| Index | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

next >



Jamshed Bharucha
Rodney Brooks
Neil Gershenfeld
Diane Halpern
Gloria Origgi
Clay Shirky
Maria Spiropulu
J. Craig Venter
Michael Wolff
Anton Zeilinger

Back to Index Page

Human Genome Decoder; Director, The J. Craig Venter Institute

Evidence-Based Decision Making Will Help Transform Society

I am optimistic (and hopeful) that one of the key tenets of scientific investigation, "evidenced-based decision making" will be extended to all aspects of modern society. Good experimental design works toward creating conditions that provide the most useful information on a given topic while attempting to eliminate, or at least limit, spurious, irrelevant artifacts from being generated that could falsely influence data interpretation. Data or information is collected until a threshold is exceeded permitting either conclusions to be drawn or at least development of a hypothesis that with further testing can be validated or falsified. 

Not all questions can be simply answered by just looking at the evidence because we are still at a very early stage in understanding the universe around us. For example, in attempting to understand how life began on our planet we can only guess based on certain assumptions whether it originated de novo here or arrived from another planet or a distant galaxy. We do know that a few hundred kilograms of material is exchanged annually between the Earth and Mars, and that new planets are discovered at an unprecedented pace.  When we discover microbial life on Mars we will double the number of planets with known life while increasing the possibility of finding life elsewhere in the universe.

For most scientists the evidence for evolution, regardless of its origins, has been overwhelming.  The fossil record was sufficient evidence for most, but now with genome sequencing information from all branches of life, including from some of our closest relatives like Neanderthals, chimps and rhesus monkeys, the results should be clear cut for anyone whose thinking is not overly clouded by a "belief" system.

In contrast we have newspapers, radio and television news stations owned by individuals or governments presenting subjective, selective subsets of information. As well, there are political campaigns and statements by those wishing to gain or retain power that can only be dismissed as partisan."

We need to push harder for an education system that teaches evidence-based decision making while we hold our public leaders to a higher standard and less partisan behavior as we attempt to tackle some of the historically most difficult challenges facing the future of humanity.

Physicist, currently at CERN

The Ever Awaited Super-Collider

Because ~3.5 Billion CHF [and I don't know exactly how many FTEs for how many years of how many experts and indeed in many disciplines of science, construction and technology] later [and yes we can debate the exact number, however as Jack Sandweiss taught me, "big" money for science is just a perception really] we are getting there. Where "there" is the ever awaited super-collider. A machine that attracts the imagination and intellectual focus of physicists and people at large alike. Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible "hand-made" 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year.

And checking the LHC dashboard is an index of this optimism. In 2007-2008 we shall be bringing up and running the LHC and its experiments (CMS,ATLAS, LHCb,ALICE to name the largest ones) and analyzing the first data.

I, my colleagues, and you, have at least one unique reason to be optimistic.

Director, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL); Chief Technical Officer of iRobot Corporation; author Flesh and Machines

The 22nd Century

I am optimistic about many things, especially the future. Just last week I met a number of people from the 22nd century, and they were delightful.

We smiled and giggled together a lot but none of them seemed to speak a word of English. Even their Japanese was not so great just yet. But demographic analysis tell us that many of those little girls I saw in Kyoto will end up as citizens of the next century.

I am optimistic that even if none of the people I just met do so, then at least someone who is already alive will be the first person to make their permanent home off-Earth. And next century my new young acquaintances will go to sleep at night on Earth knowing that humankind has spread itself out into the solar system. Some people will have done it for wealth. Others, driven by our evolutionarily selected urges, will have done it to once again mediate risks across our gene pool by spreading out to different environmental niches. But the wonder of it all is that those now old, but sprightly, women in Kyoto will be able to revel in the romance of the human spirit, always questing to learn, understand, explore, and be.

Is this really going to happen this century? Really.

Government space programs in China, Europe, India, Japan, Russia, and the United States, have all in recent months talked about their plans for the moon during the first quarter of this century. There is a new government-backed space race, less agitated than the last, but more likely to produce sustainable technologies.

