Indiana University      Research & Creative Activity      January 2000 Volume XXII Number 3

The Forum

It’s not necessary to have had a long career in academic life to have seen a near total transformation in the way we view computer technology and information sciences. In the not-too-distant past, there was widespread agreement that the use of emerging technologies offered potential for researchers in an array of disciplines. But that was the key word—potential.

Now, the potential has become real. It is easy to predict that the wide-ranging interest in the research uses of computing and information sciences today is only a fraction of what it is likely to be five or ten years down the road.

The September issue of Research & Creative Activity provides an excellent survey of how far we have come in information technology at Indiana University, while giving some indications of how far we can go. And the issue helps show how instrumental that information technology has become in nearly every aspect of the academic life of this institution.

IU is helping run two advanced high-performance computing networks, Internet2 and TransPAC, which will allow scholars to access and share information more quickly and efficiently. Massive data storage systems and high-performance computers also are opening new vistas to researchers.

The fact that information technology is becoming ever more vital to researchers in the sciences and mathematics is no surprise. But some outside the university might not have realized that the applications and implications of the new technologies are also of great academic interest in many other fields.

One example cited in the issue is the work being done by Raymond Burke, E. W. Kelley Chair of Business Administration in the Kelley School of Business, who uses computer simulations to study shoppers’ behavior and figure out what products, placement, and packaging might appeal to them. Another is the work of Robert Shakespeare, an associate professor of theatre and drama and director of the Theatre Computer Visualization Center, who uses computer technology to solve complex problems in theatrical lighting design.

As the practical uses for information and computing technology continue to grow, so will the need for people who can transcend boundaries between disciplines and apply information technology advances to different areas of study. The proposed School of Informatics, the first new school at IU in more than twenty-five years, will encourage graduate study and research in this rapidly evolving field. It will also provide the education that people will need to fill information technology jobs. Economic forecasters expect more than 3 million such vacancies over the next five years.

All of this progress, particularly at IU Bloomington and IUPUI, is having many important positive effects on our institution and the state it serves. IU’s growing high tech reputation can serve as a magnet for top-flight faculty, staff, and students. Those IU researchers will expand the frontiers of knowledge in their fields. They can also spin off their innovations into the private sector, through the university’s technology transfer process.

Meanwhile, IU should attract increasing interest from leading high-tech firms seeking to build partnerships with higher education. Last year’s licensing agreement with Microsoft and this year’s agreement with IBM on massive data storage, supercomputing, and the development of the new central information systems are but two examples.

These developments should help encourage the growth of information technology jobs in Indiana. That’s important for the future of our state; promoting economic development is a key part of our mission as a public university. It’s also important for our graduates.

The September issue served as an excellent overview of IU’s current leadership position in the field of information technology, and it shows just how quickly that field is changing. Those points were driven home again in September, when the Lilly Endowment announced a $30 million grant to IU to fund the Indiana Pervasive Computing Research Initiative. That grant—the largest in the university’s history—will allow us to attract some of the most distinguished scientists in information and computing technology to perform the kind of basic research that will be instrumental in laying the foundation for the next round of advances in these fields.

Today’s leaders must be prepared to continue to innovate, to explore, to push forward. As both the September issue of Research & Creative Activity and the Lilly Endowment grant make clear, IU is in an excellent position to do exactly that.

Myles Brand
Professor of Philosophy
Indiana University