Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Information Technology: Transforming our Society

Information technologies are an integral part of people's lives, businesses, and society. Advances in microprocessors, memories, storage, software, and communication technologies make it possible to build computers and computing devices that are increasingly affordable, as well as to enable the development of increasingly powerful systems at reasonable costs. The wide acceptance of Internet standards and technologies is helping us build global computer networks capable of connecting everything and reaching everyone.

Since ancient times, networks have offered opportunities for growth and innovation and have supplied structure to our economic and social systems. From the roads and aqueducts of the Roman Empire, to nineteenth century continental railroad systems, to the telecommunications, broadcast, and satellite networks of the twentieth century, networked capabilities have allowed us to overcome barriers of time and space, and to access and open new frontiers for human interaction and ingenuity.

The free flow of information is essential to a democratic society. Advances in information technology have the potential to significantly enhance this flow of information, and thus strengthen the institutions of our society, from financial markets to government agencies. The flow of information must, however, not only be "free", but "fair". Financial markets, for example, have learned that they must guard against abuses, such as insider trading. Businesses and healthcare institutions must guard against the misuse of personal information put in their trust by their customers. As we have the opportunity to use information technology to strengthen our societal institutions, we must understand the potential pitfalls, and the safeguards we must put in place to achieve both a free and fair flow of information.

As we approach the new millennium, it is clear that the "information infrastructure" -- the interconnected networks of computers, devices, and software -- may have a greater impact on worldwide social and economic structures than all networks that have preceded them. The advances in computing and communications technologies of the last decade have already transformed our society in many ways. These advances have transformed the ways in which we view ourselves, our relationships with each other and with other communities, and the ways in which we obtain services, ranging from entertainment and commerce to education and health care. Even so, we have only just begun to grasp the opportunities and experience the transformations that will occur as these technologies mature.

Major technical advances are needed to build a smoothly functioning information infrastructure that links together all people, institutions, and relevant devices (e.g., cars, gas meters, home thermostats, air conditioners) in our Nation and beyond. Only vigorous information technology research and development programs will enable us to achieve our objectives.

But, hard as the technical challenges might be, we must keep in mind the great socioeconomic issues ahead of us on the road to becoming a fully networked society. Thus, we complement the call for research to support the required technical advances with a call for research programs to help us understand and enhance the positive effects of information technology on our economy, society, culture and political system.

The information revolution puts a premium on basic knowledge, not just information technology literacy, but basic skills in reading, writing, communications, and teamwork. Education and training have become lifelong pursuits for our workforce, as new jobs requiring new skills are created, and older jobs and skills become obsolete. The Nation must ensure that access to the benefits of the information infrastructure are available to everyone in our Nation: to those living in small towns and rural areas as well as in big cities, to those living in poor inner city neighborhoods and tribal reservations, as well as in well-to-do suburbs and those who face daily challenges from disabilities. We should use information technology to bridge the gaps in our society, not to create new ones.

A significant portion of our national progress in computing and communications over the past decade has been leveraged from the Federal research programs established by the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-194). These programs comprised the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) initiative, which was responsible for moving the U.S. into an era of teraflop computers and gigabit networks. A major focus of the HPCC initiative was a set of Grand Challenges, difficult scientific and engineering problems whose solution were advanced by applying high performance computing and communications technologies and resources. Our recommendations build upon the solid foundation of the HPCC program and expand the HPCC vision to meet the challenges facing us in the 21st century.

To ensure a rapid, smooth, and extendible transition into the 21st century, the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee has identified ten critical "National Challenge Transformations." These information technology transformations will affect how we communicate, how we store and access information, how we become healthier and receive proper medical care, how we learn, how we conduct business, how we work, how we design and build things, how we conduct research, how we sustain a livable environment, and how we manage our government in the next millennium. Exploring these dynamic transformations enables us to identify common information technology challenges critical to our Nation's future and provides a framework for our recommendations for Federal research investments.


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