2003 : WHAT ARE THE PRESSING SCIENTIFIC ISSUES FOR THE NATION AND THE WORLD, AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON HOW I CAN BEGIN TO DEAL WITH THEM? - GWB

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Roboticist; Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus) , MIT; Founder, Chairman & CTO, Rethink Robotics; Author, Flesh and Machines
Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab

Dear President Bush,

Science and the technology that flows from it have been great strengths of the United States; without them the US would not be the single superpower that it is today in the world.

For the last fifty years that science has been carried out largely in the open and has been shared with the rest of the world. That sharing has been a source of great strength. The US graduate education system is the strongest in the world and many international leaders have had some of their training in our Universities. The openness and the way in which our universities have been run as meritocracies, not places where national origin or religion is considered in evaluating one's work, has attracted waves of immigration of great scientists and engineers to this country.

There is a place for classified and restricted research but it is mostly in areas that are close to application, not in fundamental scientific and engineering questions. The place for that research is not at our universities. The great universities of the US should remain as open arenas for all areas of research where they act as an engine of creativity that feeds the scientific needs of the US and the world.

As science advisor I would urge you to continue, and strengthen, this policy of openness. I would urge you to set aside perhaps a billion dollars to fund new fellowships for graduate students from predominantly Islamic countries to come and study science (broadly construed) in the United States. I would urge you to direct the INS to treat foreign students as welcome guests rather than suspected criminals who must be monitored constantly by their host universities, and who are to be arrested, as has recently happened, when the courses they end up taking at a respected first rate university do not match some preconceived plan.

To reach out this generous hand to aspiring young students would be courageous in the current domestic climate of fear. But the long term payoff for the United States will be immense. It will create long term personal links between people in the countries we currently most fear and our own country. Based on past experience we can predict that many of those people will rise to positions of leadership and authority within their countries. In the shorter term it will be an act of generosity rather than aggression, and one can hope that it will have positive effects in the way the US is viewed. Besides that we will gain access to a large number of very smart, very driven, young minds who will help us and the world in making scientific progress.

Once I have convinced you to follow this advice I will get to work on some more radical ideas which involve funding science that is deep and curiosity driven, rather than dressed up as responding to politically justifiable immediate needs. Such science has been the well spring of the great advances throughout history.

Rodney Brooks
Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab
Author of Flesh and Machines: How Robots will Change Us