The first week in January I attended the Hawaii International Conference on Systems Sciences (HICSS) where I was honored to be “Distinguished Lecturer” and spoke on the theme of Innovation in the 21st Century (abstract in page 8 of the conference program). HICSS is sponsored by the College of Business Administration of the University of Hawaii and has been held every year since 1968, making it one of the longest running conferences in the field. Papers were presented in nine different tracks, ranging from Collaboration Systems to Internet and the Digital Economy to Software Technology.
While Information Systems has been a very active area of research for many years, I think that the emergence of the Internet as a universal systems platform capable of connecting everything and reaching everyone is significantly expanding the scope and importance of the field. For example, the effective management of virtual work, which is increasingly relevant to businesses given the growing percentage of mobile workers, has now become an important research topic in collaboration systems. The emergence of social networks is having a major impact on more mature areas like knowledge management. Similarly, relatively new search and information analysis capabilities are now a major part of decision support systems. The continuing advances in Internet technologies as well as progress in standards like Service Oriented Architectures will continue to drive lots of innovation in all kinds of Information Systems research.
At the conference I met with Professor Carolyn Watters of Dalhousie University in Halifax. Professor Watters and her colleagues are applying novel collaboration and gaming technologies to address learning and health problems with children. She told me about the really important and fascinating work they are doing to help children better cope with serious illnesses like cancer, asthma, diabetes and a variety of mental health issues by becoming part of an Internet-based social network that includes other children, parents and healthcare experts. Their interaction with the network, including software based on gaming technologies, can remind them to take their medicines, monitor how they are feeling, and sense their mood based on how they answer questions and play the games. Experts can then intervene online or in person as appropriate. It is very satisfying to see technology put to such a good use.
One of the pleasures of attending a conference is to be able to catch up face-to-face with people that you have not seen in a while. I have known John Seely Brown for many years, as he and I have served together on a number of boards and committees. Until he retired a few years ago, John was Chief Scientist at Xerox and Director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). On his web site he describes himself as: "Today, I'm Chief of Confusion, helping people ask the right questions, trying to make a difference through my work- speaking, writing, teaching." John is a superb thinker, strategist and writer, with a long list of publications to his name.
Conversations with John are always very stimulating. One of his major interests is digital culture and learning in the digital age, a subject I have been thinking a lot about, in particular as it applies to technical talent. He believes that, in addition to the formal education that kids get in school, there is an "emergent," more "organic" kind of self-education that kids are getting by being part of online communities. This sort of self-organizing education is having a huge impact in how they learn, communicate, socialize and think, and will ultimately also have an enormous influence on the kinds of careers they choose to pursue. Right now, our educational institutions pretty much ignore these powerful complementary educational forces. John wonders if in the 21st century there might be a role for libraries to play in online, community self-education, just as in the early 20th century the establishment of public libraries played such a major role in literacy and self-education through the efforts of Andrew Carnegie and others. As a member of the Westport Public Library Advisory Council I have been thinking very hard about the evolving role of libraries in the community in our Internet age. I find John's ideas really intriguing.
At the conference I also ran into Joi Ito, whom I first met in Tokyo about five years ago. I still remember the very good dinner we had where we discussed our common interests in the Internet, Linux and open source software in general. He was the "Plenary Speaker" at the conference and gave a talk on The Sharing Economy. It was an excellent presentation of his views on creative commons, open source software, sharing as a business, blogging, the remix culture, open innovation and other aspects of the sharing economy that we are all increasingly living in.
Joi Ito, although not yet forty, lives an incredibly rich and eclectic life. He is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, having founded the Japanese VC firm Neoteny and helped start Six Apart, a leading Internet blogging company. He is the chairman of Six Apart Japan and also VP of International Business and Mobile Devices for Technorati. He sits on the boards of Creative Commons and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). He is the author of a very popular blog and leads a "guild" in World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online game. He maintains a totally separate blog for his World of Warcraft life. This is just a subset of Joi's CV. And, by the way - he is also a very nice person.
All in all, attending the HICSS conference was a stimulating way of starting the New Year.