The rapid progress of science and technology in the twentieth century delivered economic growth and enriched our quality of life. However, it has also created unforeseen problems, such as environmental, bioethical, and security concerns. These are the “lights” and “shadows” of science and technology. The twenty-first century is the first time in history when the world, through digital technology, has become truly interconnected. Now more than ever, science and technology issues are social issues as well. They cannot be solved by scientists alone or by any single country. Science and technology presents global challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed by stakeholders across disciplines and national borders.
During my service as a government official in Japan, I decided to build the foundations for a diverse global network of leaders to tackle the most pressing issues of our time. My career began as an official of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and later as a member of the National Diet of Japan, serving three times in cabinet posts in charge of economic planning, science and technology, and finance. In 1995, I helped pass the Fundamental Law on Science and Technology, which advanced Japan’s policies in this area. This work led me to recognize a dire need for a forum for scientists, business executives, and policy makers to engage in discussion necessary to develop future directions for science and technology policies. International gatherings such as academic symposia and intergovernmental conferences exist, but they do not draw individuals from truly diverse fields and sectors. After consulting with a number of science and business experts, in 2004, I founded the Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum.
International gatherings such as academic symposia and intergovernmental conferences exist, but they do not draw individuals from truly diverse fields and sectors.
The STS forum aims to strengthen the lights and control the shadows of science and technology. It is a venue for experts in various fields to meet and discuss global drivers of change. It brings together more than a thousand leaders in science, government, business, and media from nearly a hundred countries (both developed and developing), many regions, and multiple international organizations. Participation at the STS forum is by invitation. Importantly, everyone participates as equals and is encouraged to come not as representatives of their field or country, but as individuals expressing their own views. While decisions should ultimately be made by official bodies, such as the United Nations, the STS forum offers a unique opportunity for global dialogue.
Now in its eleventh year, the STS forum hosts annual meetings in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto holds a significant role as the historical site of the signing of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1997. A triumph of international collaboration to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Kyoto Protocol frames much of what the STS forum hopes to accomplish—uniting leaders around the world to confront some of the greatest challenges of our time.
The STS forum provided a ready mechanism for top-level officials and experts to address issues and lessons from the Fukushima accident.
Topics discussed at the annual meetings have ranged from specific fields, such as the life sciences, energy, and the environment, to broader themes, such as sustainability, innovation, and education. Each speaker is asked to make a brief speech instead of a long keynote address to allow sufficient time for discussion. The peer meetings, held concurrently with the main program, are a distinctive feature of the STS forum. Peer meetings are held for science and technology ministers and presidents of universities, research organizations, funding agencies, and science and engineering academies. A session entitled “Regional Action on Climate Change” also convenes each year. A dominant theme discussed at every annual meeting is outreach through science and technology diplomacy. Where support for developing countries, financial or otherwise, is concerned, diplomacy plays a central role in fostering international collaboration and science and technology capacity building.
The STS forum can also serve as a platform for responding to recent events, as in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in March 2011. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, caused enormous damage and devastating loss of life. The resulting tsunami triggered one of the worst nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The people of Japan confronted these crises with admirable courage and dignity and are indebted to the international community for their support. At the STS forum later that year, we made the topic of nuclear energy a top priority on the agenda.
The Fukushima crisis reminded us that nuclear power represents both a light and shadow of science and technology. Nuclear power is an important source of the world’s energy supply, and it will remain so in the foreseeable future, but it poses serious risks to people and the environment. The accident at Fukushima prompted leaders in China and the UK to order reviews of safety regulations in their own nuclear power stations. We shared lessons learned, including the importance of speedier and more transparent communication from the Japanese government to the public during the disaster. We discussed best practices for improving communication, ensuring nuclear safety and security, and promoting innovation in energy technology. We agreed to strengthen international cooperation so that we can avert and better cope with disasters, both natural and man made. Thus, the STS forum provided a ready mechanism for top-level officials and experts to address issues and lessons from the Fukushima accident.
Over the past decade, the STS forum has evolved from a conference into a global movement to chart a path forward to develop science and technology for the benefit of all people.
The STS forum celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2013. The forum welcomed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a speaker at the opening plenary session. Twenty-one science and technology ministers from around the world were in attendance, as were twelve Nobel laureates and other leading scientists and business experts. A meeting of chief technology officers took place for the first time. Participants in the STS forum have formed a truly global community that continues to grow each year. In 2014, the STS forum expanded by initiating an STS Young Leaders Program to encourage young leaders to become more involved in the event.
Over the past decade, the STS forum has evolved from a conference into a global movement to chart a path forward to develop science and technology for the benefit of all people. Collaboration in the international community is vital if we are to succeed in reinforcing the lights and weakening the shadows cast by science and technology. The lights and shadows will always be present, but working together we can find ways to adapt and innovate toward a more sustainable future.