About the conference – University of Copenhagen

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Niels Bohr Conference 2013 > About the conference

About the Initiative

In the 1940s and 1950s the physicist Niels Bohr dedicated his work increasingly to the idea of an open world as a necessary response to the new challenge confronting the world: nuclear weapons. The solution to today's challenges is hardly identical to the one proposed by Bohr, but they are of a magnitude that require Bohrian thought. The conference is organized under four headings that frame the contemporary challenges in the relationship between science, technology and society:

1. Military Technologies of Tomorrow
At times, breakthroughs in science and technology are of such a radical nature that our usual manner of dealing with issues fails politically and new principles and procedures have to be devised. In his time, Bohr cut to the bone of the political implications of nuclear technology.

What can we infer today about the political implications in our society of contemporary and future science and technology? In the military domain, nuclear proliferation is not supplemented by revolutionary developments in space weapons, drones and cyber war.

2. New Global Threats and Possibilities
Transformations in domains like climate change, energy, health, and biotechnology challenge existing political and institutional structures, and scholarly insight into the nature of new sciences and technologies should inform discussions of new principles of organization and governance. Imminent scientific breakthroughs need to be thought through to their radical implications, nut assimilated into procedures that no longer fit.

3. New Politics and New Economics with New Technologies
Niels Bohr suggested openness as a solution to the problems of his time. Whereas his idea was then mostly a radical vision, technologies like the internet have since provided unprecedented forms of openness.

New technology indeed did unleash productive powers through openness that have allowed mankind to handle many of the new challenges and risks; but the openness we have seen, most clearly with the internet, is not to be taken for granted.

Economic, legal, political and technological decisions that currently threaten or limit the potential of openness especially in the realms of science and technology.  Also, potential dangers and dilemmas of unlimited openness will be addressed.

4. Scientists and Politics
Today single individuals can’t meaningfully write open letters to the UN, but decision makers need to be informed by cutting edge scientists about the implications of scientific developments, and scientists face difficult dilemmas in relation to both the social implications of their science and their public responsibility.

Institutions and procedures need to be adopted or invented in different domains, but also general understandings of science might need rethinking - among policy maker, the public as well as scientists themselves.

Then and now
The first keynote is delivered by historian Richard Rhodes, whose four volume nuclear history, launched in 1986 with the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘The Making of the Atomic Bomb’, contains the finest analysis of Bohr’s initiative and the lessons to be learned from its fate.

Aptly, the first speaker after this, will be the secretary general of IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, thus continuing immediately with the state of nuclear questions today.

The Final Plenary and the New Open Letter
After having discussed the four headings in the plenary as well as in the parallel session, the main findings are summed up by the parallel session chairs. In addition The New Open Letter is presented, and a high-profile roundtable discusses it all. Closing comments are made by representatives of the governments of Denmark and Brazil. The latter of whom will be the host of the next ‘Open World’ conference in 2016.

UNESCO Niels Bohr Medal Award
In a special session during the conference, three UNESCO Niels Bohr Gold Medals will be awarded. Princess Marie of Denmark and UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova will present these medals to distinguished scholars, who will give lectures and be interviewed jointly by the recognized science journalist Ranga Yogeshwar in this special segment of the conference.

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