2015 is an important year for all of us. We are taking stock of the accomplishments based on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted in the year 2000. The results of these efforts are immensely positive. In most countries around the globe, extreme poverty and hunger have been reduced, and infant, child, and maternal mortality have decreased. Girls have better access to primary schooling, progress has been made in slowing the spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, access to safe drinking water and sanitation has improved, and more information and knowledge is available to more people via the internet than ever before. However, not all goals have been achieved and some regions have benefitted less, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia.
The period marked by the MDGs will end in December 2015. As part of the post-2015 development agenda, the international community is working intensely on a new set of goals, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be adopted at the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in the second half of September 2015. The new set of goals, despite their similarity in some aspects, go beyond the MDGs in that (a) the formulation and focus of the goals are more encompassing, explicitly requiring active participation from wealthy and poor nations alike, and that (b) the overall focus is shifting away from ameliorating the situation of poor and underdeveloped regions and societies toward improving the sustainability of global economic and social development while concurrently protecting the environment.
Physics and chemistry have arrived at a deep understanding of the non-living world. Can we expect to reach similar insights, integrating concepts and quantitative explanation, in biology? Life at its origin should be particularly amenable to discovery of scientific laws governing biology, since it marks the point of departure from a predictable physical/chemical world to the novel and history-dependent living world. The origin of life problem is difficult because even the simplest living cell is highly evolved from the first steps toward life, of which little direct evidence remains. The conference aims to explore ways to build a deeper understanding of the nature of biology, by modeling the origins of life on a sufficiently abstract level, starting from prebiotic conditions on Earth and possibly on other planets. The conference will examine the origin of life as part of a larger concern with the origins of organization, including major transitions in the living state and structure formation in complex systems science.