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This volume aims to document the most important worldwide accomplishments in converging knowledge and technology, including converging platforms, methods of convergence, societal implications, and governance in the last ten years. Convergence in knowledge, technology, and society is the accelerating, transformative interaction among seemingly distinct scientific disciplines, technologies, and communities to achieve mutual compatibility, synergism, and integration, and through this process to create added value for societal benefit. It is a movement that is recognized by scientists and thought leaders around the world as having the potential to provide far-reaching solutions to many of today’s complex knowledge, technology, and human development challenges. Four essential and interdependent convergence platforms of human activity are defined in the first part of this report: nanotechnology-biotechnology-information technology and cognitive science (“NBIC”) foundational tools; Earth-scale environmental systems; human-scale activities; and convergence methods for societal-scale activities. The report then presents the main implications of convergence for human physical potential, cognition and communication, productivity and societal outcomes, education and physical infrastructure, sustainability, and innovative and responsible governance. As a whole, the report presents a new model for convergence. To effectively take advantage of this potential, a proactive governance approach is suggested. The study identifies an international opportunity to develop and apply convergence for technological, economic, environmental, and societal benefits. The panel also suggests an opportunity in the United States for implementing a program aimed at focusing disparate R and D energies into a coherent activity - a "Societal Convergence Initiative”. This study received input from leading academic, industry, government, and NGO experts from the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.



Chapter 1. Convergence Platforms: Foundational Science and Technology Tools

Tremendous progress has occurred in the past 10–20 years in tools that both enable and spring from nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, cognitive science, and interrelated fields. This chapter describes how convergence of these and other emerging technologies is accelerating the advances in scientific knowledge and tool capabilities with relevance to human scale, Earth scale and societal scale activities. Developments are envisioned at the frontiers and interfaces of the foundational converging technologies. Examples of convergence in innovations are seen in cell phones and tablet computers, brain research, novel gene sequencing techniques, means to store and transmit huge amounts of data, novel tools to measure and manipulate objects at the nanoscale, new green and distributed manufacturing models, engineered new materials, expanding interaction between humans and machines, and increasing capabilities for communication and education across distances. With these and other new capabilities is coming the globalization of scientific and engineering R&D at the intersections of traditional disciplines, and an increasingly shared vision of addressing society-wide problems and needs by adapting and applying new tools in transdisciplinary outcomes-focused R&D projects.
Mark Lundstrom, H.-S. Philip Wong

Chapter 2. Convergence Platforms: Human-Scale Convergence and the Quality of Life

Information technology is experiencing a particularly significant growth and impact on society, but it is nevertheless inspired by and built upon convergences with other technologies. This chapter focuses on the interdependencies between information technology and nanotechnology, especially in electronics, visualization and simulation of data, and computational tools; it notes connections of information technology to biotechnology as well, and also gives attention to the connections between information technology and cognitive and social sciences. Examples of societal impacts are “creative disruption” in economy and society, the gradual democratization of the Internet via open-source software and the expansion of “citizen science”; the broadening of the global information infrastructure built of participatory communities of users of shared content; evolution of “consumer robotics,” and conceptualization of computing as services and thus dependent upon the co-evolution of information technology with “rules”—with impacts on future policymaking and governance. The focus is on improving human quality of life through convergence of information technology with other technologies. Equity of access between communities and nations is an ongoing area of concern.
Donald MacGregor, Marietta Baba, Aude Oliva, Anne Collins McLaughlin, Walt Scacchi, Brian Scassellati, Philip Rubin, Robert M. Mason, James R. Spohrer

Chapter 3. Convergence Platforms: Earth-Scale Systems

Earth-scale convergence systems comprise dynamic, complex, and interrelated environmental Earth-scale systems, energy production and consumption systems, and man-made technological systems such as telecommunications and various metropolitan and agricultural infrastructure systems. This chapter views Earth-scale systems from five viewpoints: knowledge systems, monitoring systems, communication systems, management systems and tools, and Earth-scale and other contributing technologies, including robotics. Ideally, convergence-based technological solutions to Earth-scale systems problems can be found that do not have serious political, social, or economic repercussions, but it is far more likely that difficult tradeoffs will have to be made in decision-making at local, national, and international levels. Sustainability is an increasingly important concept being incorporated into society’s thinking about technological solutions to Earth-scale problems. Improving data and modeling capabilities, monitoring (including spaced-based) and communication systems, and collaboration and management tools will be critical.
Bruce Tonn, Mamadou Diallo, Nora Savage, Norman Scott, Pedro Alvarez, Alexander MacDonald, David Feldman, Chuck Liarakos, Michael Hochella

