Martin Vetterli is one of the leading lights in the Swiss scientific community. In this interview, he shares his concerns regarding the climate and debate with the EU – and how, as a wealthy country, we missed the boat on digitization.
His office looks out onto Lake Geneva and the Alps, ski touring equipment lies near his desk. However, Martin Vetterli has little time for mountain adventures right now. “I’ve never worked so much as since the outbreak of the pandemic,” says the president of EPFL. That says a lot: the engineering graduate from Neuchâtel was a professor at Columbia University in New York and the University of California in Berkeley, he managed the Swiss National Science Foundation and has been president of the EPFL since 2017, which promotes itself as “Switzerland’s most American university”. Vetterli tends to start his answers in Swiss German (“the secret language I shared with my mother”) and then he switches to English, the language of science. His credo is framed on the wall, a poster from the “New York Times”: “Truth. It’s more important now than ever.”
Mr Vetterli, science is more important than ever right now – scientists advise politicians and are achieving success, the rapid production of a vaccine for example. At the same time, it faces growing skepticism. How do you explain this contradiction?
It doesn’t disturb me. Surveys show that public confidence in science remains extremely high and has actually risen further during the pandemic. Where would we be without science in this crisis? So, I can’t understand the parliamentary debate as to whether the corona task force should be muzzled.
Does it bother you when politicians play the ideology card if scientific findings don’t suit their agenda?
There is a certain lack of understanding of how science works and what its capabilities are. As Hegel said: we learn from history that we do not learn from history. Unwelcome scientific positions have always been criticized in politics, even though they have usually turned out to be right. It is annoying to see that happening again in the corona crisis. Still, the allocation of roles is clear: science conducts independent research and advises, the politicians must make the decisions. You can’t mix the two.
Some scientists, including from EPFL, have gone on the offensive on social networks and in the media and made some controversial statements. Does that make your institution look good or is it more of a reputational risk?
The legal framework is clear: professors are free to express themselves, provided the topic is relevant to their research area, that includes commenting on political issues. Otherwise, they must comment as private citizens and not representatives of the institution. Of course, it’s not always clear where to draw the line. Still, I’m very proud to see that several EPFL professors have been called up to the Swiss national task force. I’m prouder still that the EPFL and ETH Zurich were able to create a contact-tracing app within a few weeks that is the envy of the world.
As you say: it’s not always clear where to draw the line. Some scientists are showing activist tendencies regarding climate change. Does that affect the credibility of the research?
In the 1950s, scientific publications were demonstrating a clear causal effect between smoking and lung cancer. The tobacco industry did everything in its power to dispute that, for as long as it was able to. It took decades before smoking was regulated. I’m referring to this historical example to make the point: how will we look in thirty years when the next generation accuses us of having done nothing? The current scientific position on climate change is as clear as it could be. The public need to know what that position is.
That the rising temperatures are the result of human activity and drastic measures need to be taken. Why are politicians proceeding so cautiously?
It’s short-term against long-term thinking. A listed company has a three-month horizon, a politician has four years. That leads to irrational priorities. Regarding climate change, I think there is one thing we could do now: bring in an appropriate CO2 tax. The problem can only be resolved when the financial incentives are properly aligned and prices reflect the costs of climate protection.
So, you don’t think our political system is fit to face one of the biggest challenges of our time?
I wouldn’t put it like that. Switzerland has done the right thing by bringing in the CO2 Act. The difference between the direct impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the more abstract climate crisis lies in the timeline: it will take a few years at most to overcome Covid-19 and its impact. Climate change, on the other hand, is here to stay, in fact we’re going to hear a lot more about it in future. In the Paris Agreement, Switzerland committed to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 relative to 1990, it aims to be climate neutral by 2050. However, I still have to see a credible plan outlining how to do that.
Will the corona pandemic make people push for more scientific input within politics in future?
I hope the crisis will show us two things: one that science is absolutely necessary and useful. Two, that we return to the things that really matter: many things were suddenly taken away from us. And, you know what? I haven’t missed some of them in the slightest. So, we can make do with less. Personal happiness cannot come from acquiring frequent flyer miles.
Another topic that concerns you is the future of Switzerland as a research location. Currently, everything seems to point to a collapse of the framework agreement with the EU. What would the consequences of that be?
