Carnegie Mellon to Host Symposium on Impact Of Computers on Society over the Next 50 Years

A group of experts and visionaries in fields ranging from psychology to robotics will gather at Carnegie Mellon University October 19 to explore whether computers will make the world a better place to live over the next 50 years in a day-long symposium titled "Earthware: A Good World in 2050. Will Computers Help or Hinder?" The event, sponsored by the School of Computer Science, highlights the dedication of its new building Newell-Simon Hall, and is part of the university's Centennial Celebration. It will take place in McConomy Auditorium in the University Center on the Carnegie Mellon campus.

Newell-Simon Hall is named in honor of Carnegie Mellon faculty members Nobel Laureate Herbert A. Simon and the late Allen Newell, winner of the National Medal of Science, who helped to found the fields of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. This event is open to the public. Detailed information about the symposium, the speakers and their talks can be found at:

Most computer experts are optimistic about the future and welcome the startling advances taking place in information technology as enabling, if not ennobling society. However, in a recent "Wired" magazine article, Bill Joy, co-founder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, expressed concern that the future won't need human beings anymore. Joy will appear at the symposium in a synthetic interview, a unique software technology and design process developed by Carnegie Mellon researchers that creates a humanlike interface with a multimedia data base. The technology allows people to chat with the synthetic interviewee, appearing in video form, as if he were there in person.

Raymond Kurzweil, founder and chief technology officer of Kurzweil Applied Intelligence and Kurzweil Educational Systems, and one of the world's leading authorities on AI, will review "the deeply intertwined promise and peril of early twenty-first century technology. Self-replicating, nano-engineered entities may introduce non-biological forms of cancer. And robots whose intelligence exceeds that of humans who remain unenhanced by nanobot-based neural implants may be less friendly than we like," Kurzweil says.

Raj Reddy, Carnegie Mellon's Herbert A. Simon university professor of computer science and robotics, says what has been more dramatic than the exponential growth of computational power based on Moore's Law in the last decade is the doubling of magnetic densities every 12 months and doubling of optical network bandwidth every eight months. These advances portend transformations in societal use of information technology that will be far-reaching and revolutionary.

Hans Moravec, Principal Research Scientist at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, promises "mass market utility robots this decade. Finally!" Starting with small, specialized automatic home vacuum cleaners around 2005, Moravec predicts that by mid-century no human task, physical or intellectual, should be beyond effective automation.

Physicist and science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke will share his thoughts in a filmed interview from Sri Lanka. Clarke has published more than 70 books and appeared many times on radio and television, most notably with Walter Cronkite on CBS during the Apollo missions. He co-wrote the screenplay of 2001: A Space Odyssey. His 13-part "Mysterious World" and "Strange Powers" television programs have been seen worldwide.

Other speakers include David Gelernter, chief scientist Mirror Worlds Technologies and professor of computer science at Yale University, who has written often on the cultural implications of computing. He will speak on "The Muse in the Machine, where do humans and computers blend together. Where do they stay separate forever."

Lee Sproull, professor of Business at the Stern School of New York University, will argue that "Technology is not enough. Social Institutions will make the difference."

Robert Kraut, Carnegie Mellon professor of social psychology and human computer interaction, will discuss the Internet and psychological well being. Kraut, who looks at the design and social impacts of information technologies on small groups in the home and between organizations, was a principal investigator on a key study about loneliness and the Internet, published in 1998.

Emmy award winning film director Alex Singer says some time in this century our species will engage in a profound dialogue with an Artificial Complexity. We will be compelled to define for ourselves, and then the Other, what we are that has mutual value. That task will require us to develop a richer set of ideas, not only from Einstein, but also from Bach, Shakespeare and Rembrandt.

Nobelist Herbert Simon, Carnegie Mellon's Richard King Mellon University Professor of Computer Science and Psychology, will conclude the symposium with the question "Is it our job to forecast the future or fashion it?" The day will end with a dedication ceremony and reception in the Perlis Atrium of Newell-Simon Hall.

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