24 February 1999
"inter-Facing the Inevitable:
Appropriate Technology in the 21st Century"
Nagyra becsült miskolci, magyarországi, nemzetközi kollégák és vendégek. Nagy megtiszteltetésnek tartom, hogy meghívást kaptam ezt a beszédet Önnöknek eladni.
Twenty-five years ago I was a delegate to the International Sigma Xi conference held in St. Louis, Missouri, the US city most recently visited by the Pope (on January 26th 1999). Sigma Xi is one of the most important scientific research organizations in America. The keynote speaker at the St. Louis convention was James A. Michener, author of books like Iberia, Poland, Texas, The Source, and Tales of the South Pacific.
A quarter of a century later I still remember two things from Michener's keynote address: FIRST, Michener contended that in the entire history and prehistory of the world only a handful of countries lasted a thousand years or more. And Hungary is one of those few select cultures. In May of 1896 Hungarian-Americans celebrated the one-thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin (A.D. 896-900). I will return to Michener later.
It is thus fitting that today, here in Hungary, a country of more than a millennium, we pause to reflect on principles and essentials that endure millennia.
A THOUSAND YEARS AGO: A.D. 999
Let us go back to the time of the founding of Hungary -- to the years just prior to Y1K.
If we look for the Y1K person most representative of the group gathered here today in Miskolc, at this 13th annual microCAD Computer Science Conference -- a person of science, of math, one versed in state-of-the-arts computing technology (abacus), one versed in arts and humanities, and knowledgeable of the social sciences of the times -- we will most certainly come up with Gerbert of Aurillac, considered by some as the "most accomplished man of the middle Ages" (Erdoes, 1988, p. 10).
Gerbert was born ca. 945 near Aurillac, Avergne, France. He was renowned for his scholarly achievements, his advances in education, and his shrewd political judgement. At the Monastery of Santa María de Ripoll, he studied the quadrivium -- the higher division of the liberal arts, which included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music theory. Together with disciplines of the trivium -- grammar, logic, rhetoric -- the subjects of the quadrivium formed the seven liberal arts, which were taught in the monasteries and the cathedral schools of the times. These liberal arts were regarded "as the very mathematics of human knowledge, without a knowledge of which it would be foolish to proceed." (BO) Gerbert was educated by the Benedictines, and was widely known throughout Christendom as a learned monk, full of wisdom.
And he was talented in the design of pre-microCAD educational products: "Gerbert was a great scholar, and he was also a good teacher and devised several practical means for learning [these included]:  a chart for learning rhetoric;  his writing about the abacus, which became the basic work on the subject and included the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals of the base-10, which he had learned in Spain;  celestial globes;  a hemisphere for learning the imaginary celestial circles; and  auxiliary spheres, one for identifying constellations and another with planetary orbits. He also acquired an astrolabe and wrote about its uses. He also constructed a timepiece (horologium). He prepared a work on geometry that attempted to fill the gap caused by the existence of a fragmentary Euclid. . . . He had an extraordinary knowledge of music and seems to have constructed several organs and also a monochord for studying music theory. His philosophical tract De rationali et de ratione uti -- "Concerning the Rational and the Use of Reason" -- emphasized problems of definition and classification of knowledge. . . ." (BO)
Most notably among all of these items stands the fact that about A.D. 1000, Gerbert introduced to Europe a type of abacus -- the "ancestor" of the modern calculating machine and computer -- in which numbers were represented by stones bearing Arabic numerals. Such novelties were then known to very few.
The abacus survives today in the Middle East, China, and Japan, and an expert practitioner can compete against many modern mechanical calculating machines. In 1946 a contest between a Japanese abacist and an electronic computer was held for two days, resulting in an unmistakable victory of the abacist (Kaplan 1999). Although not yet tested, the Big Blue team of IBM feels confident their new ThinkPad model coming out in a week or two can beat the abacus. But still, for most of the last millennium, the abacus was the "computer" of choice in Europe, thanks in large part to Gerbert.
Gerbert thus, in a sense, was the Bill Gates of the end of the first millennium.