Science will be the first victim, as it was with the mass immigration initiative in 2014, when joint exchange and research projects were suspended. If we can no longer participate in EU scientific programs, it will massively weaken the competitiveness of Switzerland as a research location. It won’t be an immediate catastrophe, but a gradual erosion of everything that has made us strong: openness, internationality and cooperation.
That sounds dramatic but somewhat abstract at the same time.
Take football, by way of comparison: imagine YB or FC Basel were only allowed to play in Switzerland, they would have a couple of good years. However, over the long term they would no longer be able to measure up against the top international teams or attract good players – and the overall level in Switzerland would go down.
In 2014, it only lasted a few months – and Switzerland was back at the forefront of research in Europe. That shows there is no need for alarm.
I was President of the Swiss National Science Foundation at the time, so I followed every step of the negotiations. We shouldn’t be naive: the EU has grown tired of our special wishes, it won’t be prepared to grant concessions a second time. Switzerland’s negotiating position is considerably weaker than before.
Can Europe really do without the top Swiss universities?
Arrogance is the worst way to approach this situation. I can assure you: some European countries would be more than happy for their own universities to replace ETH Zurich or EPFL at the top of the international rankings in future.
Why does Switzerland not just cooperate more with leading universities in the UK, US or Asia?
Switzerland is in the middle of Europe, more than half of all academic publications are written with authors from its surrounding countries. We are in our natural environment and we have to remain realistic. Moreover, we don’t have any similar research programs with the US or Asia.
Moving away from the diplomatic wrangling about research cooperation: does the government provide enough funding for universities to remain internationally competitive?
The Swiss university system is generously funded, especially the federal institutes of technology. Planning security is the most important thing as science is a long-term business: to remain attractive, we must be able to keep growing, especially in new areas, such as data and life sciences. I always tell my people: money is important but autonomy is equally important. This freedom to determine our research is our big strength. Unfortunately more and more needs to be controlled and administered in tertiary education. Bureaucracy takes up too many resources.
You praise autonomy. But how independent are the universities if they procure third-party funds from the economy?
The EPFL third-party funds mainly come from the National Science Foundation and European research programs. Only a small part is from the private sector. It is relevant to applied sciences as that is where the private sector can develop solutions in practice. Of course, these companies don’t provide funds out of charity or for their amusement, both sides benefit from the resulting knowledge. However, we do not just take the money if it means compromising our freedom of research.
There is a lack of investors with risk capital in Switzerland, as you like to point out.
A lot of the risk capital in Switzerland flows into ETH Zurich or EPFL start-ups. So, I can’t really complain. Nonetheless, we do need an ecosystem here where leading research, entrepreneurs and risk capital providers come together. Every year, we put out a couple of dozen promising start-ups that can access seed capital fairly easily. However, at some stage they have to really grow and they need more money, it can quickly run into somewhere between 30 and 50 million francs. That’s where we fall short. When we need big sums, the Swiss investors don’t want to know and the start-ups move away or are sold to big foreign companies. That means we lose jobs, tax income, and know-how, particularly in the tech field. That’s a shame.
Switzerland has always had innovative engineers. We have built the best machines and bridges in the world, but never our own computers or servers. Why is that?
Europe let IT development pass it by in the 1980s for reasons of pure snobbery. People thought IT wasn’t real science but something you could leave for the Americans to do, while we could just buy an IBM product. I went to the US in the 1980s because they took computer science seriously.
What was your experience of the up-and-coming Silicon Valley as a student?
The situation in Switzerland was rather provincial and boring at the time. The ETH Zurich provided a solid education but not so much in the way of engineering science, and there were no start-ups. In Stanford, on the other hand, people from all over the world were attending lectures and leading international academics were teaching and conducting research. There were massive budgets for computer and engineering science at the leading universities, not least due to the military and NASA. Granted, there was a touch of American pomp to the whole thing. Nevertheless, there was a great spirit and the operating conditions for technological development were just perfect. It was a wild time.
You have been involved with digitization for forty years, you wrote a doctoral thesis on “Digital Signal Processing”. Did you think then that it could revolutionize our everyday operations to the extent that it has done?
It was inconceivable. In Stanford, I made the acquaintance of a man named Bernie Widrow who was the first person to tinker with the concept of a machine learning method. He is famous now because his research proved so significant. But it took decades. In Berkeley, I met a brilliant researcher at the start of the 1990s who didn’t just want to send text in the early days of the internet, but videos as well. That was so left field. Today, we sit in Zoom conferences and take it for granted.
