"A Vision for 21st Century Science and Engineering"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Korea Science and Engineering Foundatio
June 9, 2000
Greetings to all of you, and to my good friend, Kun
Mo Chung, President of Hoseo University.
Dr. Chung has provided many services and contributions
to the world, not the least of which was his service
to the National Science Foundation as Program Officer.
The strong partnership between KOSEF and NS reflects
the esteem with which he is regarded at NSF.
The KOSEF-NSF relationship has built a foundation of
mutual respect and friendship between the scientists
and engineers of our two countries. We are grateful
for the cooperation KOSEF has given us over the years
and we are especially grateful for your providing
our graduate students with the opportunity to spend
the summer in Korea engaged in research and education
activities with Korean scientists and engineers.
We look forward to President Kim's visit to NSF on
September 25th when we will jointly sign
the KOSEF-NSF Memorandum of Understanding.
The long airplane trip over here afforded me some time
to learn more about Hoseo University. I was intrigued
that you have Korea's only graduate school of venture
business and technology which develops world-class
entrepreneurs and venture enterprises. I was also
delighted to learn that you recently established Korea's
first venture major for undergraduate students. These
are enormously important national academic capabilities,
inherent to societal success in the times ahead.
Hoseo University has been a national leader in this
area for some time. In 1995, Hoseo established Korea's
first Techno-Business Incubator. More recently, it
was designated as a leading university in the field
of venture business and technology under the nationwide
Brain Korea 21 Project.
This kind of leadership positions Hoseo University
to take a leading role in the new millennium and to
be at the forefront of the era of information and
globalization. Korea is a vibrant place because of
institutions like Hoseo, which believe in the embryonic
vision of a liberal education rooted in technology.
Korea would not have been transformed into the vibrant
place it is today, otherwise..
In the next few minutes, I want to talk about NSF's
vision for science and engineering in the 21st
Century. As I do this, I would like to explore with
you a philosophical duality that underlies our creativity
as human beings. Whether in science or in our economy,
in the academic world or in industry, we continually
do away with the familiar and give birth to the new--and
do so in a way that relishes and cherishes our humanity.
As you are know, we live in a world that is profoundly
different from that of our ancestors. Scientists,
engineers, and mathematicians, pursuing a deeper understanding
of the world, have brought forth advances that have
literally transformed our society. For example:
- The microelectronics and related industries
-- enabled by advances in condensed matter physics,
materials science and engineering, and computer-aided
design (CAD) - have created enormous wealth and
millions of jobs.
- Understanding the structure and properties
of DNA is the basis for the new and dynamic biotechnology
industry and has opened up new opportunities to
address agricultural, environmental and health
issues, as well as new venues for economic strength
and societal prosperity.
- Computer-communications technology,
from bar code scanners to wireless phones, to
the Internet, is transforming all sectors of life,
leisure, and the economy.
As we are able to transfer information more and more
easily, the rate of societal change rises. As information
increasingly becomes the currency of everyday life,
we watch this whole pattern accelerate.
It is useful to remind ourselves that the context and
environment in which we have to operate will always
change and so will the competition. 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.
History gives us many examples of this influence --
the steam engine, electricity, and air transportation.
Today's composite of digital, electronic, and optical
technologies is reforming society as concept-driven,
knowledge-ridden, and cognition-enabled.
Colleges and universities are facing information-age
transformations as well -- with virtual centers and
institutes, shared infrastructure, collaboratories
and long-distance learning. The future portends even
more. The education that we provide to our children
must prepare them to be leaders in this era of change
-- to be able "see" and act upon a changing world
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."
So when we are trying to imagine the world of the future,
we need to look around as well as look directly ahead.
We need to learn to read patterns and trends from
the larger context to envision the future.
The chances of having good future vision are much better
if you understand the larger context in which you
work - the sector, the society, and even the time
in history, the moment in civilization. Learning to
read the larger context gives us a path for imagining
The kind of change engendered by innovation alters
our familiar landscapes forever. Eventually, it reshapes
our expectations in harmony with the future it has
created. And yes, it lays down a new set of rules.
Let me illustrate what I mean with an example.
Recently, Danny Hillis, computer philosopher and designer,
who pioneered the concept of parallel computing, and
in 1996 became the vice president of research and
development at The Walt Disney Company, related this
incident from his past.
