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Workshop on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainable Development

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Comments to Friday's Plenary Session

Peter A. Freeman
U.S. National Science Foundation

Bangalore, India
January 16, 2004

President Kalam, Governor Chaturvedi, Colleagues, Guests - Good morning!

Two days ago I extended to you the personal greetings of the Director of NSF, Dr. Rita Colwell, and her wishes for us to have a productive workshop. I know she would be very pleased - as am I - with the high degree of cooperation and focus on the end result of sustainable development that has taken place over the past two days. That is a good sign for the future!

She has also asked me to extend her personal greetings to you, President Kalam, and joins me in congratulating you on your strong support for science, engineering, and technology. The world needs more leaders like you!

In the few moments I have this morning, I want to amplify two points I made in the opening session of this workshop: The importance of education and the role that each of you can play as a "civic scientist."

I do not need to explain to any of you the importance of science, engineering, and technology to the future of the world, most especially those regions that are rapidly developing. (I will use the term "science" to refer to all three activities). Likewise, I shouldn't need to extol the importance of education, but I have noticed in several things about sustainable development that I have read recently, that the importance of education seems sometimes to be mentioned in an "off-handed" or "added-on" manner. This is not surprising, because the science is often so compelling that it dominates our conversation. And, of course, as scientists, that is what we are most interested in.

My message on this point is simple: As scientists, we are all highly educated and could not do what we do without that education. Further, many of us - myself included - started in fairly humble circumstances and have advanced to our positions of responsibility largely because of our education. So, as you continue to consider the ways in which ICT can contribute to sustainable development, make sure that you look carefully at the role of education. Specifically, ICT is already revolutionizing education (along with many other activities) and could well provide new means of education whose impact on development may ultimately far outstrip any single scientific application that we might make.

My other message is also simple: For those of you that are scientists, what you are doing by attending this meeting may be just as important as the work that you do as a scientist. You have been engaged here in discussions about the use of science more than the science itself. In doing this, you are acting as "civic scientists," as Neal Lane, the former director of NSF has called them.

The science community and the policy community, while often sharing the same objectives, such as sustainable development, are often different in the ways they work. It is important that we continue to talk with each other as we have the past two days.

The dialogue is essential and must be continued, because few people are both great scientists and great leaders in society. On Wednesday, I mentioned Rita Colwell, Raj Reddy and V.S. Arunachalam as models. All are fine "civic scientists" who have done great science and helped insure the application of their scientific results. President Kalam has transcended this "civic scientist" model, however, and become a "scientific leader of society." Having recently read his inspiring book, India 2020, I know that we will all learn from him today.

While it may be that none of the rest of us will ever become president of our country, there is much that we can do as civic scientists and scientifically enlightened policy makers, so I encourage you in your continued efforts to use ICT in sustainable development.

Thank you.

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