And then there are the billionaires and billionaire-lites. Richard Branson has teamed with aircraft design maverick Burt Rutan (who won the Ansari X Prize with SpaceShipOne funded by billionaire Paul Allen) to develop the world's first space airline, Virgin Galactic. They plan on putting 500 people per year into suborbital space. There are other suboribital and orbital space competitors (and collaborators), including Rocketplane Kistler, Space Adventures, and Benson Space Company, all driven by charismatic individuals. PayPal principal Elon Musk, through his company SpaceX, has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 vehicles and had his first launch, with a backlog of paying customers. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is less public about his plans, but his company Blue Origins has been getting FAA licenses for low altitude tests of a vertical take off and landing system at his Texas ranch. And there is no shortage of other high tech billionaires who have expressed interest in space ventures, and may well be investing in some not yet announced. And while all these efforts are building hardware for launches from Earth there are starting to be serious discussions of start ups for companies which will provide higher order services, including shipping asteroids to new orbits to deliver rocket fuel to paying customers. These are the first little nano-steps of solar system engineering towards the ultimate of a Dyson sphere of mankind's very own.

In the current activities there are obvious analogies with heavier than air flight in the early twentieth century, and look where that, with the help of a couple of world wars, got us in that century. There is no longer a mono or duo culture for access to space and planetary bodies—certainly a reason to be optimistic about this second wave of access to space. If this wave does eventually sputter like the last we still have plenty of time for a third wave during the lifetimes of my Kyoto friends. The key drivers will turn out to be either military or economic or, most likely, both. Just as in 1907 the economics of heavier than air flight were not obvious, we are still struggling in 2007 with the economics of this new endeavor. But that too will come and will be the ultimate driver.

By the beginning of the twenty second century mankind will have significantly raised the probability of its long term survival by spreading its genetic material beyond Earth. That genetic material may be significantly modified from the current model but that is another and different story. The point is that we will have spread ourselves to more than one little tiny ball in our solar system, and will continue to step to other systems and throughout the galaxy over subsequent centuries.

As for the coming events of this century there may not be a Gion but there will be bars on Mars and over time they will gather their own histories and legends as stories are told and re-told. And, just perhaps, one of my peek-a-boo playmates will be one of the great actors in the derring-dos and swashbuckling courage under pressure that will surely be part of the coming adventures.

Physicist, MIT; Author, FAB

The Creation As Well As Consumption of Scientific Knowledge Will Be Potentially Accessible To Anyone

I'm optimistic about the prospects for science to become a much more broadly participatory activity rather than today's largely spectator sport.

Success as a scientist is certainly limited by interest and ability, but it also requires access to the accumulated body of scientific knowledge and to the means to practice it. I've found the former to be much more widely distributed than the latter; until recently, becoming a successful scientist usually required becoming a member of an elite technical institution.

It's considered axiomatic that smart people like to surround themselves with smart people. But the reality at a place like MIT is that we're all so time-stressed and multi-tasked we rarely have time to do anything unscheduled; many of my closest collaborations are with people who are far away. Two technological changes now provide an opportunity to revisit the boundary between being on and off of a campus.

The first is research on digital fabrication that is leading to much more accessible means for making and measuring things. With $50k in infrastructure, a fab lab can now do experimental work in the field that would have been hard to do at MIT when I first arrived there. And the second is the emergence of broadband videoconferencing and software for project and knowledge management that can make remote collaborations as convenient as local ones.

Together, these are leading to the emergence of technical training and research projects that are fundamentally distributed rather than based on remote or centralized access to scarce resources. Instead of scientific careers being gated by room in classes, and headcount numbers, and limited lab space, and editorial fashions, and overhead rates, they can be bounded by a much more interesting resource, the availability of ideas.

I expect that scientific productivity will always be very non-uniformly distributed, with disproportionate contributions from a small number of remarkable people, but the sample size for finding and fostering those people can be improved by a few billion or so. There's a grand feedback loop ready to be closed, between the content and organization of scientific invention. Many of today's most compelling new questions are still tackled with old institutional models; it's ironic that religion has had its Reformation but that the role of a research university would be recognizable to a medieval monk. The future that I'm optimistic about is one in which the creation as well as consumption of scientific knowledge is potentially accessible to anyone.

Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher; Adjunct Professor, NYU Graduate School of Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP)


As schoolchildren, we learn that different weights fall at the same speed. This simple and readily tested observation, first published by Galileo, refuted Aristotle, who claimed that heavy things fall faster. As Galileo put it in Two New Sciences "I greatly doubt that Aristotle ever tested by experiment whether it be true..." We are left to wonder how people could have believed what they were told, and for two millennia at that, without ever checking? Surely the power of evidence over authority is obvious.

