Universities as Knowledge Platforms in a Period of Disruption
(My talk at the conference on “The Role of the University in the Crisis of Forced Displacement: Ethics, Innovation, and Immersive Learning,” 26 September 2019, Boston University, Boston, USA.)
As we approach the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, it is becoming clear that humanity needs to urgently address enormous challenges that arise from an unprecedented confluence of critical conditions on a global scale. Climate change has created an ecological crisis, which threatens living conditions, food production and water availability, undermines the stability of vulnerable societies, instigates armed conflict, and pushes millions of people to seek refuge in more affluent and stable countries. These consequences are more severe in poor and overpopulated regions where a demographic explosion is fostered by gradually improving basic healthcare without however concomitant improvements in institutions, access to education and jobs, namely the key factors that are needed to improve living conditions and economic prospects. Consequences of climate change are further exacerbated by the rapid depletion of the earth’s natural resources, which pushes advanced economies to aggressively extract and exploit yet unexploited resources around the world, while pursuing the development of advanced technologies for sustainable energy production, efficient manufacturing and transportation of goods.
Developed countries, which are receiving an increasing influx of refugees and migrants, also face their share of extraordinary challenges. Demographic change has inverted the population pyramid and led to ageing societies wherein the welfare state strives to keep serving adequately the needs of its own citizens, let aside those of refugees and migrants, and where the impetus for societal and economic change is undermined by the shrinking of the younger strata of society.
Exponential advances in and convergence of information and communication technologies have brought the massive adoption of the Internet, the ongoing development of numerous applications and services, and the rapid digitalization of every aspect of human activity. This led to the emergence of digital titans — platforms embedded on the Internet that offer near-zero marginal cost of access, duplication and distribution of digital information, services and products. Digital platforms are a catalytic factor of 21st-century globalization, breaking geographic barriers and national borders…