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The Santa Clara University Center for Science, Technology, and Society: Where Technology and Tradition Meet
James L. Koch and Regis McKenna
The Center for Science, Technology, and Society (CSTS) is developing at a unique time, in a unique place, and with a unique approach to examining the interplay of science and technology with culture and society. Its modest beginning, in the fall of 1997, was the result of a University-wide planning process that sought to enhance integrated learning through the formation of a cross-disciplinary community of scholars, and to integrate the distinct institutional values of Santa Clara University with the palpable energy and innovation that characterizes Silicon Valley.
In addition to its scholarship and education goals, CSTS seeks to offer an ethical and responsible perspective that will positively influence public understanding, business decisions, and public policy. As it has done in examining such topics as privacy and the digital divide, it will continue to bring people together to dialogue on important issues. Through partnering, it also will provide unique resources for research and problem solving. In addition, it will seek to inspire solutions and new appreciations of the potential for science and technology to solve the complex and urgent problems of society.
The CSTS founding at Santa Clara University is significant because it is only here that the 460-year Jesuit tradition of educating for life and leadership intersects with ground zero of the scientific and technological innovations that are driving the digital revolution. This blend of tradition and innovation, and a commitment to technology and humanism, are defining elements of the Center’s distinctive character.
A Unique Time
We live in a time when the confluence of exponential change in complementary technologies is redefining the operating assumptions of organizations, institutions, and everyday lives. It is also a time when we have more questions than answers arising from the interactions of society and technology. Yet, rapid technological advances are redefining the opportunities and boundaries ahead of us. The most profound examples of this can be found in the changes emanating from the simultaneity of rapid advances in computing power, information storage, and exploding communications capacity. Together, these three technologies stand as pillars at the center of a digital revolution, which, like the agricultural and industrial revolutions, seems destined to recast "winners" and "losers" and the broader tapestry of human experience.
Pillar One: Computational Power
Moore's Law, or the ability to double the density of transistors on a chip about every eighteen months, has so reduced the cost of information processing that it is now economical for hundreds of millions of people to have access to computing power previously reserved only for the highly trained scientist. For those with the right skills, increasing computational speeds in personal computing devices provides unprecedented empowerment. For example, knowledge workers today have access to notebook computers that exceed the computational capacities that guided the 1969 moon landing. Widely distributed computational power has the potential to leverage and amplify both our individual and our collective capabilities. However, those who lack access to new information tools and the requisite skills for their effective use are at a distinct disadvantage. Economist Tim Bresnahan has developed empirical evidence demonstrating the complementary nature of information technology for knowledge workers, as well as its substitution effects for lower skilled workers. This, he posits, will become an increasingly important factor in growing income disparities (see T. Bresnahan, “Computerization and Wage Dispersion: an Analytical Re-interpretation,” Working Paper (Stanford, California, Stanford University, 1997).
The ability to quadruple circuit densities every three years permits the development of ubiquitous embedded machine intelligence. Embedded microprocessor technology regulates continuous process factories, global supply chains, the automatic breaking mechanisms of cars, and the rhythms of a human heart. It also has made possible modern communications and wireless connectivity by increasing performance and shrinking the complex functions of telephony to a few chips. Microprocessor technology has not only led to advances in every field of scientific endeavor, it has often transformed the scope of inquiry and the boundaries between disciplines. This is especially the case in health sciences. Here computational capacities have enabled scientists to decipher the human genome, spawned the development bio-informatics and research to develop custom tailored drug therapies, and pushed yet untold boundaries in our capacity to understand and experiment with the structure of living organisms.
Source: thestandard.com; Corporate Strategy Board; Corporate Leadership Council research.
First postulated in 1964 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, Moore's Law is predicted to hold until early in the next decade when a billion transistors are pressed onto a chip. But CSTS Steering Committee member and IEEE Fellow Cary Yang argues that molecular and quantum computing seem certain to extend this law. These advances will continue to make computing power cheaper and cheaper and therefore even more ubiquitous. In addition to untold advances in science, they will permit the development of countless new services and software applications for addressing an infinite array of specialized business and personal needs. They also will reshape business models and create new marketing environments in which physical products are augmented by information devices that transform their value. For example, the simple barcode on a can of soup that once facilitated store inventory taking becomes a point-of-sale information source in a global supply chain, which includes data mining systems for segmenting markets, determining price promotions, and inventing new arrays of consumer products. But, we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves because these transformations in business models are also based on two other pillars--plummeting storage costs and exploding communication capacity.