Except it isn't. Even today, evidence has barely begun to upend authority; the world is still more in thrall to Aristotle than Galileo. As a simple example, the time-honored advice for those suffering from bad backs has been bed rest. Only recently, though, have we discovered bed rest isn't the best treatment, and isn't even particularly good compared to moderate activity. How did this discovery come about? A researcher in the field of Evidence-based Medicine surveyed multiple databases of trials and results for patients with back pain. (It tells us something about medicine's current form that we even need a term like Evidence-based Medicine.) And why did it take so long to look at the evidence? Same reason it took so long to question Aristotle: some doctor in the distant past reasoned that bed rest would be a good idea, and it became the authoritative and little-questioned view.

In school, the embrace of evidence is often taught as if it were a one-time revolution that has now been internalized by society. It hasn't. The idea of evidence is consistently radical: Take nothing on faith. No authority is infallible. If you figure out a good way to test something, you can contradict hallowed figures with impunity.

Evidence will continue to improve society, but slowly — this is long-view optimism. The use of evidence dragged the curious mind from the confusion of alchemy into the precision of chemistry in the historical blink of an eye, but its progress past the hard sciences has been considerably slower. Even accepting that evidence should shape our views is inconsistent with much human behavior. Everything from the belief in supernatural beings to deference to elders pushes against the idea that a single person, if he or she comes to understand the evidence, should be allowed to upend a millennium of cherished human belief.

It is only in the last hundred years that evidence has even begun spreading from the hard sciences into other parts of human life. Previous platitudes about the unpredictability or universal plasticity of human behavior are giving way to areas of inquiry with names like Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Economics. (That we need a label like Behavioral Economics says as much about economics as Evidence-based Medicine does about medicine.) As reliance on evidence spreads, it takes with it an understanding of how it works. Apologists for religion often bolster their claims by noting that it is impossible to disprove the existence of supernatural beings. This argument assumes that their listeners don't understand how evidence works — it makes sense to believe in things for which there is evidence, and no sense to believe in things for which there is none. As evidence moves out of the lab and into everywhere else, rhetorical tricks like that are going to be progressively less effective. There will still be fundamentalists, of course — probably more of them, as improved evidence requires a heightened ability to shield the mind — but the oxymoronic middle ground of 'religious but reasonable' will become progressively harder to occupy.

This isn't just about religion, though. Most of the really important parts of our lives ·who we love and how, how we live and why, why we lie and when — have yet to yield their secrets to real evidence. We will see a gradual spread of things like evidence-based politics and law — what is the evidence that this expenditure, or that proposed bill, will have the predicted result? The expectation that evidence can answer questions about the structure of society will discomfit every form of government that relies on sacrosanct beliefs. Theocracy and communism are different in many ways, but they share the same central bug — they are based on some set of assertions that must remain beyond question.

Social science is expanding because we are better about gathering data and about understanding it. We have gone from a drought to a flood of data about personal and social behavior in the last generation. We will learn more about the human condition in the next two decades years than we did in the last two millennia, and we will then begin to apply what we learn, everywhere. Evidence-based treaties. Evidence-based teaching. Evidence-based industrial design. Evidence-based parenting.

There will always be some questions we can't answer, but they will be closer in spirit to "Who put the bomp in the bomp-bah-bomp-bah-bomp?" than to "Why do fools fall in love?" There is an astonishing amount of work going on on that latter question right now, and there's a reasonable chance we'll have a really good answer, to it and to thousands of other questions once thought to be beyond study or explanation, in the coming years.

University of Vienna and Scientific Director, Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The Future Of Science

I am optimistic about the future of science. After all, science as Mankind’s systematic endeavour of understanding Nature is only a few hundred years old. To believe that we have discovered the essentials of understanding Nature in such a short time is a sign of either arrogance or lack of fantasy. So far science is guided by the, in my eyes fallacious, Cartesian cut between res cogitans and res extensa. It is wrong to believe that the world out there exists independent of our observation. But it is equally wrong to believe that it exists only because of our observation.  We have to and we will find a completely new way of looking at the world which will fully transcend our present materialistic paradigm. After all, we have learned in quantum physics that all concepts of material existence evaporate. In the end we are left with probability fields, probabilities of the results of observations. I am convinced that in science we have just started to scratch the surface. Our understanding of the world will be radically different from the understanding we have today.