"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 said, '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 that you slide into slots in the doors. There
was, indeed, "a computer in every doorknob," as well
as sensors and actuators -- and other hardware to
make the software sing.
We live in a global environment where new competitors
and partners are emerging like weeds after a spring
rain. The ability to read the subtle signals will
often make the difference between being the industrial
leader or laggard in a field.
At the time when Hillis heard that ill-considered comment
about microprocessors in hotel doorknobs, there was
a lot more lead-time in the global economy to recoup
from such a miscalculation than there would be today.
Today, new knowledge and innovation are the driving
forces of the economy. Peter Drucker tells us that
innovation is the process of applying new knowledge
to tasks that are new and different, demanding that
society's new knowledge bank be constantly renewed.
The innovation process is naturally disruptive. Innovation
is the task of breaking the economic rules and being
rewarded, over and over again.
This dynamic cycle was elaborated by the Austrian economist
Joseph Schumpter. In 1942, Schumpter developed the
"rule-breaking" theory of economics. He described
the hallmark of technological innovation as "the perennial
gale of creative destruction."
According to Schumpeter, a normal healthy economy was
not one in equilibrium, but one that was constantly
being disrupted by technological innovation. Disruption
is an important characteristic of innovation. Transistor
technology disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, the
CD killed the needle in the groove, and the Internet
is disrupting the retail industry.
For many of us, rapid change is not easy to live through.
It questions our values and disturbs our sense of
order. An institution such as Hoseo must its students
for an underlying challenge: to be leaders in this
era of change and to fashion a society of human values
that reveres the past while embracing the future.
Still, this cycling between bringing forth and casting
away is the very core of creativity. Only institutions
with leaders (like President Chung, I might say) who
are willing to take risks and think bigger and more
creatively-may ultimately prosper and thrive in the
We all need to nurture the creative zones at the borders
of our disciplines - to be able to make connections
among specialized areas of knowledge, to understand
how seemingly disparate discoveries relate, and to
integrate them to benefit the world.
Thinking in this fashion has been the bedrock of NSF's
strategic agenda. I would like to share with you the
vision statement we've drafted for the agency's strategic
NSF's vision is clear and simple: "Enabling the nation's
future through discovery, learning, and innovation."
By design, this vision captures the dynamism that has
shaped NSF. It's no accident that terms like discovery,
learning, and innovation are all resting side-by-side
in the same set of words. These concepts must be integrated
in thought and action.
NSF's three strategic goals outlined in its plan also
highlight this dynamic. They are summed up by three
key words: People, Ideas, and Tools.
NSF is as much about preparing a world-class workforce
as it is about discovery. That's a primary benefit
from our support of academic research... and that's
been the intent for NSF since its start.
And the tools -- the research platforms, telescopes,
databases, and user facilities -- open up the new
vistas and frontiers for learning and discovery.
"Learning" and "Discovery" -- these words are natural
partners. The "integration of research and education,"
that is, education and research being as complementary
parts of an integrated whole, goes to the heart of
how we prepare students and shape the workforce for
To support this intellectual context, encourages the
early development of academic faculty as both educators
and researchers. One such program entitled "Faculty
Early Career Development (CAREER)" supports junior
faculty within the context of their overall career
CAREER combines, in a single program, the support of
quality research and education. In preparing a CAREER
proposal, the applicant must propose activities to
further both research and educational goals in the
context of a holistic professional career vision.
Now let's imagine what science and engineering will
be like within the 21st century research and education
enterprise. The organizing principle may well be "complexity."
Mitch Waldrop writes in his book, Complexity, about
a point we often refer to as "the edge of chaos."
That is "where the components of a system never quite
lock into place, and yet never quite dissolve into
turbulence, either...The edge of chaos is where new
ideas and innovative genotypes are forever nibbling
away at the edges of the status quo..."
If we look at science and engineering, we discern this
zone of transformation at many scales, in many disciplines,
and in the most unexpected places. Probing the frigid
ocean waters that surround the continent of Antarctica,
we find fish whose blood contains an antifreeze. As
the liquid-water molecules in the fish's blood begin
to line up to form the structure of ice, the antifreeze
protein forces them apart. Order confronts chaos--a
dynamic essential to life in this frontier environment.