Pillar Two: Information Storage
On December 14, 1998, CSTS partnered with the Institute for Information Storage Technology and IBM's Almaden Research Labs to host the "100th Anniversary of Magnetic Recording." This conference brought together eminent scientists and engineers, as well as historians, economists, and management pioneers in storage technology. In addition, it examined the underlying physics of storage technology and the insights of IBM Fellows who are at the forefront of efforts to develop next generation storage devices. These devices are so compact that they will enable the storage of a two thousand-book library on a disc that is less than the size of a quarter (http://www.iist.scu.edu/). The rate of growth in storage densities actually exceeds the rate of growth of microprocessor power, and as Table 2 indicates, DRAM memory costs are continuing to plummet.
Source: thestandard.com; Corporate Strategy Board Corporate Leadership Council research.
Storage is a complementary technology in relation to computational power. It increases the value of computational speed by providing local and distributed access to low cost computer memory. In an information society, information has to be processed, stored, transmitted, and accessed. It is estimated that over 1.1 trillion e-mails will be sent this year. It has also been estimated that the World Wide Web presently holds more than 550 billion pages of accessible information. (Source: University of California at Berkeley, the School of Information Management and Systems, Peter Lyman and Hal R. Varian, http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/how-much-info) All this information must be stored for ready access from multiple sources or the Internet would simply implode.
Readily available, cheap memory changes the nature of information. It can be disposed, or never forgotten and reused in infinite ways. It has been postulated that the development of writing technology over five millennia ago had the effect of reducing the capacity of human memory. Homer’s Iliad, for example, consisting of some 15,693 lines of poetry was recited from memory by ancient bards for hundreds of years prior to its first being put into writing. Today, as information and the interrelationships of society become more and more complex, machines will assume more of the communication management functions, including that of memory, at the core of individual and institutional interaction. Electronic storage is one of the more vital and important means of organizing, storing, and instantly recalling needed information. Whether it’s remembering a recipe, profiling a lifetime medical history, mining a database to identify subtle patterns in consumer preferences, or developing elaborate simulations of geothermal data in oil field sites to increase the efficiency of energy exploration, increases in storage densities permit instant recall. The ability to reuse information increases its value. Advances in computational power in combination with increases in capacities to store information spawned the database industries that enable vast storehouses of information to be collected, combined, analyzed, and made accessible as distributed memory.
Within organizations, the ability to access distributed memory is altering hierarchical patterns of authority and shifting the locus of power. It distributes decision-making away from the center to the periphery of organizations, to individual knowledge workers, remote teams, and ultimately to customers. This is especially the case in rapidly changing commercial markets. Here the pace of change in competitors and customers can cause data mining models to lose half or more of their value in 90 days. In this context the ability to build direct channels between customers and producers becomes essential to the adaptive survival of organizations.
Pillar Three: Metcalfe’s Law and Bandwidth
With computing power doubling every 18 months and storage densities doubling at an even greater rate of twelve to fifteen months, bandwidth is charging ahead the fastest of all. The amount of information that can be transferred between nodes on a network is doubling every four to six months. Bob Metcalfe, co-inventor of Ethernet and founder of 3COM observed that the value of the network increases by the square of the number of users. Since Moore’s Law inherently says that the cost effectiveness of a chip rises by the square of the number of transistors, observes economist George Gilder, the increasing number of computers on the network act in the same way by amplifying the effect of each node on the whole network. In 2000, some 90 million host-computers were connected to the Web creating more computational/communications bandwidth rather than constraining it.
Distributed and peer-to-peer computing magnify the capacity of the network to collect, store, analyze, and communicate information. Web access enables local nodes to serve as caches for global information networks. This is evidenced in numerous contexts, from global supply chain management systems, to a growing number of IT enabled knowledge management systems, to advanced fields of scientific inquiry. An example of the latter can be found in biochemistry where an understanding of how human proteins self-assemble is believed to be key to discovering cures for diseases. The formation of a protein can involve a billion steps that occur in a matter of microseconds. To simulate this process on a single computer would take decades. Through distributed computing involving 10,000 PCs this data collection and analytic process can be completed in weeks (http://www.stanford.edu/group/pandegroup/Cosm).
Source: thestandard.com; Corporate Strategy Board; Corporate Leadership Council research.
