This conference celebrates and explores the origins of technology and the human brain, and the evolution of our species. It is particularly appropriate that it is held in South Africa. For more than a decade, South Africa has been at the centre of dynamic change that has reshaped our world and our ideas about ourselves as Africans and South Africans. We achieved, against all odds, a relatively peaceful transition from a racially oppressive system to a functioning democracy. Every person in our country has guaranteed rights of democracy and freedom of speech under our Constitution. In addition, through our Constitution – one of the most progressive in the world – we as South Africans make a series of promises to each other concerning treating each other with dignity, equality and non-discrimination, as well as providing each other with basic socio-economic rights. From the base premises of apartheid we have joined as South Africans in aspiring to create a non-racial society based upon the fundamentals of civilised conditions and mutual respect. In doing so we have done more than merely refuse to be the prisoners of our degrading racial past. We have in fact demonstrated to the world the innate potential of humanity – the qualities of restraint, coordination and respect that have helped make Homo sapiens such a successful species.
Yet, we still struggle. As the scientists assembled here will almost certainly tell us, we are very far from perfect – we have flawed anatomies, we misuse and abuse our technologies, and we have a too-marked propensity for intra-species violence. At this time in history, almost more than at any other time, humankind as a species faces grave issues. Here in Africa and around the world we face a mass epidemic of HIV/AIDS – a disease that probably originated in Africa. Our continent struggles with wars and famine, with racism, ethnicity, tribalism and religious intolerance. Our technologies – the very subject this conference explores – have been a blessing and a burden. We have used them for good: curing diseases, uplifting human lives, and exploring our world around us. In doing so, we utilised the power of the human brain, evolved here in Africa, to its fullest.