We live in an age of extraordinary progress: never in time have we lived longer, in better health. In the past two decades nearly one billion people were taken out of extreme poverty and several severe diseases have been eliminated in many parts of the world, like malaria in over one hundred countries. We have more computer power in our smartphone than in the Apollo 11 and we can reach billions of people instantly via the internet.
Nevertheless, the challenges we face in the decades ahead are many (just think about inequality, or climate change or the fact that still around 800 million people go to bed hungry every day), there is every reason to be positive. Why?
Well, much of the progress we made, has been made possible by science and technology: more notably by the ingenuity and perseverance of individual people, often scientists, whether they worked for themselves, for universities or for companies. Of course enabling progress isn't the exclusive domain of scientists (not at all even) but I would like to take this opportunity to highlight their contribution and the way they frequently had to overcome hurdles, often driven by their curiosity, perseverance and desire to contribute to society.
Although many remain unknown to the public at large, they have had an enormous impact on the development of a healthier, more sustainable and prosperous society. Every day scientists around the world strive to provide answers to global challenges, going to great lengths and making huge personal sacrifices to solve the great challenges of our time.
Remember "The Jetsons" cartoon series? It portrayed technologies in the sixties that seemed magical at the time such as videophones, talking alarm clocks, flat screen TVs, a kind of internet connection and even robots to clean your house .... All are reality today, thanks to science.
But there's more: amongst others thanks to the decoding of the human genome we are at the verge of medical breakthroughs that can even further extend our life expectancy and we only just begun exploring the human brain to find answers to Alzheimer's and dementia.
It doesn't stop there. Science can provide us a new, green, industrial revolution where we no longer burn fossil fuels for our transportation or use oil derivatives for materials. We can develop new green and clean forms of energy and materials with the help of scientists. They can also help to find an answer to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.
Many scientists are the unsung heroes of our time: they work in relative anonymity. Yet they inspire us by making a positive difference to our society. In order to have real societal impact, we believe that science should be a truly collaborative effort, open innovation if you will.
To achieve true progress, NGOs, governments, businesses and academics have to work together to put science with a societal purpose on a higher level. It will be about further promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, especially for girls.
It will also be about dedicating a higher percentage of a country's GDP for research and development. For companies and countries it is sometimes very tempting to cut R&D budgets in times of economic slowdown, but staying the course is vital.
In order to solve the threat of climate change, hunger and other challenges, we need scientists and their tireless efforts to help our society to further advance. Those who are committed to pushing the boundaries even further, who don't stop trying, even when they fail at first.
Lord Kelvin famously said in 1900: There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement. A few years later, Albert Einstein proved him wrong. Because: science can change the world.