If we look at materials science, we see a similar dynamic.
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 could give us electronic devices
with marvelous flexibility, which could be made much
more cheaply and, as a result, empower more people.
Again, it comes down to managing order and disorder,
NSF is investing in a new terascale computing system
for use by academic researchers. This will take us
three orders of magnitude beyond present general purpose
and generally accessible computing 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. Crossing
that boundary of 10^12th - one million million operations
per second - will launch us to new frontiers. For
example, we will be able to run full-scale simulation
of the reaction dynamics of biologically important
We have also been examining ways to enhance our investment
in nanoscale science and engineering. This will take
us three orders of magnitude smaller than any human-made
To appreciate what this is all about we need to step
back for a moment. Individual atoms are about a few
angstroms in diameter -- a few tenths of a nanometer.
DNA molecules are about 2.5 nanometers wide.
Biological cells, like red blood cells, have diameters
in the range of thousands of nanometers. Microelectromechanical
systems are now approaching this same scale. This
means we are now at the point of connecting machines
to individual cells.
Another research area of profound importance is biocomplexity
in the environment. Biocomplexity refers to phenomena
that result from dynamic interactions among biological,
physical and social components of the Earth's diverse
systems. Studying biocomplexity requires a fundamentally
new interdisciplinary approach, one that is able to
integrate information across spatial and temporal
scales, and consider multiple levels of organization
The development of molecular-scale tools, genomics,
advanced sensing, modeling, and information technologies
now make this approach possible.
As we face the uncertain future, we possess too little
knowledge about learning, about cognition, about human
behavior as we confront change and take risks. Thanks
to new methods and new tools, many social and neuro
scientists believe that this field is poised for many
exciting new discoveries. We may end up with something
like a "Cognitive or Knowledge Revolution" that is
likely to make the information revolution look very
Research in this area will lay the foundation for progress
in many areas of national importance, from teaching
children how to read, to understanding learning processes;
from building computers that can intelligently interact
to designing networks and systems capable of cognition.
It will also improve our ability to learn, create
and relate to one other -- and, importantly, relate
to our machines, to our networks and to our databases.
Together, advances in these new capabilities -- tera,
nano, complexity and cognition -- will bring about
a future that is far beyond what is imaginable with
today's technology. We'll be able to handle both complexity
and the human-machine interface in ways that are friendlier
and universally-useable. That in turn will enable
complete connectivity among all people, and perhaps
realize the collective wisdom of the world's peoples.
But as we value innovation and exploit it as the fuel
of progress, we have a responsibility to explore the
implications of what we do.
The French Poet, Jacques Darras, once said:
No longer must we thirst for novelty at any cost,
but rather begin to develop a new sense of our own
duration and of how to deal with it.
Bill Joy, cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems
- in his April 2000 article in "Wired" entitled "Why
the future doesn't need us" (see www.wired.com)
"Our most powerful 21st-century technologies -
robotics, genetic engineering and nanotech - are
threatening to make humans an endangered species."
In the article, Joy speculates that in the not too
distant future- information may available to everyone
(for example, via the Internet) and that many disciplines,
such as biology, will become "informational sciences."
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that individuals
may be able to acquire the information and technology
to design lethal viruses.
Is this just a fanciful nightmare? Well, we have already
experienced what a lone individual can do with a computer
virus - the "love bug" shut down many computer systems
around the world and cost us billions of dollars.
Carl Sagan, writing in 1994, described his future vision:
"This is the first moment in the history of our
planet when any species, by its own voluntary actions,
has become a danger to itself- as well as a vast number
But how do we prevent such things from happening. The
answers may lie as much in advances in the social
sciences as in the development of new technology.
We are becoming increasingly aware that, collectively,
we must take equal stock of the social limits
-- or perhaps the social effects -- of our
technologies. The social sciences and the technologies
themselves provide us an essential means to make that
If we are to embrace complexity and change, I will
argue that we vitally need the viewpoints of the social
sciences in our endeavors. Our technologies have always
brought consequences we could not foresee - both good
and bad. That is as true about information technologies
as it is about antibiotics and atomic energy.