Chapter 4. Methods to Improve and Expedite Convergence

Whereas the R&D process of convergence of knowledge and technology has been largely reactive or coincidental in the past, there is a growing realization among the world’s scientific communities that to take best advantage of scientific innovation trends and govern them appropriately, there must be a more proactive, focused effort to support convergence, and that investments in innovative technology development must more effectively both engage and benefit society and also take into consideration equity and sustainability concerns. This chapter describes a framework and means to effectively focus societal support for convergence. A “science of convergence” will help to accomplish these goals and promote valuable technological and societal synergies based on higher-level scientific languages, a holistic view of society, updated governance models, and vision-inspired basic research that is geared to societal benefit. Creativity and innovation are enhanced by the circuit of information and ideas between various platforms of the human activity system. As exchanges happen faster and between larger domains within the platforms, the foundation for creativity, innovation, and economic and societal benefit broadens. This is a global phenomenon.
Mihail C. Roco, George Whitesides, Jim Murday, Placid M. Ferreira, Giorgio Ascoli, Chin Hua Kong, Clayton Teague, Roop Mahajan, David Rejeski, Eli Yablonovitch, Jian Cao, Mark Suchman

Chapter 5. Implications: Human Health and Physical Potential

Medical advances today reflect a particularly intricate set of interactions and “convergences” in scientific knowledge and technological capabilities that promise improved human healthcare worldwide. This chapter addresses trends towards accomplishing this. They include, among other means, “precision”, individualized medicine; novel means of diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease; improved individual monitoring and record-keeping that can be extrapolated to inform community medical analysis and improve integration of data; major advances in regenerative medicine and prosthetics; and overall, reduction in costs of and improvement in access to quality healthcare. The convergences affecting convergence-based medicine include a focus on wellness as a function of education, healthy lifestyles, mental/neural health, societal interactions, the environments in which people live and work, and active aging.
Robert G. Urban, Piotr Grodzinski, Amanda Arnold

Chapter 6. Implications: Human Cognition and Communication and the Emergence of the Cognitive Society

The practical embedding of many convergent communications, information, and biological technologies in the everyday lives of people all over the globe is leading to fundamental changes in human cognition capabilities, perceptions of “wellness”, and norms of societal interactions. This chapter applies the term “Cognitive Society” broadly to these emerging paradigms, and the term “cognome” to concepts and rules of higher cognition that are the target of research into the workings of individual and socially interconnected brains, made possible through transdisciplinary convergences in the physical and social sciences. The chapter discusses assistive robotic technologies for cognitive and social support; expanding our understanding of the human mind and how we might conceive of assistive devices; the building of individualized genome-based datasets and analysis tools; and how these pathways can take our society forward. The interconnections between converging knowledge tools and their broad effects on society and individuals cannot as yet be predicted, but society must work to maintain their focus on enriching individual human lives while simultaneously working to sustain our shared social and environmental living space. Several initiatives to focus on this are proposed.
James L. Olds, Philip Rubin, Donald MacGregor, Marc Madou, Anne McLaughlin, Aude Oliva, Brian Scassellati, H.-S. Philip Wong