I am optimistic about the future of religion. We will learn to shed the unessential dogmas, rules, definitions, prejudices which have been collected by the religions over centuries and millennia. We will learn that they have been created out of feelings of insecurity, out of an innate need of mankind to define and understand even the undefinable and ununderstandable. I am convinced that in all major religions we will discover the essentials of what it means to be human in this world. We will succeed in convincing church leaders and religious leaders to be more audacious and to open up to other views of the world and to rely less on what they perceive to be their own access to truth.

The present battle between science and religion will some day be seen as a battle between two positions where neither one is justified even from their own perspective. Science will never be able to prove that God does not exist and religion will learn that its essence is far deeper than ephemeral questions like whether we were created by evolution or not. I believe that some day we will arrive at a coherent view of the world which will transcend both what today we call science and what today we call religion.

I am optimistic about the future of technology. Here too we have hardly scratched the surface. With quantum information technology, mankind for the first time is entering a field of technology which, by all we know today, has not been used by Nature in evolution. I am convinced that most of the technology of the future will be of that kind. New ideas will be created and new technologies will be invented which only could come into existence because we invented them. There is no other road to making them happen.

I believe in the future of mankind. As long as there are children, as long as there are people who look up to the night sky in sheer wonder, as long as there is music, and poetry, and the Mona Lisa, and old monasteries, and young artists, and fledgling scientists and all the other expressions of mankind’s creativity, I will remain optimistic.

Professor, Claremont McKenna College; Past-president, American Psychological Association; Author, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities

How Technology Is Saving the World

I was going to be modest about it, but the congratulatory messages have been slow to arrive, so I will have to toot my own horn. The exciting news is that I have been named Time Magazine’s 2007 Person of the Year. It is true that this is an honor that I share with every other user of technology, but I share well, and I hope that you are as flattered as I am with this well-deserved recognition. In past years, Time Magazine has bestowed this honor on such well-known luminaries as Bill and Melinda Gates, George W. Bush, Rudolph Giuliani, and Ayatollah Khomeini, so we are in good company. All users of technology received this (unfortunately) nonmonetary award as an acknowledgement of the work we have done to change the world in dramatic and unexpected ways. It would be difficult to imagine a more diverse group of award winners. I am writing this article from London, where the Queen just announced that her annual Christmas message, which according to official Royal sources is anticipated by millions (I did not independently verify these data), will be available via pod cast for downloading onto I-Pods and other MP3 devices. In fact, all of her past Christmas messages are now available in multiple viewing formats. Although the Queen refused to respond to questions about whether she personally owned such a device, the younger Royals were quick to add that they did. As illustrated in this momentous news, which is just one example of the radical changes in how we are communicating, there is ample evidence that users of technology are changing the world.

In just the last year, bloggers destroyed some political careers (e.g., Mark Foley) and launched others (e.g., Barack Obama). Technology has changed the way we get information, compute and pay our taxes, keep diaries, do homework, stay in touch, read books, learn almost anything, conduct research, make purchases, compose music, find mates, run businesses, diagnose diseases, and more. At the click of a mouse, I can listen to rap music from Poland or find an organ donor. Technology has enabled all of this and more. I believe that it will also profoundly change how we think about each other and that, for the most part, the change will be for the good.

There are many possible doomsday scenarios in which technology depersonalizes our relationships and makes war more efficient and propaganda more believable. But I am a teacher, and teaching is, at its heart, an act of optimism. If you scrape the crusty veneer off even the curmudgeonliest of professors (yes, "curmudgeonliest" is a real word), you will find a core (sometimes it will be a small core) of optimism. Optimism is a way of viewing possible futures with the belief that you can affect it for the better.

A colleague recently lamented that there are no unexplored places left on earth.  As our daily lives have become increasingly international, there are also fewer strange foods to be tasted, exotic locations to visit, or social customs that are entirely foreign. One reason for the loss of opportunities for adventures into the unknown is that international foods can be found in every city and people from every region of the globe are shopping, eating, studying, and working in even small Midwestern towns in the United States and their equivalent in many countries around the world. Although most of us are still far too uniformed about the lives of people in other regions of the world or in other neighborhoods in our own city, it is also true that we now know more about each other than at any other time in history. Like the other users of technology, I have come to know much more about the lives of others who are "not like me" than I would have even a half generation ago. We are not even close to obtaining global citizenship, but it is at least an idea that people can comprehend and debate.

