In This Issue
Information Technology
June 1, 2000 Volume 30 Issue 2

Meeting the Information Society’s Needs (editorial)

Thursday, June 1, 2000

Author: David D. Clark and Marjory Blumenthal

Information technology has become so pervasive, at least in developed countries, that it is the stuff of jokes and cliches. More people are buying and using information technology in more ways, more people depend on it for business and personal activities, and at the same time more people are coming to understand the limitations of the state of the art. Even though this technology is becoming pervasive, it is only in its adolescence. The potential of information technology has only begun to be mined.

The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) is the unit of the National Academies that assesses how information technology and its uses are evolving, and how information technology influences and is influenced by economic, social, legal, and public policy factors. The work of the board is guided by a group of 20 leaders with expertise that spans the range of computer science and telecommunications, as well as complementary fields reflecting the broader impact of information technology.

The articles in this volume draw from CSTB’s repertory and illustrate its breadth: David Messerschmitt was the co-chair of a major project on information technology research and development; Randy Davis chaired a major study on intellectual property in the networked world; and Steven Bellovin was a key committee member in a recent project on the trustworthiness of networked information systems. The reports of these projects have been widely circulated, helping to educate people in a range of government, industry, and academic contexts. Each addresses where and how information technology needs to be improved because of the context in which it is used. Each addresses the larger policy environment in which information technology exists.

CSTB’s work illuminates a number of themes that relate to the future of information technology. Of course, the rise of the Internet is one of them. CSTB has been producing a series of reports that describe how the Internet works, how it is being used, and what it implies for the economy as a whole. Another major theme is the trustworthiness of information technology-security, reliability, and protections for privacy and other concerns of users. Future topics that CSTB is planning to examine include privacy in the online world, the evolving information ecology, economic transformations deriving from information technology, and the collision between public safety and civil liberties concerns associated with the Internet.

The adolescence of information technology is a time of confidence. We know that a lot of ideas can and do work in practice; we know that information technology can become truly pervasive. But with that knowledge of what is possible comes recognition that there are choices to be made. What kind of technology should be developed, and whose judgment or preferences will carry the day?

Increasingly, those choices will be shaped by the social and economic impacts of information technology and the scrutiny of government entities. There is more talk about regulation, and the incentives are changing, not only for the businesses that design and market information technology products, but also for the research community at large. As Messerschmitt discusses, how to make information technology for social applications is a huge challenge; as Davis discusses, business models and law interact with the development of technical mechanisms to protect intellectual property on the Internet; and as Bellovin discusses, the rise of criminal as well as benign uses of the Internet stimulates law enforcement interest that can affect the design and operation of the Internet.

We hope the articles in this volume stimulate your interest in our work, and we welcome suggestions of topics that we can address in the future to maximize the potential of information technology.

About the Author:David D. Clark, NAE, is a senior research scientist for the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science and chair of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academies. Marjory S. Blumenthal is executive director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board.