Chapter 7. Implications: Societal Collective Outcomes, Including Manufacturing

The convergences in advanced science and engineering interconnect with a number of core social issues that include the arrangement of means and modes of production and the associated labor skill requirements, training, costs of investments, and other matters. This chapter suggests that a highly customized, modularized, and broadly distributed manufacturing model is emerging that has great potential globally to open up creativity and access at the same time as it allows establishment of small-scale operations that benefit small communities by enabling them to fulfill their own immediate needs, drawing on local talent and labor, with reasonable investment costs. The trends in manufacturing technology that will contribute to establishment of new models of production include additive and other advanced manufacturing processes; small-scale multifunctional manufacturing; human-like smart robotic assistance; universally accessible, rapidly updatable, individualized education; and a dramatically expanded cyberinfrastructure. The disruptive potential of the trends in knowledge creation and production management suggests the need for a proactive approach to monitoring and governing the changes in manufacturing and society to ensure, in particular, equity of access and positive modes of human–machine interaction.
Jian Cao, Michael A. Meador, Marietta L. Baba, Placid Mathew Ferreira, Marc Madou, Walt Scacchi, James C. Spohrer, Clayton Teague, Philip Westmoreland, Xiang Zhang

Chapter 8. Implications: People and Physical Infrastructure

Productive ongoing activity in convergence science and engineering and broad distribution of their economic, societal, and environmental benefits across the nation and the world is not a given. This chapter addresses the need for continuing development and implementation of a new human infrastructure—specifically, affordable IT-based and interactive formal and informal education at all levels and for all individuals, with a strong focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects—and of a new physical infrastructure—specifically, advanced and accessible knowledge and communication networks, measurement capabilities, and laboratory and manufacturing facilities—that will be necessary for continuing progress and real benefit to society. For successful development of both types of infrastructure, it will be necessary for the social sciences to be better integrated into these processes; for them to be more science- and evidence-based; and for them to positively impact formation of broad partnerships and new governance modalities. International formal and informal knowledge sharing and deliberation will be critical as well. The convergence of knowledge and technology that has taken place to date will provide indispensable tools for all of these activities, but society’s commitment also must be engaged.
James Murday, Larry Bell, James Heath, Chin Hua Kong, Robert Chang, Stephen Fonash, Marietta Baba

Chapter 9. Implications: Convergence of Knowledge and Technology for a Sustainable Society

Globally, three interrelated critical problems face society in the twenty-first century: population growth, shortages of vital requirements for human prosperity (water, food, energy, critical materials, full employment, health, hygiene, security, peace), and climate change. There are competing trends in terms of rising use of resources at the same time as converging knowledge and technology provide solutions for reducing or supplanting resource requirements—and in terms of increasing damage to the environment at the same time as the tools are becoming available to remediate the environment. This chapter addresses whether the Earth System under human stress factors can remain in a stable and viable state, or whether imbalance in various “planetary boundary” states (atmospheric CO2 concentration, biodiversity loss, input of nitrogen into the biosphere, chemical pollution, ozone depletion, etc.) could precipitate a planet-wide catastrophe.“Sustainability” encompasses social and cultural values, resources to meet human needs, the natural and built (e.g., megacities) environments, and other factors, all of which must be actively, holistically, thoughtfully, and jointly addressed by society using converging knowledge and technology tools if we are to maintain the balance of the system as a whole within the critical time period of the next 10–20 years.
Mamadou Diallo, Bruce Tonn, Pedro Alvarez, Philippe Bardet, Ken Chong, David Feldman, Roop Mahajan, Norman Scott, Robert G. Urban, Eli Yablonovitch

Chapter 10. Innovative and Responsible Governance of Converging Technologies

Systematic convergence in knowledge and technology promises to increase the rate of scientific breakthroughs, lead to the establishment of new S&T domains and support growing expectations for human progress, including improved productivity, education, and quality of life. A virtual spiral of creativity and innovation will have a significant effect on innovation, productivity, and commercialization. This chapter outlines societal dimensions and innovative and responsible governance of converging knowledge and technologies and the roles of individuals and public. Several goals for the next ten to advance innovation, economic productivity, human and quality of life are presented. Infrastructure needs and R&D strategies are focused on open-source, long-term planning, anticipatory and participatory governance, as well as harmonizing regulations among emerging technologies and internationally. Several priorities and possibilities are suggested for innovative and responsible governance of emerging and converging technologies, including national R&D centers, regulatory measures, and long-term planning.
Mihail C. Roco, David Rejeski, George Whitesides, Jake Dunagan, Alexander MacDonald, Erik Fisher, George Thompson, Robert Mason, Rosalyn Berne, Richard Appelbaum, David Feldman, Mark Suchman


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