By Lawrence Summers The 20th century was shaped by developments in the physical sciences. Issues of national and international security were transformed by the revolution in solid state physics that allowed mankind to take flight and split the atom. Advances in our understanding of physics also led to the development of the transistor, the semiconductor and ultimately to the information technology explosion that transformed economic life. The 20th century was an American century in no small part because of American leadership in the application of the physical sciences. While the foundational ideas of relativity and quantum mechanics were developed in Europe, the practical application of these ideas occurred in the US. If the 20th century was defined by developments in the physical sciences, the 21st century will be defined by developments in the life sciences. Lifespans will rise sharply as cures are found for chronic diseases and healthcare will come to be a larger share of the economy than manufacturing. Life science approaches will lead to everything from further agricultural revolutions to profound changes in energy technology and the development of new materials. The “drugs that help you study” that are now pervasive on college campuses are just a precursor of developments that will make it possible to alter human capacities and human nature in profound ways. Read more
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