers to separate, reductionist pathways. Today, all disciplines share a common ability to work at the molecular and nano length scales using information technology and biology concepts. The reductionist divergence of sciences and engineering of old seems to be regrouping and finding a confluence. The collective multiphenomena and multiscale behavior of systems between single atoms and bulk become the center of attention in order to extract new properties, phenomena, and function — like a new alchemy. For researchers to acquire a "big picture" approach requires depth in each discipline and good communication across disciplines.

g) Visionary R&D planning pays off. It is essential to take the time to courageously look into the future. "The best way to predict the future is to create it" according to Alan Kaye of Xerox Park. Technological progress may be accelerated by a wise structuring of science and engineering that helps the main trends (or megatrends) be realized sooner and better. Why do all of this? We cite U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Allen Greenspan (1999), who credits our nation's "phenomenal" economic performance to technological innovation that has accelerated productivity: "Something special has happened to the American economy in recent years . . . . a remarkable run of economic growth that appears to have its roots in ongoing advances in technology."

We have seen in the last twenty years that industrial productivity has steadily increased. This is the key reason why the U.S. economy is growing, indicating the strong connection between science, engineering, and development. The productivity growth rate increased from 0.8% during the Carter administration, to 1.6% during the Reagan administration, 1.7% during the first Bush administration, and 2.1% during the Clinton administration. These increases are attributed to technological innovation. Several case studies show that investment in research at the national level also brought about 20% additional benefits in the private sector and 50% in social return.

Because there is no single or proven way of successfully developing S&E, the role of visionary R&D planning is to set priorities and provide the infrastructure for major promising projects at the national level. The coherence and synergism of various S&E trends and the rate of implementation and utilization are affected by management decisions at the macroscale. The measures must be based on good understanding of the global societal environment and long-term trends. Professors do not leave their students to do everything they like in academic research. On the contrary: if a research project goes well, more resources are guided in that direction. This idea should be held true at the national level, where there are additional advantages such as synergistic and strategic effects.

h) The risk of S&E developments should be evaluated in the general context of potential benefits and pitfalls in the long term. Significant S&E developments inevitably have both desired and undesired consequences. Dramatic discoveries and innovations may create a tension between societal adoption of revolutionary new technologies in the future and our strong desire for stability and predictability in the present. Important research findings and technological developments may bring undesirable negative aspects. Bill Joy has raised such issues with the public, presenting scenarios that imply that nanoscale science and engineering may bring a new form of life, and that their confluence with biotechnology and the information revolution could even place in danger the human species.

In our opinion, raising this general issue is very important, but several of Joy's scenarios are speculative and contain unproven assumptions (see comments from Smalley 2000) and extrapolations. However, one has to treat these concerns responsibly. For this reason we have done studies and tasked coordinating offices at the national level to track and respond to unexpected developments, including public health and legal aspects. So far, we all agree that while all possible risks should be considered, the need for economic and technological progress must be counted in the balance. We underscore that the main aim of our national research initiatives is to develop the knowledge base and to create an institutional infrastructure to bring about broader benefits for society in the long term. To this end, it is essential to involve the entire community from the start, including social scientists, to maintain a broad and balanced vision.

i) Contributions to the broader vision and its goals are essential at any level of activity, including organizational and individual levels. Researchers and funding agencies need to recognize the broad societal vision and contribute to the respective goals in a useful and transforming manner, at the same time allowing the unusual (divergent) ideas to develop for future discoveries and innovations. The funded megatrends provide temporary drivers that seem to be part of the overall dynamics of faster advancements in S&E. The vision and goals should be inclusive, and equally well understandable by top researchers, the productive sector, and society at large. In a similar manner, one needs to observe the international trends and respond accordingly. Internationalization with free movement of ideas, people, and resources makes impossible long-term advances only in one country. Cultural and national diversity is an asset for the creative, divergent developments in S&E.

In a system with R&D management structured at several levels as discussed above, the macroscale measures have major implications, even if they are relatively less recognized by an S&T community that tends to be more focused on specific outcomes at the organizational and individual levels and on distribution of the funds. The recognition system centered on individual projects in R&D universities and other research organizations may be part of the reason for the limited recognition of the role of macroscale measures.

j) Maintaining a balance between continuity and new beginnings (such as funding S&E megatrends) is an important factor for progress at all levels. Coherence and convergence are driven by both intrinsic scientific development (such as work at the interfaces) and societal needs (such as the focus on healthcare and increased productivity). The divergence tendencies are driven also by both internal stimuli (such as special breakthrough in a scientific and engineering field) and external stimuli (such as political direction). We need to stimulate the convergence and allow for temporary divergences for the optimum societal outcomes, using, for example, the mechanisms of R&D funds allocation and enhancing education based on unity in nature. Such activities need to be related to the individual capabilities, where the left-brain (new beginnings) and right-brain (coherence) have analogous dual roles as the drivers of S&E trends.

k) The societal importance of innovation is growing, where innovation is defined as "knowledge applied to tasks that are new and different." In many ways, science and engineering have begun to affect our lives as essential activities because of innovation that motivates, inspires and rewards us. While the ability to work has been a defining human quality, and increasing industrial productivity was the motor of the 20th century, we see innovation as being the main new engine joining other key humanity drivers in the 21st century. The coherence and divergence of major S&E trends is an intrinsic process that ensures more rapid progress in science and technology, enhancing human performance and improving the quality of life. We envision the S&E trends converging towards an "Innovation Age" in the first half of the 21st century, where creativity and technological innovation will become core competencies. Current changes are at the beginning of that road. They are triggered by the inroads made in understanding the unity of nature manifested equally at the nanoscale and in broad complex systems, by reaching a critical mass of knowledge in physical and biological sciences and their interface, and by the increased ability to effectively communicate between the scientific and engineering fields.

0 0

Post a comment