15 february 2016

Vladimir Knyaginin, Chairman of the Board of the CSR “North-West” Foundation, Speaks About the “Future of Science” Foresight Session at SPbPU

What are the directions for development of modern science ? What science fiction technology ideas can became reality and be used for the benefit of  mankind? And, most importantly, when will it happen? These and many other questions were brought to the attention of participants of the foresight session “Future of Science”, conducted at  Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University on February 12, 2017.  Vladimir Knyaginin, Chairman of the Board of  the CSR “North-West” Foundation,  organizer and moderator of the foresight session, speaks about some specific aspects of the event and its significance for the Polytechnic University.

-Mr. Knyaginin, do participants of the foresight session discuss the future of science as a whole or rather focus on some particular branches of science?

- The topic of the foresight session is “the future of science”, but the discussion is not limited to organization of research activities and institutions involved in it, i.e. labs, universities, scientific consortia and networks. Today we are speaking about development of theories, concepts and hypothesis, which form the substantive core of a particular branch of science.

Since it was initially planned to conduct the discussion on the basis of the Institute of Physics, Nanotechnologies and Telecommunications, headed by Sergei Makarov, the list of scientific disciplines and research areas to be discussed was outlined by the Institute and included  astrophysics, laser technologies, radio electronics, robot engineering and biophysics.  The groups are composed of researchers from four  St. Petersburg universities: the Polytechnic University, ITMO, St. Petersburg State University of Aerospace Instrumentation (SUAI) and St. Petersburg State University, as well as  representatives of some academic and industry-specific institutions,  so that we could look into the future of science from all angles.

- What is this foresight session like?

- Foresight session "The future of science" means that we focus on the vision and insights into formation of the content of science in future, on key issues to be solved, theories and concepts expected to dominate  in scientific research. We have set two deadlines for examination of these issues: the first one is the year 2035 - the period to be covered by the strategy for scientific and technological development of the RF that is currently being elaborated . When we discuss science, particularly, fundamental or basic research, time period for examination of the issue should be extended until approximately the year 2050 - this is the second deadline.

- The foresight session participants have divided the existing technologies and developments into four groups: mainstream, outgoing (no longer relevant) mainstream, breakthrough technologies and “science fiction”. Could you please explain what each of these groups means?

- When we examine scientific theories and hypothesis we deal with different development stages of a concept: mainstream, obsolete mainstream, breakthrough technologies and “science fiction”.

Mainstream refers to well-established scientific theories , supported by a large number of researchers and a long list of various research programs and projects. These developments, as a rule, get most of financial and human resources and are the subject of the largest number of research papers.

Then there are outgoing subjects: at a certain moment a research comes to its logical end and the mainstream becomes no longer relevant or obsolete – this can be measured, for example,  by tools  for bibliometric analysis which show  when the number of publications on  previously leading  topics drops down significantly.

There is also an approach called “transformative research” in the US and “blue sky research” in Europe. This sphere of science and technology development intends to change the paradigm, scientific or technological one, that forms the basis of the mainstream.

And, of course, we should consider an approach  which we denote as “science fiction”. Not the science fiction books,  of course, but those hypotheses which have not  yet found broad support, but are extremely important since they are a potentially rich source of breakthrough ideas.

We are consistently studying the movement of these groups of technologies, hypotheses and theories. It is extremely important for us to understand, under what conditions and at what period of time science fiction theories would turn, first, into  topics of exploratory breakthrough research, then would bland into mainstream and what their future is.

- Development of science and technology is driven by various challenges, this issue was also discussed by representatives of industry.

These challenges can be intra-scientific, interdisciplinary, but most often they are social and  political, because science and technology are tools for solving social problems. The government, business, and society set a number of objectives for researchers and developers and mobilize resources for solving these problems, while science acts here rather as a tool.

- Why did you select precisely this format for a discussion on the future of science?

- There are several tools for working with future: foresight, forecasting, and road mapping, when we draw up plans and programs. In my opinion, foresight provides  vision, it allows capturing the current structure of the world and  activities a person is involved in  at a certain period of time, is the most suitable tool for working with a vision of the future. This is not imposing one particular point of view, just the opposite - it is a collective and collaborative process. We call it the "pixel line", meaning that each of us has his own idea of the future - a separate icon, which we place in a single coordinate system. Thus, each of us, placing his icon, fixes the horizon line - the line of our vision and insight. And this is the frontier of science for the coming decades.


 What results do you expect from the foresight session?

It is impossible to make an accurate prediction during the time of such event, but it is not needed here, because we are working with a vision. Our objective is to draw up maps, to identify hypotheses and theories of the future, to  make suggestions regarding time needed for their implementation and then verify all the data obtained with the help of  bibliometric and scientometric tools, comparing the data with technology forecasts. For a university this compiled  “view of the world”  is a big help  in identifying priorities for development of research programs.


Source: Media Center SPbPU