MIT e-Planning Seminar


"From Border-Busting to Ubiquitous Computing: Some Social, Cultural and Policy Implications of Recent Changes in Information Technology"

Friday, October 24, 2003

MIT Rm. 3-401, 12:15PM - 2:00PM

Discussants: Diane Davis, Keith Hampton

Developments in information technology and society raise questions of the utmost importance for planners and public policy. For example:

The computer based information technologies which began appearing in the latter part of the last century were characterized by their ability to break through traditional borders of space, walls, time, distance, and darkness in the collection, storage, communication, merging and analysis of data.

These developments continue. We see processing speeds doubled every 18 months and storage capacities double every year. Every more areas of behavior are captured and analyzed. Brain wave and DNA analysis suggest new frontiers. Means of data analysis once restricted to governments and the largest organizations are available on a much wider scale to smaller organizations and individuals.

Diverse kinds and sources of data are increasingly woven into networks. Computing is becoming ubiquitous and automated. Sensors that passively read and involuntarily send remote signals to the internet and elsewhere, will increasingly be found in objects (e.g., computing and communications devices, switches, groceries, cars, tools, weapons, clothes), persons and environments (roads, walls, doors). Through a "value-added" model the aggregation and analysis of data collected in varying formats and for varying purposes, in turn creates new data and models. New data mining and aggregate analysis techniques appear. More information is also available for analysis because ever more is being kept, rather than culled. It is now less expensive to store information than to discard it.

These developments raise an array of intellectually and politically challenging issues. Drawing from a forthcoming book, the talk will consider some social trends and counter-trends and implications of these developments, cultural beliefs that underlie policies toward information technology as used for social control and management, and some principles for guiding public policy.

Gary T. Marx

Gary Marx is Professor Emeritus from M.I.T. having taught at D.U.S.P. from 1973-1992, a rare environment in which it was possible to ask both "how" and "why" questions. Among other works he is the author of Protest and Prejudice, Undercover: Police Surveillance in America and the forthcoming Windows Into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught there, at Harvard University and at the University of Colorado and held visiting Professorships in Belgium, Spain, Austria and China. He has lectured throughout the world. His articles have appeared in numerous books, monographs and academic and popular periodicals and been translated into many languages.

He has served in an advisory capacity for many government and non-profit organizations (including the Kerner Commission where he first met Professor Bob Fogelson) and editorial boards. His work has been recognized by fellowships, awards and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Sociological Association, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, the National Institute of Justice, the National Science Foundation and the Century Fund. He is currently a member of a National Academy of Sciences panel writing a report on Privacy in the Information Age. He occasionally ventures out from his farm home on an island near Seattle for battery-recharging. He is spending the fall semester as the Carlson Visiting Distinguished Professor in Social Science at West Virginia University. Some of his research and additional information is available at

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