Updated: 2/16/2005; 7:43:09 PM

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informatics: information science

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Ambient Informatics develops cross-disciplinary approaches to the design and development of next-generation systems that address the complexities of real-time, real-world information, and effective human interaction.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005   

Technoskeptic Techie
There have always been dissenters from the digital revolution: technoskeptics who have raised red flags about the degree to which computer technology rules our lives. Arrayed against them have been the geeks who have mostly been cheerleaders for a fully digital future. But these days, voices of dissent are beginning to emerge from the computer industry itself. Some high-level techies are questioning the value of the very genies whose lamps they've rubbed.

But Levy's critique goes a lot deeper than this relatively familiar harried-and-buried scenario. He believes that computing is destabilizing the forms in which we have traditionally received information, and that this process is destabilizing us. He cites philosopher Ernest Becker, who wrote The Denial of Death in 1974. Faced with the literal senselessness of our own mortality, Becker believed, we construct "immortality projects" designed to fend off the inevitable. One of these projects is the creation of culture. And for Levy, one of the most important and stable products of culture is the document: the clay tablet, the papyrus, the sheet of paper covered with information.

When he was at PARC, Levy (who is a trained calligrapher) worked on the concept of the computer document -- that thing on our screens that looks like a sheet of paper, and that we read or write on. This concept of documents became an important way that Levy and his colleagues translated the tumultuous, invisible streams of code that really run computers into stable forms that computer users could manipulate.

But in the past 20 years, and with the growth of the Internet, the idea of a stable digital document has grown much stranger. Can something as ephemeral as a blog be a document, even though it might look like one? What about a series of hyperlinks leading us "into" an interactive fiction site? What about a series of interrelated tables in a database?

There is truly a new inter-disciplinarity emerging and converging. As the A-list techie bloggers discover the interelationships between politics and art (that stuff they taught over in the Humanities bldg), here is another fine example of a brilliant technologist that helped to create the new "writing paradigm" - stumbling across concepts of Deconstruction (also taught in the Humanities bldg ... in the Critical Theory class.) Beautiful.

11:17:36 PM    

View from the High Ground
An email conversation with Xerox CTO and Innovation Group president Herve Gallaire: ad hoc networks, the digital landfill, constraint-based programming, the digital divide, optical illusions, uncertainty and incompleteness, solid ink and sports.
[Technology Research News]

6:43:49 PM    

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