The News Office also asked several student leaders to respond to the following questions in regard to the new millennium's approach: What has been the most important event--at the world or national level, or in your field, to occur in your lifetime? And what are your predictions for the 21st century with respect to your own field, or in general? Their responses are below.
Also in MIT Tech Talk: Looking back, looking forward: MIT faculty discuss century's key advances, speculate on those of 21st century
Technology to aid growth of democracy
Matthew McGann, a senior majoring in mathematics with a concentration in education and president of the Undergraduate Association:
Most important event -- Though I did not recognize its significance at the time, the fall of apartheid in South Africa was a truly important event. The world community rejected racism in its purest form, and clearly stated that equality is a natural right of all the world's citizens.
Predictions -- I believe that new technologies will bring us closer together, achieving a community never before possible. Furthermore, I believe that technology will help us become a true democracy by allowing more people to take an active role in political issues.
Leaders to have technical knowledge
Luis Ortiz, a graduate student in materials science and engineering and president of the Graduate Student Council:
Most important event -- I would point to an event just before I was born -- President Nixon's 1972 visit to mainland China. I think this event is so important because it was the first step in reaching out to China and the rest of the world. This bold step in the early 1970s is the predecessor of the globalization of interests that is booming today. The supplanting of nationalist isolationism by the interconnected economies of today will [turn out to] be the most important event in the last quarter century. President Nixon's visit to China paved the way for that transition.
Predictions -- In the next century, our rate of technical advance will continue to outpace previous rates of advance. This will provide an amazing amount of information, and important ethical and political questions will arise as a result. I believe that the most influential and admired leaders in the next century will have technical backgrounds, and education similar to that provided by MIT. Scientists and engineers will delve into policy and leadership roles because our society will need their guidance. Hopefully, MIT will be able to adapt to this change and educate those leaders that our society will need.
Democracy to proliferate
Erik Snowberg, a senior with a triple major in physics, math and earth, atmospheric and planetary science, with a minor in economics who ran for Cambridge City Council this year.
Most important event -- The most important event of my lifetime was undoubtedly the fall of communism as an economic and political system. The 21st century will see the proliferation of democracy and capitalism into countries and realms where they have never existed before. These changes will necessarily cause some suffering, but we must never lose sight of the fact that we have the power to ameliorate much of the pain associated with these transitions.
Predictions -- The greatest challenge of the 21st century will be the design and implementation of governmental systems that will harness the good inherent in democracy and capitalism while banishing, to the greatest extent possible, their evils. We must make sure that while we pursue economic growth we do not sacrifice human dignity, environmental integrity or existing communities.
Health care priorities realign
Jasper James Chen, a senior with a double major in linguistics and philosophy and brain and cognitive sciences, and a Marshall Scholarship winner who will spend next year studying psychoneuroimmunology at Oxford University.
Most important event -- Biomedical research that began in the 1970s and has led up to the development of the Human Genome Project, which will enable mankind to witness its own blueprint in exquisite detail shortly after the turn of the century.
Predictions -- Doctors will be given back most, if not all, of their autonomy in caring for patients. This will happen when doctors, health care administrators and patients alike recognize the need for a new philosophy. Health care will not be viewed as a business. Rather, the new mentality will be one of health care as the highest human-to-human service, with genuine compassion constantly on the minds of health care providers, and the managers and businessmen who control the administration and financing.
Physicians must advocate for positive changes within the existing health care system and strive to use their privileged position to advocate for their patients, especially those in medically underserved areas and the needy. I foresee many more physicians becoming policymakers in order to develop legislation to address problems such as the lack of health care access for America's 44 million uninsured.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 15, 1999.