The “laws” of the information age are more about economics than they are about technology. They reflect the relentless technological progress of the cost of accessing and using the new information tools. It is the low cost of processing, moving, and storing information that is changing organizational and social interactions. In 1970, the cost of processing one million computer instructions per second (MIP) was $1 million; the cost of storing one million bits of information (megabit) was $5,000 and sending one trillion bits of information cost $150,000. Today, one MIP costs less than 17 cents, one megabit of storage is 17 cents and sending one trillion bits over the Internet is 12 cents. These cost trends will continue to decline to a point where adding value to products will be the equivalent of adding embedded intelligence and connectivity services.
The confluence of Moore's Law and Metcalfe’s Law change the information and computational boundaries that constrain human analytic capacities. Together, they put individuals in control of information with limits on problem solving that are constrained only by human intelligence and imagination.
CSTS Advisory Board Member and recent National Medal of Technology recipient, Doug Engelbart, argues that this combination of computational, data storage, and communications capacities should enable humankind to solve complex and urgent problems. In his view, this environment calls for a new technological and social architecture if we are to tap our "collective I.Q." and imaginations. He posits that realizing this potential will require changes in both our "tool" and "human" systems (http://www.bootstrap.org/), much as the industrial era required the development of assembly line technologies and scientific management principles. In this vein, Engelbart argues that we are in the early stages of an "unfinished revolution," the full benefits of which can only be realized through the imaginative "co-evolution" of technical and human systems. To be sure, there is ample evidence to support the "genius of the whole" or the collective wisdom of diverse and cross-disciplinary teams. In fact, this is an implicit founding principle of CSTS.
Expanding bandwidth enables the enhancement of human expression. Being virtual or remote in human collaborations becomes increasingly like “being there.” Bandwidth enriches important dimensions of our need to experience a sense of community through human interaction. With the click of a mouse the World Wide Web enables access to previously unimagined global storehouses of information, to the cultivation of vast new networks of shared interest, and to the tapping of leading edge developments in communities of practice. It also changes the dynamics of markets, and creates a new medium for the exchange of physical, financial, and intellectual assets. As a recent cartoon depicted, from our laptop screens the signposts to Silicon Valley, Munich, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo all read the same--"0 miles."
In the industrial era mass production made financial capital the key to creating economies of scale and wealth. The subsequent emergence of professional and managerial elites in white-collar hierarchies provided increasing returns to intellectual capital. The "net" is creating yet another paradigm--one that is globally interconnected and characterized by the increased complexity and velocity of change. Network effects, such as "increasing returns" and network externalities, suggest that access to advantaged positions in the network may be more important than human capital per se. Who has the best idea or technology may be less important than the ability to connect in leveraged or meaningful ways to rapidly growing network structures. In a networked world social capital, including IT-enabled relationships that facilitate action will grow in their salience to the well being of individuals, the survival of organizations, and the vitality of economic regions.
What new social architectures will we need to ensure equality of opportunity and make this an inclusive world? What new practices and frameworks will we need to manage and regulate globally networked enterprises? How can government rule making evolve to avoid winner-take-all outcomes, and to foster access and trust in a cyber world? What new social architectures will we need to construct to increase our collective capacity to solve complex and urgent problems? And how will the new information age technologies help to address the many serious issues facing the future of global societies? Half the world’s population lives in poverty and has limited or no access to health care. There is also the growing concern over global warming and its potential effect of altering the supply of agricultural products. Questions like these will be examined in future issues of STS NEXUS. For now, suffice to say that today's new and rapidly evolving information infrastructures--while they are being created by humans--will in turn transform the lives that created them in profound, unanticipated, and irrevocable ways.
A Unique Place
The development of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University provides a unique vantage point on the digital revolution because not one but all three of the industries that are shaping the pillars of this revolution are centered within a twenty mile radius of the campus. If, as most would concur, this marks the start of a revolution that is more sweeping in its implications than the industrial revolution, then we are where it all begins. We are at the "ground level" where the confluence of scientific, technological, organizational, and social innovations is redefining the landscape of our human journey. The pace of change in this region, its growth, competitive dynamics, diversity, and environmental strains are looked to with a combination of fascination and anxiety, and for clues about what it will take to adapt to the digital revolution. The honest answer is, of course, that we don't know.
