Lecture "Creating Smart, Sustainable & Inclusive Future"
Bled, 21.3.2012 | speech
Lecture by Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, at the Challenge: Future Summit 2012 entitled "Creating Smart, Sustainable & Inclusive Future"
Bled, 21 March 2012
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Members of this distinguished team, dealing with the challenges of the future,
The introductory words have made me feel sad. I was unable to be with you during the previous days of this summit and therefore I’m deprived of the variety and originality of your ideas and plans. However, I did see the papers, which were prepared for this summit, and as I participated two years ago in the previous summit, I remember conversations of that time. Those conversations were highly inspiring and very promising. Our future is something that we are producing today and it is important that what we are producing today is inspired by the idea of the kind of future we want. It is sometimes said that if you don’t know where you want to go, you are likely to end up somewhere else. Obviously, it is important that young people, young leaders have a very clear vision of the direction in which they wish to go and of the means, which they intend to use in order to get to the desired outcome.
All this has always been important – but it is particularly important in an era of intense need for innovation. Innovation nowadays happens in every field. It happens in the field of technology in particular, but it happens also in the field of social services, in the field of mobilisation of civil society and elsewhere. I hope that innovation is taking place also in politics. As a person who is currently president of a country I can say that we would certainly benefit from innovation in politics. I tried to do a little bit in this regard, but I’m not sure how far and how fast things can change in order to have the appropriate levels of political innovation needed to meet the challenges of the future.
We often think about innovation as something that comes from the most immediate past and is intended to change our most immediate future. Of course, humankind has a long history, a long past and, hopefully, a long future. So it is worthwhile thinking about the timeframes, in which we wish to introduce certain innovations and in which we expect results to happen.
You probably are familiar with the work of different thinkers in this domain and I would like to mention only one of them, who has been quite prominent in the time when I was younger, i.e. about forty years ago. At that time we were shocked and interested to read an American futurologist by name of Herman Kahn, who dealt with strategic issues and who studied the questions of survival of mankind and those related to technological changes. In 1967 he published a book, which was titled "The Year 2000", a framework for speculation for the next thirty-three years. The title is quite interesting, because it speaks about speculation, a rather modest approach to the thinking about the future. He didn’t say that he had an established methodology, which would bring into firm conclusions about the future; he spoke about speculation. He chose the timeframe of about 30 years for his speculation. That speculation was obviously related to the technological change, which was at that time taking place, and to the thinking about what kind of changes are likely to happen in 30 years at the level of technology. He spoke about such things as expansive use of laser technologies, of very serious and very far-reaching development in civil aircraft, about home computers – he believed that home computers in 30 years will be a common device, something used by many homes around the world – and also mobile phones. What was speculation in 1967 became true even before the year 2000 and is now, in 2012, very much part of our daily routines. We cannot think about our life without home computers or mobile phones.
The question then arises how should we think about the future of the next 30 years today – what kind of vision do we have and what do we think about that future in the realm of technology and in other areas. I myself am not a scientist and therefore I cannot say very much about the expected technological developments, although I do hope as a citizen, as a human being for medical technologies to advance, I hope for genetics to go further and help us in every respect. I hope for biotechnologies to go ahead as envisaged in the scientific circles. Therefore I am one of those people who believe in scientific optimism, who believe that developments of science and new technologies will have a further transformative power. It’s also not surprising to say that, like many others, I hope that this technological change will be helpful in our attempts to address some of the major challenges of the future, including for example those challenges arising from the global warming. We live in a time when the objections to global warming are melting away. The scientific process of elimination of objections is taking place and this is very good. Of course, there are political and economic obstacles, which made the international debate about the global warming difficult and the necessary legal arrangements unattainable for the time being. We know that this is a problem at our time, but I remain hopeful that the economic crises will also produce enough thinking about the necessary solutions and that that will also, combined with the technological advancement in renewable areas of energy in particular, help us to mitigate the effects of global warming and perhaps avoid the severest consequences, which are now already quite visible.
But then there is an area of future, which we have to give more attention to. I would like to say a few words about that. That is the area of social development. We are used to think that science and technology have a transformative power and that they create circumstances, in which social change follows and when other new developments help transform societies. This is probably true. But the question is how much innovation is needed in the areas of social development, which are autonomous, which are needed in order to promote social development completely.
I was happy to see that among the achievements resulting from your process there are projects such as those related to education and the use of information technology, aiming to strengthen educational opportunities in India. Furthermore, there are projects related to social entrepreneurship and providing, offering new job opportunities to young people in other parts of developing world and that’s very encouraging. I would like to encourage you to think about the necessary innovation in the field of social development further. We are receiving new tools in that regard as well.
In this context, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) produced a new index, a human improvement index, a "Better Life Index" as it is called. It contains a number of statistical series, which allow us to measure progress in areas such as education, security, healthcare and many other areas of social development that can be measured with a high degree of precision. This brings social measuring closer to the scientific measuring. For the time being this level of precision has been developed for the most developed part of the world, the OECD countries. But it is not entirely new, because it builds on experience, gained earlier on by the United Nations, which, as you very well know, have the tool called the "Human Development Index". This index is perhaps not as precise and sophisticated as the OECD index, but it does provide the framework within which one can look at social development globally, the needs, which exist, the improvements, which take place, innovation, which is taking place, and the effects. Human Development Index has been around for about two decades now and has produced a number of good results and I think these are the tools to be used.
The question arises what are the kind of areas of social development where one would need to focus the creative potential of young intellectuals like you. My submission to you – and it is only a thought for your reflection, not a prescription or anything definitive – is that we have to look very carefully at the consequences of technological development as we now see them. One of them is the question of jobs. In the developed part of the world the question of job security and job opportunities is likely to became ever more important. New technologies are reducing the availability of jobs in the manufacturing sector and in several sectors of services. The question is how does one orient development in this part of the world to allow young people to develop a proper future, to improve society, to have security in life and to enjoy peaceful, secure and also decent life when they grow old. These are big questions for the next 30 years of the development.
In the developing world we have seen some encouraging signs in the past. We have seen hundreds of millions of people being lifted from poverty, including in very large countries like India, China and others. We have seen that the economic development, which has become a reality in those parts of the world, has transformed those societies. But it would be far too early to say that the levels of development achieved so far are satisfactory and that therefore innovation in terms of social development is unnecessary. It is necessary there too and again information technologies and the technologies of measuring social progress can be helpful. But what exactly needs to be done, what kind of projects needs to be developed, that remains a vast field for further exploration, for innovation, and for leadership.
Danica Purg spoke earlier on about leadership. I agree with her. Leadership is a rare commodity, something that doesn’t come easily, something that does not depend only on knowledge, it depends also on a number of other qualities, which have to be developed. These are qualities many young people have, but they need to develop them further. I hope that meetings like this will help you to develop your leadership qualities in full. And in full means thinking about all areas of development, technological, scientific, economic, political and above all social.
I wish this gathering to be productive in that regard. I am sure that as you proceed with your work you will find many new opportunities. I am very happy that you invited me and gave me the opportunity to say a few words. I hope that what I’ve said gave you some food for thought. I thank you and I wish you every success.