Theme a Summary

Panel: P. Bond, J. Canton, M. Dastoor, N. Gingrich, M. Hirschbein, C.H. Huettner, P. Kuekes, J. Watson, M.C. Roco, S. Venneri, R.S. Williams

In a sense, this section of the report gives the authors their assignment, which is to identify the technological benefits of convergence that could be of greatest value to human performance and to consider how to achieve them. Five of the statements were contributed by representatives of government agencies: The Office of Science and Technology Policy, The Department of Commerce, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. The remaining three were contributed from private sector organizations: The American Enterprise Institute, Hewlett Packard, and the Institute for Global Futures. But these eight papers are far more than mission statements because they also provide an essential outlook on the current technological situation and the tremendous potential of convergence.

i) It is essential to identify new technologies that have great potential to improve human performance, especially those that are unlikely to be developed as the natural consequence of the day-to-day activities of single governmental, industrial, or educational institutions. Revolutionary technological change tends to occur outside conventional organizations, whether through social movements that promulgate new goals, through conceptual innovations that overturn old paradigms of how a goal can be achieved, or through cross-fertilization of methods and visions across the boundaries between established fields (Bainbridge 1976). Formal mechanisms to promote major breakthroughs can be extremely effective, notably the development of partnerships between government agencies to energize communication and on occasion to launch multiagency scientific initiatives.

ii) Government has an important role in setting long-term priorities and in making sure a national environment exists in which beneficial innovations will be developed. There must be a free and rational debate about the ethical and social aspects of potential uses of technology, and government must provide an arena for these debates that is most conducive to results that benefit humans. At the same time, government must ensure economic conditions that facilitate the rapid invention and deployment of beneficial technologies, thereby encouraging entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to promote innovation. Of course, government cannot accomplish all this alone. In particular, scientists and engineers must learn how to communicate vividly but correctly the scientific facts and engineering options that must be understood by policymakers and the general public, if the right decisions are to be made.

iii) While American science and technology benefit the entire world, it is vital to recognize that technological superiority is the fundamental basis of the economic prosperity and national security of the United States. We are in an Age of Transitions, when we must move forward if we are not to fall behind, and we must be ready to chart a course forward through constantly shifting seas and winds. Organizations of all kinds, including government itself, must become agile, reinventing themselves frequently while having the wisdom to know which values are fundamental and must be preserved. The division of labor among institutions and sciences will change, often in unexpected ways. For many years, scholars, social scientists, and consultants have been developing knowledge about how to manage change (Boulding 1964; Drucker 1969; Deming 1982; Womack and Jones 1996), but vigorous, fundamental research will be needed throughout the coming decades on the interaction between organizations, technology, and human benefit.

iv) Government agencies need progress in NBIC in order to accomplish their designated missions. For example, both spacecraft and military aircraft must combine high performance with low weight, so both NASA and the Department of Defense require advances in materials from nanotechnology and in computing from information technology. Furthermore, in medicine and healthcare, for example, national need will require that scientists and engineers tackle relatively pedestrian problems, whose solutions will benefit people but not push forward the frontiers of science. But practical challenges often drive the discovery of new knowledge and the imagination of new ideas. At the same time, government agencies can gain enhanced missions from NBIC breakthroughs. One very attractive possibility would be a multiagency initiative to improve human performance.

v) Science must offer society new visions of what it is possible to achieve. The society depends upon scientists for authoritative knowledge and professional judgment to maintain and gradually improve the well-being of citizens, but scientists must also become visionaries who can imagine possibilities beyond anything currently experienced in the world. In science, the intrinsic human need for intellectual advancement finds its most powerful expression. At times, scientists should take great intellectual risks, exploring unusual and even unreasonable ideas, because the scientific method for testing theories empirically can ultimately distinguish the good ideas from the bad ones. Across all of the sciences, individual scientists and teams should be supported in their quest for knowledge. Then interdisciplinary efforts can harvest discoveries across the boundaries of many fields, and engineers will harness them to accomplish technological progress.

The following eight statements develop these and other ideas more fully, thereby providing the motivation for the many chapters that follow. They also provide a perspective on the future by identifying a number of megatrends that appear to be dominant at this point in human history and by suggesting ways that scientists and policymakers should respond to these trends. Their advice will help Americans make history, rather than being subjects of it, strengthening our ability to shape our future. The statements include a message from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) concerning the importance of this activity to the nation, a message from the

Department of Commerce on its potential impact on the economy and U.S. competitiveness, a vision for converging technologies in the future, examples of activities already underway at NASA and NIH, industry and business perspectives on the need for a visionary effort, and an overview of the trend toward convergence of the megatrends in science and engineering.

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