“Trial and error”: countless projects have also failed, no-one talks about those researchers.
Of course. It’s extremely difficult to forecast how inventions and new technologies will develop. That’s why I’m convinced that the best investment in universities is still first-class basic research.
We are now well into the 21st century and see that people still communicate by fax within the expensive Swiss health system. The pandemic has starkly exposed our digitization deficits.
It has to be said: we have a problem and the crisis caught us cold. A pandemic really places weaknesses under the microscope, not just socially, politically and medically, but also technologically. We have to be honest now, admit where we fall short and improve.
Did we save in the wrong area?
Money is only part of the issue. Switzerland prefers to stay comfortable and ignore reality. We are wealthy, traditional and slow. If we have an IT problem, we get help, from experts abroad for example. That’s not a good way to chart a new digital course. Estonia, a relatively young country, shows us how a society can become digitized in no time. So, we should look on the pandemic as an opportunity. It starts small: we spent years at EPFL discussing the introduction of the electronic signature, without any tangible outcome. Once the first lockdown came, we just started using it – no more discussion.
So, the state has to move forwards?
Of course, the state should cover the fundamental areas of digitization now. But progress is slow. The e-voting project announced by the federal government had security gaps and has been put on ice again. The vote on electronic identity has already been soundly rejected. Two thirds voted against it. This defeat should serve as a wake-up call for politics. We need to move the digitization debate to the next level, it won’t just go away.
Technical issues are seen as complicated.
If you want to understand today’s world, you must understand the digital world, at least on a conceptual level. It’s no longer enough to just know how to put together an Excel table or a PowerPoint presentation. What we need is digital literacy among the people. It starts in school and when growing up. We are currently far too naive. Everyone is running around with their smartphone and laptop, but hardly anyone knows what happens with the data and downloads. Hardly anyone cares how Facebook, Google or Uber work, although we always use them. So, we basically surrender ourselves to those companies.
You don’t exactly flatter these online services by calling them a “cuckoo economy”.
Take Uber as an example. Yes, it is handy and cheap. But it uses our infrastructure, pays low wages, no social security contributions and little by way of tax. Other tech companies, Google for example, have made us dependent and are growing rich on our data. Let me be clear: I have nothing against these great companies making a lot of money through their IT services. But I want our people to understand how their business models work and where the risks lie. We need more clarity and a level of digital literacy.
Do tech companies need to be more strictly regulated?
The digital space is today’s Wild West. The big pioneering companies have created massive territories, adopting some monopoly positions that would not be tolerated in any other economic sector. Inconsistency and negligible control have long been the standard. But that’s changing gradually. The Supreme Court in the UK recently ruled that Uber drivers are to be treated as employees and not as being self-employed. That gives me cause for optimism – including for Switzerland.
(publish in NZZ of 25 march 2021)
I am pleased to share with you the broad outlines of EPFL’s strategic plan for the 2021–2024 period. The strategy was developed through a fully collaborative approach involving the deans and more than a hundred members of the EPFL community. I wish to thank all those who helped us in this important endeavor for their hard work and dedication.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues on the outgoing management team for their selfless and tireless commitment to EPFL over the past four years.
I will not look back on 2020, except to say that it was not an easy year for the EPFL community. The COVID-19 pandemic has demanded many sacrifices from all of us, but you have demonstrated courage and resilience. I am grateful for all your efforts in helping stop the spread of the virus.
Despite the worry and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, there are some bright spots: it has helped us focus on our core missions – namely, research, education and innovation – while making our organization more resilient and efficient. It has also strengthened our sense of community. Indeed, it is only as a community that we will be able to address the challenges of the 21st century. Finally, the pandemic has reminded us that a university is based on shared values embedded in a campus culture. And this culture needs to evolve for us to remain relevant and in tune with society, be it in terms of diversity, inclusion, ethics or meaningful technology, to name just a few topics that require our attention.
Science cannot offer any clear answers on how to deal with the coronavirus. Nor should it: what we are seeing now is scientific method at work in real time.
It’s rare to see science and research so much in the spotlight as during this pandemic. It’s also understandable, since we all have open questions to which we want answers that are clear and as straightforward as possible. How does the new virus spread? What happens if I become infected? Will there be a cure or vaccine?
The past few months have shown us that currently there only seem to be opaque (and definitely not straightforward) answers to these questions. Not even from the scientific community. We have all noticed that even scientists sometimes contradict each other when talking about COVID-19. So, to whom do we turn now in our search for the security and clear answers we want so much?
