Midwest Conference on Technology, Employment & Community

Chicago Circle Center, UIC, 750 South Halsted, Chicago, March 2 - 4, 1995

Notes on PLENARY #1: THE FUTURE BEFORE US, 3/3, 9:00 AM

Introduction by Abdul Alkalimat

John Starrs, actor. Read Carl Sandburg's "Chicago"

Chair of First Panel is Nancy John, Chief Librarian, U of I Library

One of 9 digerati, named by Computer Science magazine, author of Internet Troubleshooter

Tom De Fanti, Electrical engineering and computer science, U of I, Chicago

Showed 11 minute video tape, made for Congressional staffers to explain the game plan Cyberspace are seeing, touching, manipulating data through virtual reality machines all over the country and world in all kinds of industries and uses. We are inside the computer looking out, immersion, virtual reality. Result of 3 decades of research beginning from needs of flight simulators advanced thru better hardware and software. In early 90's immersion brought images closer to the eye. Replaces building of prototypes in manufacturing eg Caterpillar, can visualize cancer and can visualize the waves used to zap the cancer. Can study the formation of the galaxies. Puts you inside a robot with you in control. Virtual reality is expensive now but will enter homes through games, etc. Many uses will be in entertainment - games, music, etc.

Further development of virtual reality will allow generation of images in real time that now take over an hour to produce. This will have many advantages both competitive and for social benefits such as medical and weather.


Much of the film looked like science fiction. When will it be possible to use this technology?
We use it every day. Want to use this technology to improve communication between big and small companies, so people don't have to travel to get things done. Will aid computer design which is now intrinsic to all design processes. Can improve many areas of life
What skills
Skills which will be necessary to use this are similar to those needed for CAD or word processing. We're working on the software to make it simpler. Skills we need now are fine artists, graphic artists, engineering, computer professionals.
Public purposes?
Enlightenment, able to learn things that are very difficult to learn.
Simulation of pollutants?
Information from pollution monitoring stations. Take the numbers and turn them into pictures. One of man uses of virtual reality, visual simulation is to present complex data to managers who have to make decisions. You gain insight into what you are doing. First use of any technology is to mimic what was done before. Now telecommunications industry thinks they will use info highway to show movies. We are working to find the things that work best in this environment.
Relation to workers, to real life? Is it a waste of resources? Too esoteric.
We try to get to the heart of a design process to make it easier, this will free up human energy. We can test products to make sure that they don't hurt people. This might not solve immediate problems, but one thing we do is design shop floors to prevent problems to workers, etc. etc. Also we spend tremendous amount of time traveling. If we can work at home a few days a week, we would take advantage of it.
What do you do as a university department to make sure that the interests of workers and poor people, etc. are incorporated practically into your considerations
I think about those concerns. We don't do military research, but we do concern ourselves with how to do surgery long distance which is funded by the military and in fact more than half of all computer science is funded by military. I'm trained to build computer machines to help people and train students to do that.
Profound technology., allow for transmittal of information in which it is possible for everyone to participate like the Rodney King video. Should this capability be reserved for the military or open to everyone? From this we can see that a 6 year old can look a the inside of the human body and know more about it than I'll know in a lifetime.

Donald Holt

Operated his own farm, Head of U of I Agronomy Department, Now Associate Dean of U o I Agricultural Dept.

Experience in crop simulation. Works on large area forecasting projects. Works extensively on application of computers in agriculture.

100 years ago, the farmer was the producer, processor, distributor, consumer, etc. relatively self sufficient. Now tremendous division of labor. Now in addition to the above there are financial and research institutions, public and private, etc. etc And now .25% does the production which supplies 98% of the products, but 20% are involved in one way or another in the other aspects of production and distribution.

Computers enable different organizational structure in agriculture in the development of new foods and technologies to aid people. In 1940's meat packing was Chicago's principle industry. 100,000 head of cattle might arrive per day. On my farm we fed cattle and brought them for slaughter to Union Stockyards where meat supply and demand ment mostly making me unhappy.

Watched the disappearance of these stockyards to competition of large scale feed yards automated, large and located packers close to the cattle.

Computers have greatly improved vertical coordination. Today more than 1/2 of all beef is produced in big Western feed-lots, 80% if you exclude hamburgers. Many are frequently sued for exploitation of migrant labor and for excessive pollution.

In Illinois largest food processing plant in world, the Kraft plant in Champaign, more than a mile square. Now working on bio tech research, eg. control of proteins in lactating animals which can allow the production of pharmacueticals.