Along the billion or so other award winners, I can and do communicate with people all over the world at cable speed. Consider for example, the international gaming community that plays together on line and, at the same time, shares their political views and professional and personal lives. They engage in a prolonged social intercourse that spans continents. Their heroes are the gaming experts who come from many countries and backgrounds. The strangeness of "foreigners" that used to define the relationship between people of different religions, customs, races, and regions of the world is disappearing as the rapidly increasing numbers of users of technology connect over time and space in ways that were only available to members of the same clan or village a few decades ago.

Social and political psychologists study "in group" favoritism, which has been a root cause of most conflicts throughout time. The term refers to the tendency to believe that members of one’s own group are more deserving than members of other or "out-groups." Those undeserving others, whom we perceive as being more similar to each other than members of our own group are (they all look and think alike), pose a threat to our own group’s right to whatever is scarce and valued—land, good jobs, clean water, and so on. Think of any conflict, past or present. Whether it is the Bloods and the Crips, Shiites and Sunnis, Tutsis and Hutus, African-Americans and Hispanics, or the hundreds of years of the Crusades with Catholics against Muslims, these are all examples of "us against them" or in-group—out-group conflicts. Pessimists will readily point out that these conflicts have existed since the dawn of time and only a pie-eyed optimistic could believe that intergroup conflict could be reduced by making "the other" seem more like "us." But, there is evidence that we can.

Psychologists in Northern Ireland found that when people in divided societies come into contact in nonthreatening ways, they are in a better position to understand the other group's perspective, and come to regard "them" as equally as human as members of their own group. This contact can lead to greater intergroup trust and even a measure of intergroup forgiveness for past wrongs. Similar approaches are being used by Turkish psychologists who believe that the "Turkish-Armenian conflict has been suffering from a lack of real relational space." They are approaching this long-running conflict by finding ways that members of these two cultures can relate to each other, and the virtual world may be the safest place for these meetings. Psychologists in Israel and Palestine have been assisting teachers and students from both sides of this divide to write joint history books that incorporate narratives from the lives of all of the people who are living contemporary Israeli-Palestinian history. It is the ability to "come together" that is forcing each side to recognize the humanity of "the other." Although these projects are a mix of face-to-face and technology assisted meetings, the role of technology can be used to expand these peace-waging efforts.

Technology is bringing people from diverse backgrounds together, with most of the meetings are taking place in the virtual world. The challenge is to bring in those who are still excluded from the technology revolution, which includes the poor of the world and those whose governments are engaged in futile efforts to restrict access to information from the rest of the world. There will always be "in" and "out" groups, but these categories are becoming more fluid as we identify with a variety of different groups instead of defining ourselves along traditional demographic variables.

Allegiances now extend beyond national borders. I feel as distressed about the loss of the innocent lives of Iraqi citizens as I do about the loss of the innocent lives of the women and men in the U.S. military. I can view the suffering of each any time, night or day, by logging onto the "local" news in any part of the world. I can read the uncensored thoughts of anyone who wishes to share them on their personal blogs and watch the home videos they upload to YouTube and other public video sites. Government censorship is virtually impossible and the ability to hear directly from ordinary people around the world has caused me to see our connectedness. We have only just begun to realize the profound ways that technology is altering our view of the "other people" who share our planet. The use of technology to make the strange familiar will have an overall positive effect on how we think about others in our shrinking world. We are becoming more similar and connected in our basic "humanness." And, that is a good thing.

Professor of Psychology, Provost, Senior Vice President, Tufts University

The Globalization Of Higher Education

Having just returned from a visit to universities in India with which Tufts has partnerships, I am optimistic about the future of higher education, in part because it is becoming more global.

National borders can no longer contain the most serious problems the world faces, be they economic, environmental, health-related, or political. Through education and research, universities play key roles in addressing these problems.

In order to take on these challenges, people must understand the world beyond their respective nations. This requires that universities provide curricular and travel opportunities to learn about other countries. It also requires that universities recruit a critical mass of students from abroad; the presence of international students contributes to the international education of all students, because learning from peers is as important as learning from a formal curriculum.