It’s not easy to deal with all this uncertainty, especially when a new virus comes knocking at the door. Nonetheless, there are some positive aspects. For example, we (the scientists) have learned how to deal with this uncertainty and evaluate it. Which theories make more sense? Which ones not so much? In fact, these uncertainties are part of the very essence of research. Or, to quote the famous Nobel prize winner Richard Feynman: “… the statements of science are not of what is true and what is not true, but statements of what is known to different degrees of certainty…. Every one of the concepts of science is on a scale graduated somewhere between, but at neither end of, absolute falsity or absolute truth.”
The other positive aspect of the current situation is that we can all experience research in real time. Results, contradictions and different points of view are published, debated and promptly reported on every day. Even if it moves faster than before, research now is no different to the scientific method that has been practiced for centuries. And it is based on applying different levels of probability to various statements and using data to verify the best hypotheses over time (and disprove other ones).
The cacophony of science as we are seeing it now, is therefore not just an entirely normal and very healthy research method. It is no less than the essence of modern science, as it enables progress. The scientific method allows researchers to present ideas of different probabilities, reject them, take a step forward, then one back, two sideways, and two more forwards, and so on, until the process eventually evolves into a new fact that has everyone convinced. In other words, until the cacophony becomes a symphony.
The scientific method is by no means perfect, anything but. It’s a complicated and slow process, even if everything is now faster than before. And even if the scientific method sometimes appears contradictory, it remains the most effective way of finding out general facts about nature. That’s why it is this method that will bestow a new vaccine on us over the next few months (in record time!). Or, to paraphrase Churchill: The scientific method is the worst method, apart from all the other ones that have been tried so far.
* Martin Vetterli is President of the EPFL (ETH Lausanne), Mirko Bischofberger is a biochemist and Head of Communication at EPFL.
(publish in Le Blick of 2 november 2020)
As EPFL celebrated its 50th anniversary as a federal institute of technology, I let my thoughts wander to the future: what might our School look like in 2069, its centenary year? More specifically, I wondered how EPFL, the programs we offer and the technologies our laboratories produce might help build a better world. What will our School do to ensure that the common good as described over 50 years ago by Garrett Hardin in The Tragedy of the Commons – and I’m thinking about climate change in particular – receives the attention it deserves as humanity’s most pressing challenge?
A challenging exercise in prediction, for sure. Back in 1969, when EPFL was created, who could have foreseen the internet in its current form, deepfakes, cyber threats and so on? Who could have predicted the rise of virtual currencies, or the fact that they would come to be seen as a safer bet than cold, hard cash? And who could have imagined that one day cars would drive themselves – and not just in science-fiction novels?
I will focus my predictions on three areas of research: information science, medicine and life sciences, and energy and sustainability.
The impact of information science has been significant and will only continue to grow. Predicting developments in this area over the next five decades is particularly fraught – although artificial intelligence might help! One thing is for certain: we will need to get used to living alongside intelligent machines. Yet we should approach this Faustian bargain with caution: machines must always serve us, not the other way around. This risk aside, data science holds great potential for other scientific disciplines, and for the economy and society at large. I firmly believe that it will help us overcome some of the fundamental challenges we face. And quantum computers will be our ally, solving problems that lie far beyond the capabilities of today’s supercomputers.
A similar story awaits in life sciences, where remarkable progress will continue at the intersection with natural sciences and engineering. Neuroscience raises existential questions, and genome editing ethical ones. Although we will be better equipped to fight cancer, the sad fact is that, in all likelihood, it will continue to claim countless lives. Likewise, modern lifestyle diseases will remain with us.
We will also face new health challenges. Some, like antibiotic resistance, are known to us; others, not. I hope that collaboration between science, medicine and healthcare yields its full potential, although the myth of immortality could confront society with a choice between the lesser of two evils.
My third and final set of predictions concerns the complex matter of energy, the environment and sustainability. Either we solve the tragedy of the commons, or we find ourselves in a difficult – perhaps impossible – situation. The Swiss government has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050. For a school like EPFL, rising to this challenge means drawing on the full range of our expertise. However, that is a necessary but insufficient condition: society itself must change, because ridding ourselves of fossil fuels is a massive challenge that will affect us all.
