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STS NEXUS Editor's Overview
Eric D. Carlson
On April 26, 2001, nearly 500 people from 6 countries attended an exciting, daylong “conversation” on “Technology and Us,” a conference held as part of the Santa Clara University sesquicentennial celebration, and sponsored by SCU’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society, Applied Materials, Inc., Regis McKenna, and Forbes. The conference attendees, including leaders from business, government, academic, and research organizations, participated in five Keynote Dialogs. Author and commentator Haynes Johnson moderated each dialog. Beginning with an introduction from an SCU faculty member, each dialog centered on comments from a distinguished panel, was followed by discussion among the panelists and questions from the audience, and continued into informal dialog among participants during scheduled breaks.
In this issue of STS NEXUS, we try to capture the essence of the conference and each of the Keynote Dialogs. Rather than a proceedings of the conference, the Santa Clara University faculty introducers for each Keynote Dialog panel summarize the key issues and positions from the session, and identify directions/questions for future research to help better guide individuals and organizations as we try to deal with our increasingly complex technological world.
James C. Morgan, Chairman and CEO of Applied Materials, Inc., authors the first article in which he provides a broad perspective on the conference. He summarizes the thoughts presented at the Introductory Dialog, in which he participated along with Regis McKenna, Chairman of the McKenna Group, and Father Paul Locatelli, President of Santa Clara University.
Associate Professor of Political Science, Ross Miller, reports on the first Keynote Dialog, which was on the topic of “Social Dimensions of a Networked World.” During this panel, the dialog revolved around impacts of increased connectedness, changes in education, new forms and roles of government and governance, and increased responsibilities for individuals.
The article by Ruth Davis, Professor of Computer Engineering, recounts the second Keynote Dialog “Co-Evolving Social Systems with Escalating Technological Change” in terms of three questions. How do we involve a broader spectrum of society in guiding the direction of technological change so that it more positively impacts our social systems? How do we improve our collective ability to deal with the complexities of the interactions between technological and social systems? And, how do we assure an equitable distribution of the benefits of technological change?
“Technology and Identity” was the topic of the third Keynote Dialog. History Professor Barbara Molony’s article pulls together the stimulating discussion of this panel. Increased connectedness, access to vast amounts of information, increased personal freedoms, and new forms of intimacy emerge as both threats and opportunities in technology’s influence on our individual and collective identities.
Jumping from identity to economy, the fourth Keynote Dialog dealt with “The Digital Economy.” In his summary of this panel, Cary Yang, Professor of Electrical Engineering, highlights the melding of technological systems, social systems and economic systems as presented by the three panelists. “Cool Town,” Hewlett-Packard’s experimental project, Cisco Systems’ approaches to organizational scaling and community technical training, and 12 Entrepreneuring Inc.’s concepts of value creation in a hybrid economy provided perspectives on significant dimensions of the digital economy. Professor Yang finds three key themes in this dialog. The first is that timely deployment of technology is key to economic value creation. The second is that there are high elements of economic risk to business and society from major technological changes. And the third is the importance of education in the digital economy.
The final Keynote Dialog dealt with “the Internet and Public Policy,” a topic of keen interest and participation for the three panelists and for Allen Hammond, Professor of Law, the author of the concluding article. In the article, Hammond quotes extensively from the panelists to illustrate how public policy can guide the growth of the Internet and to identify unintended consequences from the Internet revolution, such as loss of privacy, reactionary governmental and corporate controls, and to better comprehend elements of the “digital divide, ”which are the center of the continuing debate in the public policy arena.
Throughout the formal and informal dialogs of the conference, recurring themes arose. One central issue was the global disparity (“digital divide”) being created by technological change; disparity not just in access to technology (a divide which is narrowing), but, more importantly, growing disparity among ethnic, economic, and age/gender groups, in terms of influence on technology and access to its economic benefits. A second central issue was the inability of our social systems to keep pace (and to scale) with the rate of change in technological systems. The result can be serious social and economic losses in such areas as privacy, identity, intimacy, sense of community, and in productivity and the stability of complex, interdependent systems. And a third central issue was the changes in the forms of government and governance that are taking place as the result of rapid technological changes. Conclusions on how to mitigate or control these, and other, important issues, and proposals on how to use technology to improve our human condition were also much less prevalent during the conference. However, education was a central part of most proposals, not just technical training, but, more importantly, values-based education on how to effectively design and use technology. In addition, several comments underscored the importance of systems thinking to help adapt or change our social systems to better guide, utilize, and, if necessary, control technological change.