March 03-05, 2001

In less than a half-century, computer technology has transformed almost every aspect of modern life, from the way we do business to the way we teach, make art, and participate in politics. Computers have provided new means for creating, processing, communicating, and preserving information, and promise to play a still greater role in the future. Now, at a time when the possibilities for computers seem practically endless, our seminar will take this opportunity to discuss the past, present, and probable futures of computer technology.

As technological advances are made with increasing rapidity, scholars are exploring how computers do and might further transform the ways that we receive, organize, create, and communicate knowledge. How are computer scientists determining the immediate uses, practical ramifications, and even limits of computer technology? What advances have been made possible through computerization, and what technical developments lie further ahead? Such questions have begun to receive close attention in all divisions and departments within the academy, where technological developments are rapidly changing the tools of the trade, from the texts we read to the ways we teach, publish, and learn. There is no doubt that we are witnessing a dramatic transformation both in the way that academic disciplines are organized and the way that educational institutions operate. For this reason it is especially important to open up a dialogue between the so-called "two cultures" of the sciences and the humanities.

In addition to raising questions about the technological possibilities or scientific applications of computerization, scholars have begun to address the broader cultural implications of this innovative technology. Computers and computing technologies convey ideologies about freedom of speech and censorship; rights to privacy and habits of hospitality; practices of intellectual property, labor, and entrepreneurship; and about technologies themselves. For better or worse, computer technologies are ambassadors and advertisements mainly for American or broadly speaking, Western values and beliefs. Despite the seeming hegemony of the West in various areas of information technology, however, the increasing use of computers in non-Western countries raises questions about the future of national identity and citizenship when information as well as capital flows freely across boundaries which are no longer geographical but virtual.

How has computer technology altered culture, and conversely, how do cultural values shape the development of computer technologies? What trends can we project into the future concerning the role of computers in science, the arts, education, and politics? Our program will address these and other questions central to computer scientists, social scientists, and humanists. Topics to be discussed may include cybertext and its early 20th-century precursors; video game technology and the reorganization of the real; the effects of computerization on globalization and vice-versa; and the challenges facing democracy in an age of computer-assisted "personalization."

Speakers will include Michael O'Donnell (Computer Science), Lawrence Rothfield (English & Comparative Literature), Rick Stevens (Computer Science), Cass Sunstein (Law & Political Science), and Yuri Tsivian (Art History & Cinema and Media Studies).