To all the "technology laws" we've discussed above, we must add a dash of humility, and a large measure of intellectual curiosity. Cultural lag suggests that the pace of change in science and technology will exceed the rate of social change and adaptation. Wiring the schools will not solve K-12 educational problems. Government regulation will not keep pace with the transformational impacts of technology on global enterprises. And, like the deep ruts of a wagon wheel road, the entrenched practices of hierarchical organizations will not readily yield to the frictionless potential of an Internet economy. To the three technology laws we've discussed we should add the "law of unanticipated consequences." Extrapolation, or "one, two, three, infinity" arguments may hold in the long-term trajectories of science, but as Thomas Kuhn points out, even this is questionable. For sure, extrapolation seldom holds in complex human systems.
A Unique Approach
The vision of CSTS is to promote the common good of an increasingly technological society by becoming an internationally eminent center for scholarship and public dialogue about the interplay of science and technology with culture and society. Its unique purpose is best understood by examining the primary areas of its focus--knowledge creation, educational integration, and impact on society.
In seeking to create and disseminate knowledge, CSTS operates with the premise that the nexus of technology and culture is inherently complex and best approached as a multi-disciplinary endeavor. It presumes too much, for example, to assume that the arrow of causality runs from technology to culture when rigorous inquiry reveals that extant technologies are both the product of distinct scientific cultures and shaped in their use by strong differences in norms, values, and belief systems. There is much to be learned from the mind of the scientist working at the edge of current knowledge, and also from the practitioner who is re-inventing the everyday practice of managing, teaching, working, or governing with the latest tools of science and technology.
The support of organizations like Applied Materials, and collaborations with organizations like Xerox PARC / Institute for Women and Technology, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, Amdahl, and Xilinx have played a key role in the early development of CSTS and in its ability to support numerous faculty research projects. These projects have examined topics ranging from telecommunications policy and Internet access, to virtual teams, a historical view of technology and productivity, and the impact of the Internet on families. In many instances these efforts have taken on the tone of "action research," they address both theory and practice. Moreover, as the cross-disciplinary editorial board for STS NEXUS would suggest, these projects have involved faculty from all of the University's schools and colleges.
Colorful banners that read “150 Years of Educating for Life and Leadership” evidence Santa Clara University’s sesquicentennial celebration. Delivering enriched educational opportunities is the second major area of the work of CSTS. It seeks to widen and deepen undergraduate and graduate education by contributing to the development of leaders and informed citizens for our increasingly technological world. Through CSTS support of curriculum innovations and Silicon Valley relationships, SCU students will have educational opportunities that exist at no other campus. These include unique action learning projects like those that are being developed by students in the Virtual Development Center, which is championed by Professor Ruth Davis in Computer Engineering. They also include a new interdisciplinary minor in Information Technology and Society and new CSTS-sponsored courses like Professor Tom Powers' "Ethics and Technology."
Interdisciplinary symposia and colloquia are an important feature of the work at CSTS. Throughout the year, the CSTS hosts numerous speakers and cross-disciplinary panels. Its recent guests have included: John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, for a discussion of their book, The Social Life of Information; Doug Engelbart for a discussion of the need to co-evolve human and technical systems in the unfinished information revolution; George Shaheen for a critical examination of the complex elements of a successful e-commerce enterprise; and Barbara Means for an examination of how technology redefines the conventional wisdom of teaching, learning, and educational assessment.
To set a backdrop for its future work, on April 26, 2001, CSTS will host a major conference "Technology and Us--A Vision of the Future" with Pulitzer Prize winner Haynes Johnson serving as moderator for a series of distinguished panels. To connect with the longer traditions of historical inquiry, in October 2001, CSTS will serve as host for national meetings of the Society for the History of Technology. An important milestone will be reached in November 2001 when, in partnership with The Tech Museum of Innovation, CSTS will announce the first "Technology Benefiting Humanity Awards." These awards will honor contributions in science and technology that have had a lasting and measurable impact on human health, equality, economic development, education, and the environment.
Impact on Society
What distinguishes a Center of Distinction from departments and schools at Santa Clara University is the mandate to form partnerships with other institutions and organizations, to foster cross-disciplinary work, and to provide leadership in significant public issues. Such activities will creatively engage our faculty, students, and staff with the challenges and opportunities of our technological age, and will enable them to make vitally important contributions to society. We have made a commitment to distinguish CSTS by bridging the academy with other institutions in society, assuming a public face, and taking responsibility to influence public understanding, business decisions, and public policy.
We are truly excited to be part of a mission that will deepen awareness of the gaps between the current rates of technological change and social adaptation, and actively seek solutions.