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Hopes for the Future of Technology
1996, Nov-Dec (June 19, 2007)
by Michelle Corbin Nichols

SIGDOC, the Annual Conference of the Special Interest Group for Computer Documentation of the ACM, was held in RTP on October 20-23, 1996.

While this conference included great technical sessions on topics including communicating visually, writing for virtual audiences, amongst others, the highlight of the conference for me was Ben Schneiderman's speech accepting the Rigo Award for his lifetime contribution to the field of information design.

Schneiderman coined the term ìdirect manipulation" when talking about the graphical user interfaces we take for granted today; he also was instrumental in some of the early hypertext-based systems before hypertext was ubiquitous. Most recently he has engaged himself in studying visual information seeking. But it wasn't his past and his accomplishments that impressed me, it was his vision for the future.

Schneiderman gave the audience a preview of a paper to be published in a special issue of an ACM journal on his view of what the next 50 years in the computing industry will be like. He spoke of the three hopes — which he defined as substance (goals or plans) plus passion (purpose or drive) — that he has for technology. Coupled with hopes are almost always fears, but he urged us not to let the fears get in the way of true progress.

His first hope is universal access. Currently, the Internet and computers are designed by and for a small population of people who are computer literate. He feels that it should be completely democratic and available to everyone. The fear that goes along with this hope is being overwhelmed.

His second hope is global, computerized medical record keeping. Schneiderman feels that medical records should be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from around the world. Right now our records are often perishable (they could go up in a fire) and are difficult to access, even during normal business hours. For the patients, there is a fear of privacy; for the doctors, there is a fear of visibility. To move ahead, we must push past these fears.

His third hope is to improve education about and by computers. We need a system of education that involves engagement, teaching collaboration within and outside of the classroom, and construction, creating a meaningful project for organizations in need. "Relate, create, donate" is his catch term for this new educational vision.

He concludes his paper with a common, but valid plea: change starts with just one person. '' End of article.

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