Campus of the Big Ideas
launch of The Chicago Initiative-the University's five-year, $2
billion fund-raising effort-was marked by an April 12 event that
focused on Chicago's intellectual initiatives.
will technology change the way we work and live?
future was running behind. At 3:55 p.m., people were still choosing
seats to hear a 3:45 talk. By four o'clock authorities and audience
had settled, but no futuristic technology was immediately apparent
in the spartan Pick Hall classroom.
Laumann, the George Herbert Mead distinguished service professor
in sociology, stood to read aloud, without audio or visual support,
a handwritten paragraph about organizational structure and the
impact of computer technology. But as the session got rolling,
it was apparent that the future had already arrived.
are all already "on the grid," pointed out Rick Stevens,
professor in computer science, referring to the Internet. Tall
and thin, dressed in black, and sporting a ponytail and beard,
Stevens was a futurist from central casting, there to explain
the anticipated shift from mere access to the sharing of virtual
access has unleashed a vast and growing amount of information,
he said. But soon we will see better methods of acquiring and
sharing information, new ways to collaborate on problems, and
the eventual consolidation of services worldwide. One promising
application will involve devoting massive computing power to biological
systems, first to understand them and ultimately to modify them.
This could bring a more theoretical approach, Stevens suggested,
letting physicians conceive, design, and test therapies.
networks of interconnected powerful computers will allow "radical
delocalization," he promised, making armchair travel a reality
and "virtualizing" institutions. It won't happen right
away. Progress towards this future is "going to look linear
for a long time," Stevens cautioned. "Then a phase transition
have already revolutionized the study of language helping linguists
analyze the written and spoken word in new ways, noted John Goldsmith,
the Edward Carson Waller distinguished service professor in linguistics.
And the pace of innovation is quickening. Language was invented
about 35,000 years ago, writing around 3,000 B.C., the printing
press around 1450 A.D., the telephone in 1876, the word processor
in 1979, and the Internet in 1990.
also are learning to translate from one language to another, a
tremendously difficult activity. They are not very good at it
yet, as Goldsmith demonstrated with his own talking computer,
but given a basic grammar and enough practice and correction,
they, like humans, can learn from their mistakes.
does all this mean to the business world? asked Austan Goolsbee,
professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business. The
wealth of information helps consumers discriminate, reducing search
costs. Yet it could undercut wages-even in skilled jobs. Computer
technology has advanced from threatening clerical workers to endangering
accountants, who already lose tax-time work to programs like TurboTax.
three presenters agreed on several aspects of the future. Computers
have already increased the ability of researchers and businesspeople
to communicate and collaborate. And students, with their insatiable
appetites for new technologies, will continue to drive progress,
forcing their mentors to keep up.
the beginning: what do our origins tell us about ourselves?
Homo sapiens: are
we really rational creatures?
physical and biological sciences: what lies ahead?
services, or laws: how do we improve lives?
Clones, genes, and
stem cells: can we find the path to the greatest good?
How will technology change
the way we work and live?
Why do we dig up
Art for art's sake?
In the realm of
the senses: how do we understand what we see, hear, feel, smell,
Can we protect
civil liberties in wartime?