But Gerbert surpassed Bill Gates by subsequently becoming Pope. And since Bill Gates is now married, Bill Gates seems to be out of the running for Pope.
Gerbert was consecrated Pope -- the first Frenchman to be elevated to the throne of Peter -- on April 9, 999. He took the name Sylvester II, declaring his main task to be to work for a renewed Christian Roman Empire.
Gerbert, now Pope Sylvester II, was immediately faced with a major problem: Y1K -- the end of the world! Not all that different, some would have us believe, than Y2K.
People of Europe widely believed that the world was coming to an end, and they pondered it "not only the year 999, [when Gerbert was elected Pope] but the whole century that preceded it" (Erdoes, 1988, p. 1), albeit the details were widely debated:
"Some were certain that the Second Coming of Christ would fall on the last day of the last year, 999, at the very stroke of midnight. Others were equally convinced that Armageddon would happen a little earlier, on the eve of the nativity. Some fixed the date on the day of the summer or winter solstice in the thousandth year after our Lord's passion" (Erdoes,1988, p. 2).Richard Erdoes suggests it was an "all-pervading dread of the apocalypse that held humankind in its grip. Legends set the period against an apocalyptic background and associate the end of the first millennium with some vague terror of judgement day." Not all believed in the impending doom. Many did not. Prelates and abbots disparaged the belief that the earth was about to burn up. But the common people, the lower nobles, village priests, and peasants, took it as an absolute truth that the "night-fall of the universe was at hand" (Erdoes, 1988, pp. 1-2).
In spite of the belief that the world was coming to an end, and judgement day was nigh, people failed to heed the Ten Commandments:
To many Americans, that account sounds much like the evening television news report of the 1999 Bill Clinton administration. In the 990s, the clergy took such behavior as proof that the world most certainly would end. Some, I suppose, think the same way today.
In the 990s the people did not know what to expect with Y1K, because, after all, there was no YØK. They did not know what to expect, because, after all, for those on the Julian calendar, there had never been a millennium problem before.
Pope Sylvester II handled the Y1K problem at a special midnight Mass, with special religious rituals, on New Year's Eve in the year 999. Legend has it that he did it with a little help from Arab magicians; some even suspect he made a pact with the devil. Either way, as it is written, "humanity had been given a new lease on life upon an earth reborn. The year of fear and trembling had passed. A new day had dawned" (Erdoes, 1988, p. 193).
The Y1K problem was solved.
Legends about Sylvester II's great learning surfaced. Some attributed his learning to magical arts learned in Spain, some to the devil's coaching, some to an artificial head that answered his questions. . . . So in a sense, should the legends be believed, Gerbert / Pope Sylvester II was also the father of AI -- "artificial intelligence!"
Other civilizations, with other calendars, have had their own YnK problems, of course -- and their own solutions. To make the transition to their New Age the Aztecs of Mexico, for example, used what they called "The New Fire Ceremony," featuring human sacrifice and self mutilation. (Vaillant, 1966 203-205). The contemporary Mayans of Mexico are now preparing for their YnK in our year A.D. 2012. The Mayan calendar points to 22 December 2012 as the end of their present age -- and this time it may be the end of the world! 2012 is the end of the 13th cycle (baktun) that started 1,872,000 days earlier at 13 August 3114 B.C.
With the Y1K problem solved, the world did not end, and Pope Sylvester II turned his intelligence to promoting "a renewed Christian Roman Empire." Both the Eastern and Western churches at that time strove to draw the Magyars, and the other peoples of east-central Europe, into their folds. Already, in 975, in Hungary, Géza, the supreme Magyar hereditary chieftain and great-grandson of the founder of the House of Árpád, and his family were received into the Western Christian church. In 996, three years before Gerbert's ascent to the papacy, Géza's son, Vajk -- now usually known as István (Stephen) -- married Gisella, the daughter of Duke Henry II, a Bavarian princess. Born a pagan, but baptized and reared as a Christian, István came to rule the Árpád dynasty. By then, the house of Árpád had became one of the leading powers of Europe.
István reigned from 997 to 1038, carrying on his father's work and expanding upon his family's accomplishments, officially converting his people to Christianity in the Western Church in A.D. 1000.
