Kyoto Prize laureates predict future
R Colin Johnson
4/7/2011 9:06 PM EDT
SAN DIEGO—More than 2,000 people gathered here this week at the Kyoto Prize Symposium to learn more about the accomplishments and future innovations predicted by the Kyoto Prize laureates, who were named last fall. Each laureate delivered a lecture on their work and made predictions about the future at the event, hosted by three local universities—University of California, San Diego (UCSD), San Diego State University and the University of San Diego.
Also at the Symposium, a fourth university was added to three current sponsors—Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNA). All four universities will now receive annual $50,000 grants from the Inamori Foundation to host the Kyoto Prize Symposium in the U.S. PLNA will expand its fellowship program for U.S. journalists with local events which express the charter of the Kyoto Prize to pick recipients that have not only achieved technical excellence, but which follow Kyoto Prize founder Kazuo Inomori's central philosophy that "human beings have no higher calling than to strive for the greater good of humanity and society."
"We believe that all members of the human family must collaborate to make our world a better place for future generations," said Bob Brower, president of PLNU. "A concept that is entirely consistent with the philosophy of the Kyoto Prize."
The Kyoto Prize is a $1.8 million award split between three recipients each year. This year's recipients include algorithm pioneer Laszlo Lovasz—inventor of Lovasz' local lemma and many other algorithms used for everything from RSA encryption and 4G wireless communications. Physician Shinya Yamanaka, a researcher at the Gladstone Institute (San Francisco), received the prize for discovering how to use skin instead of human embryos to create therapeutic stem cells. The third recipient was South African artist William Kentridge, who was honored for his stop-motion films—called "pictures in motion"—which popularized the social injustices in his native Johannesburg and subsequently won him inclusion in Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People."
Laszlo, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Hungary, predicted at UCSD that large networks, such as wireless microwave cellular networks, will soon be made easier to manage by virtue of algorithms that model a continuum of parameters instead of individual nodes. Today many ultra-large networks, like the Internet, are impossible to accurately model node-by-node. However, by identifying their essential parameters, Laszlo believes that soon even the largest network snarls can be tamed.
"We are identifying what is common to these networks—mathematically—so that even very large networks can be accurately modeled," said Lovasz. "People have already found some of these parameters, such as positive feedback, which is common to everything from social networks to the wiring in the brain to the interconnections on VLSI chips."
Kyoto Prize recipients Shinya Yamanaka (left), Laszlo Lovasz (center) and William Kentridge (right) recently predicted the future for U.S. audience.
The second recipient, Yamanaka, described at San Diego State University how human skin—instead of embryos—can be regressed to stem cells which can then copy the structure of their surroundings and cure degenerative conditions from Alzheimers to heart disease. Yamanaka also revealed that just this week his team had eliminated the need for retroviruses to regress skin cells, thus sidestepping the possibility of runaway growth that could cause tumors as a side effect. As a result, he predicted that in about five years, libraries of stem cells would be available for patients to use off-the-shelf for conditions incurable today, such as spinal cord injuries.
"I am working with Keio University to create a library of typed stem cells for spinal cord injuries," said Yamanaka. "You have to transplant neural cells within 10 days of an injury, but it takes at least three months to make transplantable stem cells, so we will need to have them ready-to-use."
Not to be upstaged by engineers and scientists, Kentridge also predicted the future of art—his own at least—by giving a sneak preview of his latest stop-action work-in-progress. As with all Kentridge's films, he starts from a single charcoal drawing which he photographs with a digital camera, alters, shoots another frame and repeats several thousand times. His latest work features a multimedia soundtrack more sophisticated than the historical works for which he is famous (see Kentridge's historical films here). However, he claimed not to be able to predict exactly how his latest film will end.
"I never use a script or a storyboard, but just let my drawings spontaneously develop," said Kentridge. "So I won't know how this film ends until I return to Johannesburg next week to finish it."