Can technology solve our problems?

Charles Vest is a professor and President Emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Vest earned his BS in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University and his MS and PhD from the University of Michigan. His academic work focused on thermodynamics and fluid mechanics. Vest joined Michigan's faculty in 1968, became a full professor in 1977, and was promoted to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1989. In 1990, he was appointed President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a position he held until 2004. Vest has served on both the Bush and Clinton Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and has been a director of DuPoint and IBM. In July 2007 he was elected to serve as president of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE) for six years. He has authored a book on holographic interferometry, and two books on higher education. He has received honorary doctoral degrees from ten universities, and was awarded the 2006 National Medal of Technology by President Bush. 

  • Transcript


Question: Can technology solve our problems

Vest: Absolutely not. These are complex issues that have technical components, technological components, scientific components to their solution. But none of these things happen if we don’t have the understanding through society what needs to be done; if we don’t have the political and national will to take the steps that we have to take; if we don’t innovate in the way in which we organize work as well as organize science and technology. It all has to work together. And I’d like to believe that despite the fact that we look at these things, and look at globalization as daunting problems, they’re really terrific opportunities. And at this point in time no nation on the face of the globe has a better hand to play than the United States. Because we are still the best, particularly at the cutting edge of science and technology. We’re dramatically challenged by other countries as we should be, but we’re still the best. And unlike much of the world, we build what we do on these remarkable substrates of a diverse population, and of democracy, and an open market system. I believe we’ve got the best possibilities in the world of helping to resolve these problems, and providing leadership, and having prosperity in the future. But we can’t do it if we don’t have the core science and technology; if we don’t have young men and women – whether they’re going to be scientists or engineers or not – if we don’t have young men and women who have some technological literacy, some quantitative skills, some understanding of the world at large, then we’re gonna be in trouble. But the basic answer to your question is technology alone can never solve these large scale problems. On the other hand we can’t solve them without them. Recorded on: 12/5/07