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
- 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
- Relation to workers, to real life? Is it a waste of resources?
- 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Back to schedule.
- 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
Sum up: certain aspects of organic farming are advantageous, but we cannot
- 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