The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award, which recognizes pioneering researchers for their exceptional contributions to science, was presented to David Autor of MIT and Anne Brunet of Stanford University at a ceremony held at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, Switzerland, on Oct. 5, 2023.
Through their interdisciplinary, collaborative research, David Autor and Anne Brunet have made groundbreaking discoveries in their respective fields and are building bridges across the boundaries of disciplines.
Brunet, a biologist at Stanford University (US), has made important contributions to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of aging and longevity. Most recently, she pioneered the naturally short-lived African killifish as a promising new model to identify principles underlying aging and suspended animation.
Autor, a labor economist at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Cambridge, US), has been instrumental in shaping economic and public understanding of the impact of globalization and technological change on jobs and earning prospects. His research revealed that computerization spurred a “polarization” of job growth within industrialized countries, which ultimately contributed to decades of rising economic inequality.
2023 NOMIS Awardee Anne Brunet
Anne Brunet is the Michele and Timothy Barakett Professor of Genetics at Stanford Medicine and codirector of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford University. The NOMIS Award is enabling her to explore the genetic and molecular mechanisms that regulate aging and age-related diseases, with the ultimate goal of developing interventions that could delay or prevent these conditions. Her NOMIS-supported research project, Organ Synchronization in Aging and Suspended Animation, will leverage a scalable African killifish platform to pioneer transformative technologies for interrogating different tissues during aging; generate massive datasets reporting age-dependent changes as well as the molecular phenotype of every cell in response to longevity interventions; and seek to illuminate what regulates the synchronicity of aging.
2023 NOMIS Awardee David Autor
David Autor is Ford Professor of Economics and a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT. The NOMIS Award is enabling him to investigate the relationship between technology and the labor market and to explore the erosion of demand for expert, specialized work, particularly among middle-skill workers. Through his NOMIS-supported research project, Will New Technologies Complement or Commodify Expertise? Autor will assess whether and how new technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI) may complement human expertise, thereby making labor more valuable, or whether instead these advances will commodify expertise, thus reducing the value of the work without necessarily eroding the number of jobs.
NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award ceremony
The NOMIS Award ceremony serves not only to pay tribute to these pioneering scientists, but also to bring together researchers with rich and diverse academic backgrounds, providing an opportunity for engagement across disciplines, fostering new connections and creating new “sparks” in science. Established in 2016, the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award has enabled the growth of a unique network of outstanding scientists from around the world. A true testament to this strong research community is the attendance of numerous past NOMIS Awardees at this year’s ceremony, as well as many NOMIS researchers and other members of the scientific community, including representatives of world-class research institutes, research benefactors and NOMIS partners.
NOMIS Insight lectures: Enabling knowledge sharing
To further foster cross-disciplinary discussions, knowledge sharing, and connections among the scientific community as well as the public, the 2023 awardees presented their research and introduced their new NOMIS research projects at the NOMIS Insight lectures, also at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, on Oct. 4.
Helga Nowotny, professor emerita of science and technology studies at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and founding member and former president of the European Research Council, gave the keynote lecture, “The Illusion of Control: Living With the Digital Others.” Addressing the blurred boundaries between humans and artificial intelligence, Nowotny described how individuals are basing decisions on predictions without testing those predictions, cautioning that such predictions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Building on the Italian Enlightenment thinker Giambattista Vico’s claim that we understand only what we make, she said, “I hope that science […] will help us to find a balance between the illusion of being in control and the illusion of not being in control.”
Will New Technologies Complement or Commodify Expertise?
With the stage set, David Autor highlighted the need to further explore the impacts of technology and AI on the labor market, distinguishing between the effects of automation vs. augmentation on different types of jobs. His view is that, ultimately, “We should be shaping the future of work, not predicting it,” and hopes that we can use AI to create work that complements human expertise. “Ask not what AI will do to us, but what we want it to do for us,” Autor said.
Organ Synchronization in Aging and Suspended Animation
AI is also playing a role in Anne Brunet’s research into the aging process, a primary risk factor for disease. Leveraging AI, Brunet aims to quantify the aging process using “aging clocks,” machine-learning models based on high-dimensional data. In addition, in collaboration with NOMIS Awardee Karl Deisseroth, she is building an innovative platform to observe the behavior of the African killifish throughout its lifetime. A key question for Brunet: “If we succeed in perturbing specific molecules that are important for organ-to-organ communication or synchronization, does it indeed have an impact on health, on behavior, and on lifespan?”
The NOMIS Foundation supports and enables insight-driven science across all disciplines, focusing on researchers who put forth bold new ideas, exhibit a pioneering spirit and seek to inspire the world around them. NOMIS’ vision is to “create a spark” in the world of science by enabling and supporting pioneering research in the natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities that benefits humankind and our planet.