Concepts such as "information and life" and "life and the environment" emerged in a way that has never been conceived; and a frontier that holds tremendous possibilities but has hitherto been untouched by scientific probes is about to be investigated. A system in which information and materials are being continually interchanged with the surroundings is called an "open system". Life, a computer network, man, and community are considered to be highly sophisticated open systems that are composed of heterogeneous complex components. Highly advanced open systems are associated with characteristics that are different from the engineering system to which scientific technology has been accustomed. The establishment of open systems science, which may be called a new type of science; and the creation of a dramatic breakthrough in scientific technology-these are the objectives that Keio University proposes, heralding the arrival of a new age in the history of mankind.
Many of the open systems-such as environmental issues, urban problems, and energy crises-demand immediate real-time solutions. Because they often undergo rapid changes, it is difficult to predetermine clear-cut boundaries or requirements: thus special means are required to prepare models or modify them to take advantage of the most optimum situations. In other words, the problems require drastic changes to be made to the conventional scientific and technological methodologies. The science and technology of the 20th century put off solving these problems involving the real environment. Science and technology of the 21st century are expected to respond to these problems of the real world that can no longer wait for theoretical explanations. The creation of a discipline to respond to these issues is urgently needed. One purpose for establishing a course for a special study in open environmental science is that a totally new approach will be made to science and technology from a macroscopic viewpoint, which may be called engineering on a full-scale societal intellectual basis.
A research environment to come to grips with the open systems described above is being organized. One example is seen in the development of computer simulation technology. It has become possible to probe virtual reality (a realm that is not yet real but can be so). In other words, simulating a large-scale or transient phenomenon that does not lend itself to experimentation has become possible with the aid of a computer. Computation with enormous numbers encompassing many uncertain elements (variables) that have been ignored or abstracted has now become possible. Active studies are being conducted on mechanisms that incorporate new systems in response to constant changes in mutual actions (e.g., artificial life, genetic algorithms, and neural networks). By pursuing researches in these areas more energetically, one may expect that the possibilities for scientific understanding and technological progress for the living and human society will be further strengthened.
What we have on hand in the field of open system science is only a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle. Yet there is an urgent need to complete the puzzle- or initiate the development of a new scientific methodology as an alternative to the current approach. On the other hand, there is a need to solve current problems by using the available materials (though they may not be complete). The discipline of environmental science offers subsections to investigate specific problems in wide areas of the real world (such as space, the urban environment, resources, energy, ecology, information networks, and societal structures). For a new methodology to contribute to the construction of a societal basis, ample examples of searching for problem spaces, phenomenological analysis, and designs that can control a system or adapt to unexpected developments are offered and efforts are underway to substantiate this new academic basis.