Address to the Global Young Academy
Ottawa, Ontario, Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Good evening everybody. I’m so pleased to be here today.
The world is changing faster than ever. Why? Science. Technology. Innovation. Globalization.
Science fiction is fast becoming science fact.
Let me tell you about a six-year-old boy and how science has helped him.
Sebastian Chavarria, who lives right here in Ottawa, was born with health issues that, among other things, left him in need of a prosthetic hand. Years ago, his parents would have had to buy a new prosthetic every year at a cost of thousands of dollars just to keep pace with their son’s natural development.
But that is changing.
Students at the University of Ottawa took on the challenge of designing and building a workable, quality prosthetic—at a reasonable cost. They used the 3D-printer technology that is still in its relative infancy and an important tool of the “do-it-yourself” movement.
The winning design was created by students Shannon Lee and Robert Rayson.
He has a new hand, which, as a bonus, is even reminiscent of his comic book hero, Iron Man!
This may not have been the first time a prosthetic has been made using this technology, but I wanted to share this story.
Because this story is about the curiosity of young innovators. Because this is what happens when compassion and social conscience mix with science, engineering and innovation.
It’s a very Canadian way of thinking.
And it’s your way of thinking, too.
You have gathered in Canada’s capital to learn and grow. To trade best practices. To find ways to build sustainable scientific communities around the world.
You’re integral to this conversation.
And Canada is eager to contribute. In fact, I’m pleased to see such a strong Canadian presence in the Global Young Academy.
I’m pleased because it speaks to another Canadian trait that we share: the willingness to collaborate. After all, no discovery is made in complete isolation.
You know that science and innovation cut through differences in language and cultures and borders. It brings us together in a universal dialect.
This year’s theme—Innovation for Sustainable Globalization—is a testament to working together to arrive at common solutions.
How do we do so?
To borrow a phrase from E. B. White, we must “see things whole.” In this way, we create sustainable development in a world increasingly faced with new challenges.
In his book How We Got to Now, Steven Johnson writes: “Sometimes…a new innovation creates a liability or weakness in our natural toolkit, that sets us out in a new direction, generating new tools to fix a ‘problem’ that was itself a kind of invention.”
One example he gives:
- The invention of the printing press led to an increased demand for spectacles.
- The market for glasses led to new and better lenses.
- Increased lens quality led to the invention of the microscope, which let us see our world in a brand new way.
The line from the printing press to the discovery of microscopic cells within our own body may not be obvious, but, as Mr. Johnson argues, one could not have occurred without the other.
New innovations are bringing with them new ways of thinking about old tasks.
It also brings up new questions. Among them:
How can we utilize the “new” effectively?
Are the laws keeping pace with leaps in innovation?
How will the “new” impact how we exercise or drive or communicate or raise our children or simply live side by side?
We must step back to see the whole picture, to think ahead to its social and economic impact. When we do, we will break down borders, share our knowledge widely and freely, and encourage new generations of innovators.
And we will learn to collaborate with each other.
Our success will be driven by those who see the needs of our communities—be they technological, sociological, demographical or educational. We will address them to create stronger, healthier, more open societies.
What’s unique about this gathering is that you’re at the relative beginning of your careers. You also come from diverse fields: science, engineering, the social sciences, humanities and the law. You will accomplish so much, and I can say with confidence that when you finish your long—and no doubt illustrious—careers, you will have collectively left the world a different place than it is today.
That is the nature, and pace, of change.
Scientists and innovators are leading a transformative revolution. You’re changing our world by asking questions. And your answers, and how you arrive at solutions, has the potential to bring the world closer together. Sustainable globalization begins with the search for answers and knowing that we are responsible for finding them together.
I wish all of you the very best as you continue your important dialogue. I can’t wait to see all that you will do.