I am optimistic that colleges and universities around the world will take these challenges seriously and respond in enterprising ways to optimize the world's intellectual capital.

The U.S. is at the short end of a global knowledge asymmetry: on average, college students in the U.S. have less knowledge about other nations and cultures than their counterparts have about the U.S. Our colleges and universities are acting to compensate for this asymmetry by strengthening curricular offerings and active learning experiences that are internationally focused.

Amidst the discussion of the recent report of the Secretary of Education's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, little attention has been paid to the report's call for "greater emphasis on international education". The report correctly points out that "the need to produce a globally literate citizenry is critical to the nation's continued success in the global economy". However, higher education should equip us not only to seize the economic opportunities afforded by globalization, but also to navigate an increasingly interconnected, crowded and dangerous world. We fail to understand other cultures at our peril.

In partial recognition of this, earlier this year the Bush Administration launched the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) to "dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critical need language skills", focusing on Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Farsi and other central Asian languages. While NSLI is a welcome initiative, the funding is exclusively for language instruction. Yet the ability to engage beyond national boundaries also requires cultural fluency. Cultural fluency involves knowledge of history, politics, religion, literature and the arts. It involves knowledge of gesture, nuance and context necessary to avoid misunderstanding. Fortunately, although the vision of NSLI is restricted to languages, colleges and universities are already creating more expansive programs for international learning.

For any nation, recruiting students from overseas evokes mixed feelings. As we seek to advance the globalization of higher education, we must dispel two myths about the influx of international students.

One is the brain drain myth, according to which the countries of origin are being robbed of talent. Take the case of the large numbers of graduate students recruited from India over the past three or so decades—mostly in science and engineering. The dire warnings about a brain drain have proven false. These expatriate Indians have helped fuel India's emerging economy by leveraging their American training and global experience. This group also has formed a bridge between India and the U.S. that is providing the two countries with new economic opportunities as well as a stable political relationship. We are all better off when talent is realized to its fullest—even if it crosses borders.

The global matching of talent with opportunity is not limited to science and Engineering. The great American conservatories of music are filled with students of Japanese, Chinese and Korean descent, as are the stages of our concert halls.

A second myth about the movement of students across borders is that the host country bears a net cost. If we continue with the example of American universities recruiting Indian graduate students in science and engineering, the truth is that the host nation is getting a bargain. Arguably the most selective science talent search in the world is the entrance examination for the undergraduate programs at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). American graduate programs in science and engineering—as well as American industry—have long relied on this selection process and have skimmed off the top of the IIT graduating classes in order to meet the U.S. economy's demand for scientists and engineers. The IIT is funded by the Indian government, so we in the U.S. are cashing in on scientific talent selected and trained at the expense of the Indian taxpayer, who in turn gets a return on this investment as mentioned above.

A similar story can be told about medical education. In some of the best private medical schools in India, medical education is subsidized by clinical revenue (from patients). Graduates from these programs (recruited to the U.S. to meet a growing demand for doctors, post-docs in the life sciences, and other health professionals) have had their training subsidized by healthcare consumers in India.

In an interesting twist on globalization, some Indians are going to China to study medicine because of the shortage of medical school seats in India. Medical education (particularly clinical training) in the U.S. is becoming prohibitively expensive—for students, medical schools and teaching hospitals—even as the demand for doctors and other healthcare professionals soars. Countries like India and China, with large numbers of patients and rapid growth in the hospital sector, are likely to become destinations for clinical training.

The American-born children of the Indian students who were recruited to graduate programs in the first wave several decades ago are now represented disproportionately in the student bodies of the top American colleges and universities. Experienced at negotiating between two cultures, this generation is contributing to the internationalization of the educational experience on campus. From Bollywood music to Bhangra dancing, our campuses are becoming incubators of cross-cultural knowledge.

Knowledge knows no national borders, and learning shouldn't either. Institutions of higher learning are taking the lead in reaching across nations to prepare global citizens and leaders for a world in which cultures are more interwoven than ever before.

