Leon Fuerth, national security adviser to former Vice President Al Gore, spoke in the Marvin Center Thursday on technology and the future of America in the global community.
Fuerth, in his last speaking engagement as the J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of International Affairs at the Elliott School, covered an extensive range of topics in his speech, from technological advances to democratic involvement.
More than 100 GW faculty members, students and Fuerth’s former colleagues from the Clinton administration filled the Marvin Center Amphitheater. Miguel Rodriguez, former president of Costa Rica and incoming Shapiro professor, was also in attendance.
“We ought to try and figure out what important things are moving toward us … and what we ought to do about these things in advance,” said Fuerth in his opening comments. He stressed the importance of “future analysis” and “forward engagement” to address potentially dangerous issues.
Fuerth spoke about the changing world landscape instigated by modern technological advances and globalization and the ability of the United States and the international community to address these issues adequately.
Fundamental to this transformation is human “mastery over nature,” Fuerth said, citing contemporary examples as stem cell-research and genetically-modified food. He warned against the unprecedented rise of machines, which he said have the capability to displace human experts or even impinge upon personal freedoms.
“Everyday machines get smarter and their influence is growing stronger,” Fuerth said. “(It’s) hard to think about changes for which there are no experience, nothing to draw upon,”
Fuerth taught an undergraduate course on the national security policy of the Clinton administration as well as a graduate course on issues related to foreign engagement. Fuerth, who also served on the Principals’ Committee of the National Security Council, spent 11 years as a foreign-service officer.
While his speech took a warning tone, Fuerth praised students and their work and called his first teaching experience “terrifying,” adding “it has been important in my development.”
“I started seeing my students pull ahead of me, come up with answers I had not thought of,” Fuerth said. “The payoff of that was to enter finally into an intellectual exchange with my students.”
The J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Foundation established The Shapiro Professorship to appoint eminent figures in the fields of international affairs and diplomacy as instructors in the Elliot School
He said he has plans to continue teaching at GW even after his tenure as the Shapiro Professor ends.
Perhaps the lightest moment, breaking the serious composure of the room and prompting widespread laughter, came from one of Fuerth’s former colleagues in the Clinton-Gore administration.
“How important is it that the President of the United States be smart?” he asked.
Fuerth was diplomatic with his response answering, “more important than intelligence is character.”