National Strategy towards Converging Science and Technology

Charles H. Huettner, OSTP, White House

Good morning. I want to express to you on behalf of Dr. John Marburger, who is the President's science advisor and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), his regrets for not being able to be with you, particularly because this workshop is a very important first step towards the future in which different sciences come together.

The role of the OSTP is to identify cross-cutting, high-risk technologies that don't reside in a particular department or agency and to sponsor them, thus helping them move across government agencies. Nanotechnology is a clear example of the kinds of technologies that have great potential and yet need government-wide review and focus.

Obviously, nanotechnology is just one of a number of emerging technologies. We are living in a very exciting time. Just think of what has happened with information technology over the last 10 years. It has allowed us to have the Internet, a global economy, and all of the things that we know about and have been living through. In just this past year, the field of biology has experienced tremendous advances with the human genome project. New this year in the budget is the national nanotechnology initiative, and similar kinds of progress and accomplishment are anticipated there.

Could these technologies and others merge to become something more important than any one individually? The answer to that question obviously is that they must. Convergence means more than simply coordination of projects and groups talking to one another along the way. It is imperative to integrate what is happening, rise above it, and get a bigger picture than what is apparent in each individual section.

There is an institute at Harvard called the Junior Fellows, formed many, many years ago by a forward thinker at Harvard and endowed with a beautiful building with a wonderful wine cellar. Senior Fellows, who were the Nobel Laureates of the university, and Junior Fellows, who were a select group of people picked from different disciplines, came together there for dinner from time to time. Sitting together at one Junior Fellows dinner I attended several years ago were musicians, astrophysicists, and astronomers discussing how certain musical chords sound good and others don't, and how those sorts of harmonics actually could help to explain the solar system, the evolution of galaxies, and so forth. Essentially, this is what the two-day NBIC workshop is doing, bringing together thinkers from different disciplines to find common ground and stimulate new thinking. When professionals as diverse as musicians and astrophysicists can discover mutually resonant concepts, think about what we can do with the kinds of technologies that we have today. That is why this NBIC workshop is so important.

You are the national technology leaders, or you are connected with them. You are the beginnings of an important group coming together. Nuclear and aerospace technology, psychology, computer science, chemistry, venture capital, medicine, bioengineering, social sciences — you're all here, and you represent not only the government, but also industry and academia. I thought it was tremendously creative, the way that the working sessions were broken down around people's needs because, in the end, that's why science is here. Science is here to serve people. So, it is very important for the breakout groups to look at human cognition and communications and human physical performance by focusing on how to solve human needs.

Take this opportunity to begin the cross-fertilization and understanding of each other's disciplines. The language of each technology is different. The key ideas that define them are different. The hopes and visions are different. The needs to accomplish those are different. But the network that we can form and the learning that we can have as a result of today's efforts can somehow bridge those gaps and begin the understanding.

I applaud you for being here today. I challenge you to learn and think beyond your discipline to help to establish the inner technology visions, connections, and mechanisms that will solve the human problems of our world. This is the beginning of the future, and we at OSTP are both anxious to help and anxious to learn from you.

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