- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Scholars Weigh Info-Tech Policy Challenges

| Winter 2011-2012

• How do you transform an invention into an innovation that changes society?

• Why does the transition to a new Internet protocol amount to a “brain transplant?”

• How can schools use technology as more than just as a hood ornament?

These were some of the questions tackled by industry and academic experts from Harvard, MIT, and other Boston-area universities at a three-day conference in September, convened by the Belfer Center’s project in Information and Communications Technology and Public Policy. The event examined policy choices facing the fast-changing field of information and communications technology.

Professor Venkatesh (Venky) Narayanamurti, faculty chair and director of Belfer’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy program (STPP), challenged the audience of technology executives to build organizations able to translate inventions into innovations over the long haul. “It might be a radical invention like a light bulb: It’s complex, it’s interactive, and you need to understand that both science and engineering are involved in innovation,” said Narayanamurti, the founding dean of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “You need leaders who understand and provide insulation because it cannot be done in the short term.”

The Belfer Center’s STPP Program launched the info-tech policy project in 2010 to suggest new policies to address these challenges. The three-day "Next Wave" conference was organized and moderated by Zachary Tumin, special assistant to Narayanamurti. Many of the speakers’ presentations are posted online on the project’s new webpage.

Calestous Juma, director of the Belfer Center’s Science, Technology, and Globalization project, delivered a luncheon address that triggered a lively discussion on the intersection of information and communications technology and public policy/global economic development.

The conference heard Peter Bol, the Charles H. Carswell Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, describe the project he directs with partners at Fudan University in Shanghai to create a geospatial information system covering 2,000 years of Chinese history, just one example of the transitionfrom passive, static mapping to interactive geospatial mapping.

“It has to be more than a really cool map,” Bol said.

Belfer Center fellow Tolu Odomuso warned of key challenges ahead for Internet governance, including the transition to a new Internet Protocol known as “version six” that he likened to a brain transplant for the Internet. MIT Professor Nazli Choucri and Belfer Fellow Aadya Shukla said improved performance on cybersecurity requires fundamental agreements on the language used to describe cyber events.

Tommy Vallely, director of the Vietnam Program at Harvard Kennedy School, described the explosive growth of cell phone use throughout Southeast Asia, and how that is transforming economies and creating opportunities for investors.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, challenged technology companies working in autocratic countries use “constructive defiance” to keep governments from crushing free speech with Internet censorship.

Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, described the innovative thinking behind the 2010 National Education Technology Plan. A key lesson, he said, is to stop thinking first about the technological devices and focus instead on student-centric teaching and learning models. Use concepts such as “intelligence amplification” and “distributed education.”

The Ash Center’s Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Kennedy School, examined the intersection of technology and politics. He said he doubted there would or even could be a killer app in politics like those transforming the economy, production, and social relations.

Shorenstein Center’s Nicco Mele, a veteran of the earliest Internet campaigns, regaled participants with war stories and a succession of “Wow. Huh?” moments, from the earliest days of Internet campaigning to what lies ahead.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Smith, James F.. Scholars Weigh Info-Tech Policy Challenges.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Winter 2011-2012).

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