Welcoming Remarks – Greg Adamson

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Welcoming Remarks – Greg Adamson

Arthur Winston:
… interesting having you present, rather than having your smartphone give us the presentation. In any event, we now can declare this conference officially open. At this point I’d like to introduce Greg Adamson, our conference chair. Greg is the past chair of the Victoria, Australia section. Currently, he’s Vice-President of IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology. He’s a Principal Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and business manager of the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Greg.

Greg Adamson:
Thanks, Arthur. Commemorating any historical figure is an opportunity to review how the world came to be what it is today. It’s an interesting challenge. In the case of Norbert Wiener, we have further challenges, how to capture the diversity of the influence of this quintessential multidisciplinarian. Norbert Wiener transformed our language in ways reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, and how we think about technology. His discoveries in non-linearity, in going beyond what he called “the trivial problems”, helped transform the technology today, and continued to do so in the approaching future.

When IEEE began the journey of preparing this conference in 2011, Wiener’s work was well-known mostly to the generation of technologists who directly knew him or knew of him. In the past 3 years we have moved beyond that. The enthusiasm of many young volunteers and researchers at this conference shows that. Partly this is due to the work of the conference preparation, but mainly it’s due to the timeliness of Norbert Wiener’s ideas. In just the last 15 years, his 1938 discussion of homogeneous chaos has become his most cited paper. That is odd. That doesn’t happen. You write papers and 5 years later they are superseded.

In 1938 he wrote a paper, in 2000 we were able to implement it. The computers had caught up. This is unusual. The summary in last year’s New York Time’s rediscovery of an unpublished article by Wiener on technology and jobs could have been written today. He says, “In short, it is only a humanity which is capable of awe, which will also be capable of controlling the new potentials which we are opening for ourselves. We can be humble and live a good life with the aid of the machines, or we can be arrogant and die.”

Initial support for this conference itself came from the 4 financial sponsoring IEEE organizations, IEEE’s Boston section for which we have very very much to thank, home to MIT where Wiener worked for more than 40 years, IEEE’s Systems, Man, and Cybernetics and Controlled Systems societies, working with the technologies close to Wiener’s heart, IEEE’s Social Implications of Technology, reflecting his early original contributions to the fields of information ethics, environmental awareness and inclusiveness in technology.

Technical sponsors followed from a range of organizations worthy of the diversity of his interests, from the North American Fuzzy Information Processing Society … great to have you here today … Computer Society of India, IEEE Hyderabad Section,
IFIP Technical Committee 9, EPIC, ICEI and the American Society of Cybernetics, World Organization of Cybernetics and Systems, and IASCYS. Tata Consulting Services and Infosys became corporate sponsors, and the last on-boarded sponsor was the Norbert Wiener University in Peru.

Important support came from the IEEE History Center, from MIT Museum, from MIT Archives, from Wiener biographers Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, whom we have in the audience today and who we’ll be hearing from at the dinner tomorrow night. The commitment of [track chairs 00:04:26] Arthur Winston, William Melek, Phil Hall and Sophie McKenzie, Jana Paripovich from the media committee, Gopal T V, MGPL, and many others working on India-related activities, Michael Rigby, Paul Siemers and others on day-to-day internal matters, and finally, Iven Mareels, the Dean of Engineering at the University of Melbourne, who helped me understand the enormous ongoing importance of Wiener’s technical contribution.

You can find an interview with him on YouTube, which is a very … I would strongly encourage you to play that to any engineering students who are thinking about thinking, as opposed to just doing their courses. This conference follows the lead of the 1994 Legacy of Norbert Wiener Centennial Symposium. We hope that the ideas and links created here foster ongoing interest in the work of Wiener and early collaborators such as Julian Bigelow and Arturo Rosenblueth. This isn’t just about one person. Please enjoy the conference in the spirit that it’s been planned, a multidisciplinary celebration and reflection on all of us as we participate in driving technology’s future. Thank you.