Why such vertical combination in agriculture? More efficient production. Involves tremendous logistical problems to get food to the people who need it each day. Now the computerization of sales at supermarkets allows for precise understanding of what is used and how much per day. Retailers can demand precisely the quality and quantity they want.

Can expand agricultural production into most efficient lines. Productivity in agriculture has been less than increase in population in the past few years. We need to increase productivity aggressively to keep up with the population needs.

Need to form the strategic alliances between Chicago and Illinois farmers that will meet this need for improved technology.

Nancy Johns

Libraries cam into being because of Gutenberg's printing discovery one of the most significant technology advances. Microfilm and microfiche have allowed storage of much more material but in a manner that is the most uncomfortable to use.

Technology has made the pool of source materials much greater. Hugh numbers of publications. This has not driven costs down. Part of this due to public policy. Publishers can no longer keep high inventories and write off as tax loss. So instead they print large number of books in small numbers gearing more directly to the market.

Materials are available in many different forms - compact disks, online, books, videos, etc etc. Now building virtual buildings created in cyberspace

Skills of library staff have never been challenged more. Continue to do what we did, but now we help people to find info not just in books but through the pc. Library staff need to learn and adapt rapidly. We try to make it user friendly, easier. Technology is a means not an end. Brings us close to mission which means getting info to the user. Offering new solutions to old problems - how to preserve info and books.

Writing book on 15-20 success stories of libraries which offer on ramp to the global info infrastructure. role of library as an activist in consumer entrance into global infrastructure. Libraries are in the middle of these changes.

Jonathan King, Prof. of Molecular Biology at MIT

See alsoProf. King's remarks at the Opening Plenary.
Lots of times cant identify the juncture in develop of technology where you can make choices in direction which will affect society. In bio tech we can identify those choices now.

Major source of damage to young people comes from accidents. Have problems of tissue transplant. We can identify the poisons. With the advances in bio tech we can take cells from one human and grow them outside the body in the tissues so there will be no need to suppress immune system to stop the poisons. Important advance as long as we have auto accidents, etc. etc.

Understand much more about cancer, due to agents that damage genes in cells which allow them to grow uncontrollably etc. Enormous effort to cure people with cancer, some of which involves gene replacement. From rational point of view its clear how to use this technology. You can take sample gene from skin and identify the specific carcinogen and then can find its source eg. in workplace to eliminate the carcinogen. This is logical but there is virtually no research along these lines because there is no private profit interest in doing so. The research has been hijacked by private entrepreneurs that was previously public research. No market for the prevention of disease; thus no biomedical research in this direction.

Many people argue that without biotech industry we wouldn't get these wonderful products. In fact because of the industry these potential products never get to us. Eg. Repligen a firm doing research on pharmacueticals is cutting workforce by 50% and key drug programs will be stalled because financiers have withdrawn interest. Why should decisions like this be made by less than 1% of the population who have financial interest. These decisions should be public decisions: the advances have come through public funding.

Since 1980's living things can be patented. This should not be. There should be social control of the products of social knowledge.

In agriculture we see concentration of ownership and those possibly of political control. How does this effect workers? How does it affect food standards and food safety?
Complicated question which deserves a whole conference. Much research directed toward discovery of source of cancer, etc. Concentration of power? Many farmers claim less power because their numbers have declined substantially. Owners are disciplined, squeezed between two forces - the consumers and the stockholders of the corporations. Looks like agriculture subsidies are being threatened.

Agricultural research is intimately connected to agricultural industry. Bio med research is outside the pharmacuetical industry. With the exclusion of the lay public from meetings the key questions frequently never get raised. Listening to Mr. Holt it sounds like agricultural industry is ripe for nationalization. Need to think that way. Food is too important to be manipulated as a commodity.

Analysis of food takes Marx to where he was thinking. 2% of California farm land is now organic. This wasn't dealt with. Does commercial agriculture diminish health of soil, etc. Could we put more people to work if we farmed organically? Could we feed people if agriculture was organic.
This question getting lots of attention. We have coop programs with organic programs. Problem is that productivity is extremely important with the population pressure we are facing. 66 million acres in 1990 for corn crop. Had we used 1960 technology it would have taken 200 000 million acres. We see using the most productive land provide the main supply so we don't need to use the least productive land. Most interesting technology development is use of "no-till" argiculture, but not possible without pesticides. Potassium and phosphorus are in limited supply. As pressure mounts we will find alternatives. Sum up: certain aspects of organic farming are advantageous, but we cannot sacrifice productivity.
Risk assessment?
We don't need risk assessment, we need info on the potential hazards. Contract on America very sophisticated in trying to exclude scientific testimony in court.
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Last modified: Fri Mar 3 12:47:18 1995