In his efforts to renew the Christian Roman Empire, Pope Sylvester II, that is, Gerbert, planned to crown Duke Boleslav of Poland, but at the last minute, according to legend, an angel of the Lord appeared to Gerbert in a dream, and instead he gave István of Hungary a crown that is still held as a national treasure (Erdoes, 1988, pp. 171-173).
According to tradition, István was anointed King of Hungary on Christmas Day, in the year 1000. István's coronation signified Hungary's entry into the family of European Christian nations. Pope Sylvester II thus acknowledged István I, as the first King of Hungary -- and, at István's request, the Pope created an archbishopric centered in Esztergom, István's place of birth, and established Hungary as a Catholic country. With a few exceptions, István's reign was a period of peaceful consolidation. István died in 1038, and was canonized a saint 1083.
St. István and Hungary watched out over a thousand years -- throughout:
. . . and he'll likely be there for Epi-Post Modernism too.
And through all of these I believe István witnessed some essentials of good design and practice that transcend millennia -- even if most cultures and civilizations do not.
A thousand years ago István joined a church which prides itself in the Ten Commandments. The members of the church do not have intellectual property rights over them, or even necessarily like them much, but, still, they take great pride in their ten-point program. And their program has lasted since Moses, since the 13th century B.C., even though they were celebrated by their disregard just prior to A.D. 1000.
TODAY: A.D. 1999
Modern civilization seems to use number systems that are binary or decimal, and, it seems, truths even come in tens. So let me propose that we also have ten essentials of good design, subdivided into two categories: four canons and six principles.
Canon I: Philosophically, and paradoxically, the pursuit of truth is constant, albeit that the "truth" itself changes.
In education and other endeavors to understand the universe people are often zealots in the pursuit of truth. A commitment to SEARCHING for "truth" transcends time, albeit truth itself is tentative.
Sigma Xi members, for example, pride themselves as "zealots" in the scientific pursuit of truth, and today they actively promote scientific research and the promise of science and technology. Their goals are to foster interaction among science, technology and society; to encourage appreciation and support of original work in science and technology, and to honor scientific research accomplishments. Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, was founded in 1886 as an honor society for scientists and engineers. Today more than 90,000 scientists and engineers have been elected to the Society because of their research achievements or potential. Sigma Xi has more than 500 chapters at universities and colleges, government laboratories and industry research centers worldwide. More than 170 of its members have won the Nobel Prize. And its members unite in the zealous pursuit of scientific truth.
Yet the Sigma Xi members understand that the "truth" they zealously pursue is itself tentative. When I was studying sociological theory with the highly-respected Professor Don Martindale, we read Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions -- a book that has been called "a profoundly influential landmark of 20th-century intellectual history" -- and we had to learn what a "paradigm" was. We had to learn what "paradigm shifts" involved. Nowadays, even politicians know and use the terms "paradigm," and "paradigm shift" -- at least in America.
At one time in America, Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was the most frequently used interdisciplinary book in colleges and universities. It has sold about one million copies in sixteen languages and remains required reading in many basic courses in the history and philosophy of science.
Kuhn's work on the history of science and the sociology of knowledge had enormous influence across a multitude of disciplines. Professor's Kuhn's treatise influenced not only the "hard" scientists but also economists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers -- touching off considerable debate.
From beginning to end, Kuhn maintained an interest in science education and the processes of learning science. But it was Kuhn, in modern times, who brought to mind the transitory nature of scientific truth. Professor Kuhn argued that the typical scientist was not an objective, free thinker and skeptic. He argued that the typical scientist was a somewhat conservative individual who simply accepted what "he" was taught, and applied "his" knowledge to solving problems within an accepted paradigm, with archetypal solutions to problems. Nevertheless, the scientists zealously pursued truth in extending the scope of the paradigm.
As a result of Kuhn's work, and subsequently the work of Postmodernists, we now more clearly appreciate the fact that philosophically, and paradoxically, the pursuit of truth is constant, albeit the form of truth itself changes
Canon II: Creative Processes Require Contemplation as well as Hard Work.