Today, however, we have the potential to integrate
our disparate wisdom. By incorporating the perspective
of the social sciences we can proceed more intelligently
and ethically to achieve the best of many possible
As scientists and engineers, we are graced with the
capabilities to succeed in a millennial world
that grows ever more complex and interconnected. However,
this "grace" imparts special responsibilities
to help shape our world, apply our intellectual gifts
and honed skills to harness our technologies for the
betterment of society.
The phrase "noblesse oblige" comes to mind. The concept
is an ancient one. In the fourth century B.C. the
Greek playwright Euripides said, "The nobly born must
nobly meet his obligation."
Although it originally refereed to the class of nobles,
in modern times it has come to mean that high station
carries an obligation. -- the obligation of honorable,
generous, and responsible behavior that is expected
of high rank.
As leaders, we have a significant obligation -- to
ennoble science and engineering -- to enhance its
public image by:
- communicating its value to the broad
- maintaining strong ethics in the profession;
- engendering a responsibility for the
larger society, for the environment, and for the
quality of life, and
- joining together with others to share
responsibility for enabling our society to run
All of this must be done in the context of connecting
science and technology to the people. Science should
make people feel smarter -- not dumber.
As members of a noble profession, we have a high honor
and obligation to work for the betterment of humanity.
This a global imperative.
We know that energy, environment, and economics form
the triple challenge of the coming century; they are
inextricably wedded. We know that despite national
and cultural differences, each is woven into the interlaced
global fabric, some would say a post-industrial digital
fabric, of the world's economy and ecology. We are
all partners in the stewardship of the planet Earth.
There is an old Korean proverb: Baek Jit Jang Do
Mat Tul Myun Gah Byup Dah
Which translates to English as: "Even a sheet of
paper seems lighter when two people lift it together."
This proverb is about helping one another and working
together. Even if the work may be easy and simple,
as lifting a piece of paper, if you have someone to
help, it would be much easier.
Applying this proverb to today's world, cooperation
and teamwork between our two counties -- Korea and
the United States -- will bring better results to
Partnerships are becoming increasingly important because
discovery and innovation can only rarely get on without
them. They bring to the table participants with different
expertise and resources, and a diversity of perspectives.
A new inter-organizational way of international science
and engineering life is forming. The most talented
and highly skilled workers in every country comprise
the modern phenomenon of a global and mobile workforce.
They can easily gravitate to where the best jobs are
located. But information technologies have also made
it possible for them to stay home and yet work abroad.
Partnerships must be responsive to innovation. Corporations
have had to reinvent themselves -- over and over again.
Universities have begun moving to this mode. Partnerships
must permute, reshape, and regenerate to stay fresh
and responsive to the demands of new knowledge and
Many of the problems that we face today, such as preserving
the natural environment, understanding the vectors
of disease, and bridging the growing information and
education gaps between rich and poor nations, are
global problems that demand cooperation among our
Korea and the United States are in a position help
lead the way. Because of our respective democracies,
we have many freedoms to cherish. As put by James
Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, "What
spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable,
than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on
the other for their mutual and surest support?"
As we jointly contemplate these great challenges for
our science, engineering and technology, we must understand
that there is no peak that we can reach that will
assure success. It is not the final destination that
we must focus on - but the journey itself.
As we proceed, we must be guided by our social responsibilities
to help shape our world, applying our intellectual
gifts and acquired skills to harness our technologies
for the betterment of society. We must proceed more
intelligently and ethically to achieve the best of
many possible futures.
In closing, I would like to offer you a quote that
has very special meaning to me. It is from the poet
and philosopher, George Santayana (1863-1952), who
Our knowledge is a torch of smoking pine
that lights the pathway but one step ahead.
To me this quote evokes some wonderful imagery. Humankind
cannot see very far into the future. It is indeed
unknown to us, yet we suspect that it is likely to
be different from the present.
With the advent of high-paced knowledge creation, the
technological innovation it prompts, and the growing
sophistication we enjoy in our ability to process
both, change becomes increasingly more rapid, drawing
the world's peoples closer in globally-based markets,
and creating almost continual shifts in the way we
interact with each other.
To prosper in this eclectic milieu, we must become
increasingly astute in making connections, establishing
partnerships- and integrating the parts of the innovation
process for the common good.
With the help of Santayana's torch of smoking pine,
we can take that vital step into the path -- into
our future. But remember-- we must thrust the
torch forward into the path so we can see - just carrying
it over a shoulder won't do.