Cardinal de Richelieu once said that politics is the art of making possible what is necessary. Modern consumerism, it would seem, is about making necessary what is possible. We live in a world of finite resources, which means a paradigm shift is needed if we hope to celebrate our centenary with a sense of optimism for both our School and our planet.
(parue dans Le Temps du 20 décembre 2019)
Dear students and colleagues,
What a pleasure it is to see the entire EPFL community back on campus! Some 11,000 students – including 2,071 first-year Bachelor’s students (32% of whom are women) and 406 new Master’s students – are discovering or returning to campus, while our wonderful staff, professors and researchers kept working through the unusually hot summer. I wish you all a warm welcome as we kick off the new academic year – one that, as you will see, is particularly important to me.
I am still savoring my trip to California in July with the EPFLoop team, which rose to the occasion by capturing third place at the Hyperloop Pod Competition. But now it is time to turn my gaze to the future, so let me start by setting out EPFL’s priorities for the coming year.
The Senior Management’s top priority is talent development, with a dual focus on our students and on encouraging innovative approaches to teaching. For starters, we have decided to trim down the number of first-year courses so that our students can focus on the fundamentals. We are also making a bellwether change – the inclusion of computational thinking as the ‘third pillar’ of the first-year curriculum.
EPFL has a solid track record in innovation in education that reaches beyond our campus. This can be seen in the MOOCs we began running in 2012 and the Extension School we set up in 2017. We are now taking this even further by creating LEARN, a center for innovation in education. LEARN will give rise to a number of initiatives – you will hear more about them in the months to come.
Another of our priorities is to strengthen EPFL in emerging fields of science that are set to have a major impact on society. For the first time in 20 years, we were able to convince the ETH Board to provide us with a disproportionate budget increase, which will be invested in research and teaching. Six new positions will be created in three areas: the digital transformation of society, cross-disciplinary research between engineering and neuroscience, and computational life sciences. What’s more, we are currently recruiting for 28 professorships.
Our third priority is to promote initiatives across EPFL in the areas of project-based learning and open science. In the afterglow of the Solar Decathlon and Hyperloop, we are keen to encourage more exploits along these lines. Indeed, that’s the rationale behind MAKE, a new innovation fund and support team for cross-disciplinary projects; the fund will receive 650,000 francs in financing per year. And in the field of research, a new fund devoted to encouraging open science will be allocated one million francs per year for three years.
This academic year will take us into EPFL’s 50th-anniversary year as a federal institute of technology. In the run-up, we are updating our visual identity with a new logo that will serve to etch our four letters into people’s minds – you will soon be asked to vote for your favorite design. And in January, we will launch a year full of festivities to celebrate science, research, education and innovation.
My hope is that together we can make EPFL one of the world’s leading teaching and research universities, a school driven by a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Already, thanks to your hard work in fulfilling our core missions, EPFL is considered both a thought leader and trailblazer in Swiss and international academic circles alike. For this, I thank you.
The 2017-2018 school year gets under way today, and more than 10,000 students have now returned to campus. We have 1,955 new Bachelor’s students this year and 328 new Master’s students, 6% and 13% more than last year, respectively (the final figures will be released on November 1).
I wish you all a warm welcome!
Nearly 29% of EPFL’s current student body is female. While this is far from gender parity, we are taking steps to support and attract young women interested in embarking on a technical or scientific career.
This year marks the start of the new Master’s Program in Data Science at EPFL and ETH Zurich. Here at EPFL, the program will be run by the School of Computer and Communication Sciences (IC) in conjunction with the Institute of Mathematics (SB) and the School of Engineering (STI). It was set up in response to the revolution in data science and will equip students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in this field. The program will provide a fully rounded education, from building blocks to implementation, from algorithms to database architecture, and from information theory to machine learning.
EPFL is also starting a Master’s program in Digital Humanities this year. The neat divide between engineers, who create algorithms, and social science experts, who interpret data, no longer exists. Big-data and machine-learning techniques have now been appropriated by the content industry – through the media, entertainment and culture – and by all aspects of public life. This new Master’s program provides cutting-edge training in data science and the humanities, preparing students to work with these new content-rich information systems.
This is also the first year in which third-year Bachelor’s students in EPFL’s School of Life Sciences will be offered a module that will enable them to join the final year of the University of Lausanne’s (UNIL) Bachelor’s program in medicine so that they can then do a Master’s at UNIL in this field. By linking the two programs in this way, we will help produce doctors with excellent technical skills.
