Science in the 21st Century

Sep. 8th-12th 2008, Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Ontario


The relationship between Information Technolgy (IT), the scientific community and our society can be thought of as a triangle. The connections in this triangle are getting more and more complex the larger our community, and the tighter connected the networks of our society are. These developments have a large potential, but they can be a danger as well as an opportunity. It is crucial for the progress in scientific research to understand how these changes influence our work, and to address the consequences.


Our work has become much easier accessible for the laymen. As a consequence, the interaction between the scientists and the society has been changing as well. Throughout the history of mankind, it has been scientific insight that lead to changes, progress, breakthroughs, and it has caused us to re-think our place in the world. Such, the strenghened communication between the scientists and the public can have a large impact. On the other hand, there is no doubt that science is done by scientists, and the ethical and moral values of the society we live in do reflect in our community - for better or for worse. Eventually, this affects the financial support scientists receive and influences the directions of research.


Scientific progress made the technological developments possible. The question how to organize an huge amount of information efficiently, how to make available tools work best for our own benefit, how to understand the structure, dynamics and features of networks is subject of several recently established research areas. Most often interdisciplinary, this research becomes increasingly important. On the other hand, the developed tools affect the way our communities are organized, how we collaborate, compete, and form our opinions.


The way we exchange information has changed the way we communicate, how we value, and rate this information. Having new information has grown tremendously in importance, online news tickers and blogs compete with printed newspapers. In a time of information overflow, entertainment and easy accessibility are conflicting with content and quality of articles. The social structure of the internet itself, and its impact on the opinion making processes, affect our political system as well as our personal values. On the other hand, the demand for such technology provides a feedback that drives these processes.