The 21st Century: the Century of the Information Civilization
To date, human society has experienced two big changes. The first one was the agricultural revolution, about 10,000 years ago. People changed their ways of living from a hunting life, wandering in wild nature, to a farming life, settling down in a fixed place. A new civilization, represented by ironware, appeared.
The next change was the Industrial Revolution, extending from the latter half of the 18th century to the first half of the 20th century. Dreams that were impossible when we depended upon our muscular power did become true after the invention of the steam engine, and the material civilization of the 20th century was built up using machine energy.
Now we are experiencing a third big social and technical change, caused by the computer since the 1950s. A famous historiographer, Alvin Toffler, called this change "the third wave." "...old patterns of power are fracturing along strange new lines.
...This crackup of old-style authority and power in business and daily life is accelerating at the very moment when global power structures are disintegrating as well." (Powershift)
The information network on a world scale is developing rapidly today. And information is being transmitted all over the world in realtime. As a result, the system of human society and the mechanism of world economy are changing greatly. It is clear that the 21st century will become the century of the information civilization.
Issues in a Highly Developed Information Civilization Society
The computer is the most sophisticated artifact that human beings have ever invented, and the range of its applications seems limitless. The information system becomes more complicated and its scale becomes larger and larger because of its usefulness as a resource. As a result, if even a little breakdown in the computer or the network system occur the effect is widespread and serious. This is certainly a negative side of the new technology, but it is obviously impossible to stop using it. The civilization of the present age might not survive if the computer were removed out from this world. Given the various, sometimes contradictory, requirements of the society served by computers it is an urgent problem how to make a harmony of development in the new science and technology, bringing together various global systems and facilitating large scale and high speed circulation of information. This is the way of benefiting people's happiness, and suiting human society really, and the way to make the 21st century a century that ensures the continuous prosperity of the human race.
Our standard of living has been improved by the advancement of science and technology in the 20th century. On the other hand, it was assumed that human beings were less efficient and less reliable than machines, and in pursuit of economy and efficiency workers ware steadily replaced by machines. A serious social problem resulted. Though workers were certainly liberated from simple repetition work and other kinds of undesirable tasks, many people now felt themselves to be of little value and importance in their society. We now recognize this problem of alienation, and realize that it is necessary to consider human beings first.
Problems such as the destruction of the natural environment, over-population, the using-up of resources, and widespread epidemics are serious today. These are problems, which we cannot pass by. It is now time to apply our wisdom based on a large amount of information available to us on computer to solve these difficult problems while defending the irreplaceable earth.
Graduate School of Informatics
The Graduate School of Informatics in Kyoto University was established in 1998 to create a new inter- and multi-disciplinary area to contribute to the development of the information civilization of the 21st century. This school is based on a totally new idea and is definitely not a simple extension of the conventional functions of the University. The purpose of this new Graduate School of Informatics is to establish a sound academic base from which to contribute to the healthy development of a highly developed information civilization society, to form and to develop the study of information as a fundamental science, to promote pioneering and original research, and to educate many young students who have a wide comprehension of the mechanism of information technology and a wide vision of how information science can and should best develop.
The development of computer-based technology has, as I said, caused a fundamental revolution in contemporary social and economic systems. It is necessary to elucidate and to establish the ideal way of collecting, assembling, and using information so that the change to an information society does not have an undesirable influence, and so our society has a human-centered standpoint. And it is necessary to construct an information support environment by which cultural intellectual work is promoted.
Our main goal is to establish an academic base by integrating contributions from the fields of information and communications sciences, mathematics, systems science, brain and nerve physiology, and the humanities, and to promote the education and research that will help us solve the various problems which will be faced in the coming information civilization century.
Many different talents are needed including the talent to clarify the ideal way of using information and making it accessible, the talent to determine desirable future directions for our information technology, the talent to use information available now and to judge appropriately, the talent to evaluate information problems from a wide point of view, and the talent to truly lead the world by original research. Moreover, it is also important to achieve exchange of researchers within Japan and abroad, as well as to train foreign students.
In the Graduate School of Informatics, a fundamental objective is to accept various ideas and ways of thinking and valuing by accepting students of various backgrounds, from all faculties. The curriculum of six majors assures a breadth of competence, while suitable subjects, which transcend the boundaries of the majors, are offered to encourage wider attainments in students.
To young students who challenge the future
Science and technology concerning information will affect greatly the system of society and economy of the world, and the natural environment of the earth as well as existence of all living things. It is timely to offer students this graduate school now. To make the 21st century a century of creations sunlit in hope we should collect every wisdom. We hope very much that a lot of young students who will resolutely ask hitherto unasked questions will join our new Graduate School of Informatics.