Philosopher and Researcher, Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique; Author,
Text-E: Text in the Age of the Internet

The Impact Of Multilingualism In Europe

I'm optimistic about Europe. On May 30th 2005, the day after the French rejected in a referendum the project of the European Constitution, I was traveling on the Thalys high speed train from Paris to Brussels for a committee meeting at the European Community. The train was full people of my age—in their late thirties—going to Brussels as "experts" in various domains to attend meetings and participate in various EC projects. I looked around and started chatting with my neighbors. The conversation was light, mainly about restaurants and bars in Brussels or new exhibitions and movies. Most of the people I spoke with came from more than one cultural background, with two or more nationalities in the family: Say, father from Germany, mother from Ireland, grown up in Rotterdam. All of us were at least bilingual, many trilingual or more. I quickly realized that asking the opening question of ordinary train encounters, "Where are you from?" had become patently obsolete. The image was quite at odds with the newspapers' and politicians' cliché of the prototypical EC officer as a grey, square, hideously boring civil servant in a checkered jacket, wasting time inventing useless bureaucratic rules. My neighbors epitomized the deep cultural change that is now taking place in Europe. A new generation has grown up, people born more than a quarter of century after the end of the Second World War and now moving around Europe to study and work, meeting, dating, marrying, and having children with people from other European countries, and doing so as a matter of course.

More and more European children grow up multilingual. They are unlike immigrants born in one culture and having to grow up in another. They are unlike children growing up in a monolingual, monocultural family that happen to be located in a wider multicultural environment. For the children I am talking about, cultural and linguistic diversity is not just outside them in the society at large, it is part of their own, implanted in their minds as novel kind of cultural identity. Multilingualism is going to become an existential condition in Europe, and this is really good news for a continent in which national identities have been so powerful and have caused so much pain and tragedies in the past.

Multilingualism however is not only an existential condition: it has also an impact on our cognitive life. Recent research in developmental psychology shows that bilingual children are faster in developing the ability to understand the mental states of others. Most children under four fail to demonstrate any understanding of the fact that a person's behavior is based not on the way things are but rather on beliefs—true or false—the person has about the way things are. Bilingual children, intriguingly, succeed in what is known as the "False Belief Task" several months earlier than do monolingual. A likely interpretation of these findings is that bilingual children have a more fine grained ability to understand their social environment, and in particular, a greater awareness of the fact that different people may represent reality in different ways. My bilingual six-year-old son makes mistakes in French and in Italian, but never confuses contexts in which it is more appropriate to use one language than the other, including contexts where there are other bilinguals.

I believe that active multilingualism in Europe will help produce a new generation of cognitively more flexible children who will have integrated from the onset in their own identity and their own cognition their mixed cultural background. It will become impossible for educational institutions around Europe to inflict to these individually multicultural students their local "sacred values" based on Higher Civilization, greater bravery, spiritual superiority, or what have you. They will have to update their educational programs for young people who recognize themselves neither in local foundational myths, nor in a feel-good Multiculturalism predicated upon the maintenance of sharply distinct cultural identities. This will help new generations to get rid of "unreal loyalties", to use the words of Virginia Woolf, to nation, flag or local customs and manners. Multilingual citizens of a European space will be more tolerant and less sensitive to local allegiances and partialities. Their tolerance of diverse cultural identities, in the old "mono" style or recomposed, will be built from within, and not learned as a social norm.

All this may be just wishful thinking, projecting my own personal trajectory on the future of Europe. But I can't help thinking that being multilingual is the best and cheapest antidote to cultural intolerance to be found today. And a way of going beyond the empty label of "multiculturalism" by experiencing a plural culture from within. And, of course, this is not just an European issue.

Columnist, Vanity Fair; Author,
Autumn of the Moguls

The Joys Of Failing Enterprises

The good news where I come from, as a prisoner here in the American media business, is all about entropy. The massive and ridiculous systems that we've built to control and market expression and culture, with their dissipations of so many people's energy, are deteriorating and coming apart. Everyday the media—a much more vexing monolith than religion and God—takes another transforming step from consolidation and uniformity toward uncertainty and chaos. This is not just because new technologies are revolutionizing production and distribution—though that's no small part of this creative destruction—but as much because of the inevitable disorder and randomness of closed systems. What's optimistic is that so many strategists and consultants and bureaucrats and moguls have not been able to maintain control and have been shown to be as clueless as everybody else (this is true, come to think of it, not just at Time Warner and Viacom, but at the Pentagon). Breakdown can be a positive development.

< previous

| Index | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 |

next >

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

contact: [email protected]
Copyright © 2007 by
Edge Foundation, Inc
All Rights Reserved.