Furio Honsell
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Udine
Furio Honsell

It is a great pleasure to address this distinguished audience at the final workshop of the project "Europe and India: Past, Present, and Future".

First, I would like to offer some general thoughts, stemming from my personal experience as a lecturer in the present project, on what I feel are some differences between the Italian, or European, and Indian mentality towards scientific knowledge, and hence the possible mutual benefits which may arise from future collaboration between researchers from these two countries. I am well aware, of course, that these impressions are partial, and necessarily schematic, and hence probably excessively clear cut, but nonetheless they can serve as a basis for future action, at least on my part.

The courses I was involved in dealt with various issues in computer science, both of a foundational and a practical nature. I had the opportunity to come into close contact with the well-known ability of Indian students in mathematical sciences, as well as their undoubtable aptitude for the emerging information sciences, which has been recently so frequently emphasized.

While there is still a very wide gulf in European culture between positivistic sciences and humanities, between physics and metaphysics, so to speak, which is reflected with negative consequences in education, this gulf seems to be far less deep in India, where there is a very strong culture, probably having its roots in the millenary Vedic tradition, which places on a par scientific and spiritual knowledge. This attitude fosters the popular dissemination of science along many more routes than in European society and encourages the integration of hard and soft sciences in education, which I feel to be extremely important for dealing with the complexities of today's world.

As an example of this combination of science and humanities, I will briefly mention the case of the basic algorithms for symbolic and digital manipulation of traditional Indian mathematics. It should not come as a surprise that the culture which has donated to the world the positional notation for numbers should have developed a strong tradition in numerical methods. What is remarkable, however, is the attitude that has not gone for the isolation of a unique universal algorithm (for teaching multiplication, say) but has kept alive in education a more varied collection of methods with a very wide-ranging view towards computational complexity and the subjective cognitive capacities of the performer of the computation: "And there are other formulae which can be used with regard to other (problems). Any formula can be used with regard to others also. But, the most economic thing would be to use that particular formula which suits the particular case best" (Vedic Metaphysics, Delhi 1978, page 178). This pluralistic approach to computation which trades off generality for cognitive ease and efficiency is quite remarkable, and surprisingly close to the way computer chips are designed nowadays. What is offered to the student is a collection of methods, each one of them not very convenient in the general case but exceptionally efficient and easy to use in certain specific classes of problems. In Europe, on the other hand, we pick the general algorithm which has no highs and lows in efficiency, which does not allow cognitive short-cuts and which is just moderately efficient but it is so in so in all cases, universally.

Another important remark that I would like to make concerns the value that communities place on education. This is fundamental for the future role of universities. We are now entering what is a global knowledge-based society, where intangible assets are becoming more and more strategic and significant. I sensed that the extraordinary value attributed to education in Indian society places that country in a very strong position in the near future. In comparison, many sections of European society have still to realize fully this momentous change in the importance of knowledge, especially integrated knowledge, for economic growth. I strongly believe that in bringing together researchers from our two countries we can combine rather different scientific attitudes, stemming form different conceptual standpoints, which will generate very profound and proficient collaboration.

I think that the overall impact of the present project, which has brought together various experts from diverse cultural and scientific institutions in Europe and India, has been quite extraordinary. The net effect of the project is that a significant number of future initiatives in the area of information technology involving the B.M. Birla Science Centre, the University of Udine and the Association of Industrialists of Udine are under way: joint Master's degrees, exchanges of PhD students and the creation of a platform in information and communication technologies. Personally, I am confident that many of these will prove to be very fruitful.

Finally I would like to mention the very important role that the Società Indologica "Luigi Pio Tessitori" has played in fostering the interactions between the Italian university system and the Indian partners. It has succeeded in soliciting the collaboration and bridging the distance between two apparently different regions: Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Andhra Pradesh. The results are a clear indication of the potential of the seeds which have been disseminated during this three year-long project.