Contemplation and time to contemplate will always be a part of creative. processes. Paradoxically, time for contemplation or meditation -- an "incubation" period, if you will -- is indispensable in good time management. And, paradoxically, good time management becomes even more important in a high-tech world. As G. Wallas pointed out almost seventy-five years ago (The Art of Thought,1926), the creative process involves:
To that list Thomas Alva Edison would add "perspiration." (Life, 1932, Ch. 24)
I mentioned at the beginning James A. Michener's Sigma Xi talk of a quarter-century ago. The second thing I still remember about his talk is that he writes in his office in the morning, and walks in his woods in the afternoon. And, he claims, the most important part of his writing is walking in the woods. No walking, no writing. In order to write and create he needs to have time to think and contemplate. And this from one of the most prolific authors of the twentieth century! He has tried to explain the needed woods walking time to grant agencies, suggesting up to half of the time proposed for a grant should be for walking in the woods. But without avail. Some bureaucracies, it seems, simply can not comprehend the need for contemplation.
But many religious groups and advanced civilizations have recognized its importance, and so have some companies. Gerbert / Pope Sylvester II was educated by the Benedictines, as was St. István's son, who went off to study with Gellért (Gerard). The Rule of St. Benedict, as do most other religious rules, prescribes a balance of contemplation and prayer, work, and study. The Benedictines have been around for 1,500 years. . . .
Contemplation / meditation has been part of most civilizations that have lasted longer than one thousand years. That is most likely not a coincidence.
My brother was an executive of a major U.S. company and it was company policy for their executives to take one day off a month and spend it doing anything but tasks associated with work. A friend of mine, when he was editor-in-chief of one of the most prestigious business magazines in America, encouraged staff to stare out the window and daydream. He did not have a woods handy for them to walk in.
In the advanced writing course that I teach one of the course assignments is to do nothing for two days. That is one of the most popular assignments, certainly, but it is also one where they learn much about the writing process.
Canon III: Resource Allocation Tasks Will Not Go Away; They Will Get Worse.
With new technologies inevitably comes increased life complexity. Once it appeared that computers were here to stay, it was predicted that "the paperless office" would be so efficient, for example, that many time and resource management problems would be solved by the computer itself. But we now have more paper and less time.
Resource allocation tasks will not go away; they will get worse. This current term, I have a total of about 225 students in all of my classes. Most of those students expect that at any time they can E-mail me and get a timely reply. In my department we have fostered that attitude and practice, and outside of class communicate regularly with students via E-mail and class discussion boards on the WorldWide Web. But the genie is out of the lamp. "E-mail helps move messages," said a participant on a recent U.S. National Public Radio forum, "but how much of this insanity can we take?"
When the University is in session I receive as many as 100 messages a day. I have found that I can not operate a high-tech classroom and properly communicate with students when I have 225 students at any one time. Hi-tech has caused new time allocation problems. At my request, the Dean of my college has recently changed my workload assignment for next year. I will have, for all of next year, 125 students compared to the 650 that I have this year.
In my own case hi-tech education has not increased the number of students I can teach, it has rather, and counter-intuitively so, cut the number of students in my class. A few years ago, one would likely have predicted just the -- opposite, that hi-tech would lessen the workload and allow fewer teachers to teach more students.
Institutions have similar resource allocation problems with non-time resources. For example, the new high-tech library at my University, currently under construction (scenes of which are available "live" on a WebCam) certainly involves resource allocation tradeoffs. With its increased expenditures in technology the University of Minnesota expects to become one of America's top ten university systems. We do not point out in our press releases, however, that it will also cost undergraduate students an estimated $4,000 more to get a four-year degree from the University of Minnesota at Duluth -- in addition to cost-of-living increases over those four years.
The need for good time and resources management transcends time, and becomes increasingly important in a high-tech world.
What about the future?
The last canon is addressed to that --
Canon IV: Avoid Predicting Future Trends and Events.
We can learn a lot from the past, especially about predicting the future. I asked the Chair of our Computer Science Department about predictions. From his files come the following past predictions and views from "the best science and society has to offer" (Dunham 1999):
- 2021 Timothy G. Roufs — All rights reserved
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