In another important step forward, EPFL signed an agreement this past summer with the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris (l’X) under which students will be able to obtain a degree from both schools at the same time.
Next fall, EPFL will start teaching computational thinking, an important addition to our curriculum. Along these lines, I would strongly encourage students to participate in the second annual ACCES visualization contest. For future engineers, it’s an opportunity to learn more about a subject that is just as fundamental as mathematics and physics.
Turning to research, last week we launched the beta version of RENGA (連歌, Japanese collaborative poetry), an open-source platform developed by the Swiss Data Science Center (SDSC). It will facilitate multidisciplinary collaborations in the field of data science while at the same time encouraging scientific transparency, reusability and reproducibility. The SDSC, a joint venture between EPFL and ETH Zurich, provides Switzerland with much-needed infrastructure in the field of data science. It was designed to process massive amounts of information and extract meaningful data for use by specialists in various fields, such as personalized medicine, environmental sciences and predictive maintenance, to name a few.
On August 31, we signed agreements setting in motion the second phase of EPFL’s Valais expansion, which will include the construction of a new building to house a research center on alpine and extreme environments. The rehabilitation and health cluster and the green chemistry and energies-of-the-future hub will also be strengthened.
The first-ever EPFL Drone Days, which took place two weeks ago, is a good example of the role that EPFL can play in a fast-growing field that is likely to have an impact on many manufacturing sectors. Drone researchers, pilots and startups rubbed shoulders throughout the on-campus event, which dazzled the public and the many colleagues in attendance. That’s technology transfer at work, right here in French-speaking Switzerland!
Lastly, I would like to mention x-grants, a new EPFL initiative to foster entrepreneurship among our Bachelor’s and Master’s students. These grants, worth around CHF 10,000 each, will give recipients the support they need to work on their ideas – which they may someday turn into a startup. Grant recipients will also be given a chance to build their network of contacts in Silicon Valley by spending one or two months at the Swissnex office on Pier 17 in San Francisco.
I wish you all an excellent school year, and I hope that your studies, research and work will be a source of fun and excitement. I would also like to thank you for playing an active part in the EPFL community.
The new Senior Management team officially began work just over one hundred days ago. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts on how things are going so far. For starters, I still think I have the best job in Europe! What’s more, the new team of vice presidents works well together, taking advantage of their like-minded approach to get things done. And I see this same sense of shared purpose in our interactions with the deans. One of them, Jan S. Hestaven, has also just completed his first one hundred days, at the helm of the School of Basic Sciences; and don’t forget that Ali H. Sayed will join us on 1 July as the new dean of the School of Engineering.
Much has happened since the new Senior Management team took office. For one, the Swiss Data Science Center opened; this project is a key step in the development of open science – one of my priorities as president of EPFL. And in February, the new Review Course for first-year students (MAN) got under way. On 26 April, the Section Directors’ Conference decided that we would make the computational thinking course, Information, Computation, Communication, a requirement for all first-year engineering students starting in the fall of 2018; we believe that they need a firm grounding in this field – just as they do in math and physics – starting at the undergraduate level. Finally, the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition (ACE) reached Cape Town – I was there to greet the researchers; it was exciting to follow this human and scientific adventure as it unfolded.
During these first three months, my team and I reached out to the EPFL community on numerous occasions: we introduced the new Senior Management to you on 11 January, and we also met with the EPFL Assembly, the schools, the outposts, AGEPoly, student representatives, and, most recently, the administrative assistants. All these interactions have given us a fuller appreciation of EPFL’s diversity, richness and complexity.
I like to remind people that a university is not a business. We build pillars of knowledge: the knowledge we pass along to our students; the knowledge we create in our labs; and the knowledge that we turn into innovations. This knowledge is also tied to our responsibility towards society, which, thanks to new technologies, is changing faster and in more ways than ever before. By fulfilling our missions, we play an active role in these (r)evolutions, ensuring they benefit everyone. Our task includes responding to the needs and challenges that these changes lead to, and taking risks in order to stay one step ahead of future challenges.
For all these reasons, our school requires a 21st-century campus – one that is fully digital and can break down the traditional boundaries between our many fields of study. We will create value by positioning ourselves at the nexus between life sciences and engineering and between computational sciences and most other fields, to give but two examples. We have a shared duty to use our talents and resources to meet these many challenges and seize opportunities that will allow our school to continue growing.