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Opening address

Heitor Gurgulino de Souza Rector, the United Nations University

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends to the international symposium on "Access to Science and Technology: The Role of Information Technologies." This conference is the second in a series of Japan-based events carried out by the United Nations University (UNU) under its programme on the Frontiers of Science and Technology.

The United Nations University is a young institution with a University Centre established in Tokyo in 1975 following a recommendation in 1969 by U Thant, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was designed to be truly international and devoted to peace and progress. For mobilizing international scholarly resources, however, a completely new kind of academic institution was required. Accordingly, the work of the UNU is not limited to its University Centre here in Japan, but it pursues its objectives as well through worldwide networks of scholars and through centres and programmes in Helsinki, Maastricht, Nairobi, Caracas, and Macau. Professor Charles Cooper, Director of our UNU Institute for New Technologies in Maastricht, and Dr. Zhou Chao Chen, representing our International Institute for Software Technology that is currently being established in Macau, are with us at this conference.

The Charter of the United Nations University calls for "due attention to the social sciences and the humanities as well as natural sciences, pure and applied." It expresses a particular concern that the UNU counteract the isolation of scholars and scientists from the third world. For this symposium we have invited computer scientists, mathematicians, economists, and social scientists to assess how the potential offered by new information technologies may be applied to improving access to science and how it may be used on behalf of the developing world.

The UNU's research programmes address global issues and their implications. Thus, global environmental change, third world development, cross-national implications of science and technology, as well as governance of growing mega-cities are among the objects of our attention. The increased awareness of the complexities underlying these issues requires multidisciplinary and new scientific approaches, sophisticated models, new ways of thinking and perceiving our natural and social environments. In this respect, information technologies have redefined the frontiers of science and technology over and over again for the past three decades, thus gradually shaping the path towards what is commonly referred to as "the information society."

Today we are experiencing a shift from single-purpose terminals to intelligent multi-purpose input-output devices, from limited to abundant storage capacity, and from dedicated to multi-purpose networks. The rate of diffusion of technological innovation is determined, though, by economic, social, political, and cultural factors. These are equally profound in developed and developing societies. However, the obstacles encountered by the developing countries in achieving technological innovation are high, and we must overcome a situation in which some parts of the world are connected to and other parts are disconnected from the information infrastructure, a world where the industrialized countries are "online" and the developing countries are "off-line." For the latter, the crucial issue is not just technological innovation but how to use it for improvements in the social and economic situation of their people. Only then will we be able to talk of truly "global technologies."

In organizing this conference I am grateful for the cooperation we received from the University of Kyoto, and my thanks go particularly to Professor Hiroo Imura, President of the University, and to its former President, Professor Yasunori Nishijima, who has been involved in this project since its very early planning stages.

Furthermore, my thanks go to Professor Huzihiro Araki of the Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences, whose support was essential for convening this symposium.

I am also grateful for the help we received from our international advisers, Dr. Jacques Tocatlian and Dr. Ines Wesley-Tanaskovic. Dr. Wesley-Tanaskovic has been in charge of our microprocessors and informatics training programmes for many years. Both of them will have the challenging task of synthesizing the diverse approaches from different scientific disciplines represented here this week for a future book publication. Finally, I would like to invite all of you to visit the special exhibition that will be set up by Fujitsu Corporation tomorrow, and in this context I want to thank Fujitsu also for its support of this symposium.

Before giving the floor to Professor Hiroo Imura, I thank all participants and observers for coming here today and I want to wish you a successful meeting. I look forward to the results and I hope to gain some new insights myself by talking to many of you personally during the reception given tonight here at the Kyoto International Community House.

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