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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer

June 26, 2000

I am pleased and proud to be here. Pleased with the opportunity to talk about the National Science Foundation and your goal to anticipate the future of warfare. Proud to have the honor to introduce Senator Joe Lieberman.

I heard someone say recently that an optimist thinks that this is the best possible world and a pessimist fears that this is true.

At a conference that brings together warfighters and scientists to think about the future, we must be both optimists and pessimists. Optimists about the growing power of peace that has closed the 20th century and raised the curtain on the new century. Pessimists to envision and plan for worst case scenarios in a rapidly changing world.

The optimist in us can celebrate the benevolence and dignity of the human spirit. The pessimist in us knows that the world must anticipate uncharitable individuals and malevolent causes. Our task is to enhance the former and prevent the spread of the latter.

In this world of such powerful contradiction, science and technology are transforming forces for both the benevolent and the malevolent.

In a White Paper recently circulated by the Association of American Universities, national security prospects were characterized in the following way, (quote) "Since the end of the Cold War, the world has become a more uncertain place. ... The old challenge of monitoring a bear in the woods has been replaced by a task more akin to keeping track of a swarm of bees." (end quote) The future suggests even greater complexity and uncertainty.

It is the potential for predicting and preventing malevolence that concerns this gathering.

Einstein's wisdom can help us here. He offered two simple dicta. The first, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." The second, "The only real valuable thing is intuition."

This is the wisdom that characterizes "out of the box" thinking. And this, in essence, is the mission of the National Science Foundation.

Our business and responsibility are vision, foresight, imagination and intuition. We carry out the mission by investing in people and ideas that take us beyond what we know and understand to what feels improbable but has a strong intuitive pull. Our record on that account is very good. NSF-supported researchers have collected 100 Nobel prizes over the years.

Because science and technology are transforming forces, it will be the emerging fields that will change the balance of capability in both civilian and defense applications for the far future. NSF has a central role in the Administration initiative for nanotechnology, the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. Advances in nanoscale science and engineering will likely revolutionize the 21st century in the same way that the transistor and the Internet led us into a knowledge economy.

A nanometer, one billionth of a meter, will allow us to custom-construct materials, machines, and systems using particles less than half the size of a DNA molecule as the building blocks. This means that we are now at the point of connecting machines to individual cells.

On the nano horizon, this could lead to molecular computers that can store the contents of the Library of Congress in a device the size of a sugar cube. We can anticipate new materials from nanoscience that will as strong as steel but ten times lighter. The confluence of nanotechnology and biology could catapult modern medicine into a new era. What the participants of this conference must be prepared to anticipate is whether nano capability could do the same for terrorism.

The future portends many currently undefined connections and applications for nano structures. Nanotechnology has the potential to transform in the same way that information technologies have done. Fifteen years ago, few envisioned that IT would have been integrated into every business and commercial entity and have infiltrated every facet of our lives. IT has also brought the potential of cyber- terrorism.

In advanced computing, NSF is investing in new terascale computing systems for use by academic researchers. This will take us three orders of magnitude beyond present general-purpose capabilities. In the past, our system architectures could handle hundreds of processors. Now we are working with systems of 10, 000 processors. In a very short time, we'll be connecting millions of systems and billions of 'information appliances' to the Internet.

Although terascale computing is envisioned for academe, we should know better. In the same way that once supercomputers were the exclusive province of the Department of Defense -- but not for long -- the terascale machines will not remain only in the domain of the universities. Industry processes will be impacted robustly.

The lesson here is not just one of history but one of imagining and intuition. Many of us who grew up on science fiction have seen most of it become reality. But the imagining on a "far out" scale was critical to that eventual reality.

If we ask what distinguishes Nobelists from other very, very smart people, we must surely include "an unshackled imagination," an ability not just to envision beyond the box, but rather a disbelief that there is a box.

Such people are rare. When they choose art as a career -- in painting, writing, or dance -- they transform our way of seeing, hearing, and moving. When they choose science or engineering as a career, they transform our world.

When they choose leadership as their calling, they can remake a society for good or evil. In our lifetimes we have seen both. So as we contemplate the kind of scientific leap forward that may change the balance of our preparedness, we should not forget the role of the social sciences - human behavior - cognition.

In scenario building, the armaments and equipment are important, but you, as experts, know that the strategy is critical. You can fight wars without being at war as we found out for the forty years of the Cold War. You can keep institutions, nations, and even alliances on the defensive with limited resources and an irrational strategy. In the long run, we live in a social universe, where we humans of good or malicious intent determine the course of events.

What we especially need are leaders in every field who have imagination and intuition about our future. We are most fortunate in that respect to have Joe Lieberman in the Senate.

Since his election in 1988, Joe Lieberman has been receiving accolades from his colleagues in the Senate, the National news media, and the public policy community. More importantly, his constituents feel that way - returning him to the Senate with the biggest landslide ever in a Connecticut Senatorial race.

We know him as both an effective and imaginative leader, the author of several books on subjects as wide-ranging as politics, nuclear proliferation, and child support in America, and since 1995, as Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council.

As your speaker today, he brings an expert's knowledge of defense and foreign affairs. As well, he brings an astute understanding of the role of science and technology in achieving both our economic and national security goals.

In May of this year he led a bipartisan coalition of 12 Senators advocating action on the Congressional commitment to double the civilian R&D budget over the next decade.

I can think of no better speaker and mentor for the issues before this conference. Please welcome, Senator Joe Lieberman.



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