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MIT hosts seminar for congressional staff

Senior Congressional staff, Boston area professors and industrial leaders held a three-day seminar in late March on the policy implications of rapid advances in information technology.

The sessions on March 28-30 were the first of a three-year series of seminars at MIT sponsored by The Sloan Foundation.

The goal of the Seminar Series, intended if successful to become an annual event, is to develop a better means for exploring the policy implications of science and technology with Congressional aides and the Congress as a whole. It is also intended to expand the academic community's appreciation of the relationship between technology and public policy.

The seminar was co-chaired by Professor Eugene Skolnikoff of the Department of Political Science and Professor Claude Canizares, director of the Center for Space Research, who organized the seminar with the help of a program committee comprised of MIT faculty and administrators. They were assisted by an informal group of five Congressional staff.

This first seminar, which was attended by 19 invited bipartisan House and Senate staff, was entitled, "Information Technology: Present Status, Future Developments, Applications and Consequences." Future seminars will be devoted to other major scientific and technological subjects.

Session leaders Professors Stuart Madnick, Michael Dertouzos, Michael Scott Morton and Thomas Malone were joined by several of their colleagues from MIT, Harvard and Boston University and from industry in leading the spirited discussions.

Professor Canizares said, "The Congressional staff aides kept returning to the questions, `What is the problem here? What are the implications for government? What should we or shouldn't we be doing in terms of research, regulation, and coordination of standards?'"

Topics covered included an overview of the direction of developments in information technologies, barriers to realizing optimum technological possibilities, important applications and their consequences, and the political and economic issues surrounding the technologies and their applications.

Luncheon and dinner speakers included President Charles M. Vest; Institute Professor Robert Solow; Victor Zue, associate director of the Laboratory for Computer Science; and Robert Lucky, vice president for applied research, Bellcore.

The MIT Seminar Series is part of President Vest's continuing commitment to strengthen the efforts of MIT to serve the needs of our country. In his letter of invitation to staff members from Congressional Committees including the House Budget Committee, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and others, Dr. Vest said, " Our commitment to national service includes strengthening our efforts to meet the needs of the Congress and its professional staff."

The seminar series is the most recent of MIT's efforts to build bridges to Washington, which were initiated with the establishment in 1991 of the MIT Washington Office under the directorship of Jack Crowley, former vice president of the Association of American Universities and a 20-year participant in the Washington public policy debate over issues of education, science and technology.

Dr. Crowley commented, "I am very grateful to Professor Canizares, Professor Skolnikoff, their faculty colleagues and the MIT staff who made this initial seminar such a success. The enthusiasm shared throughout the program by MIT faculty and the Congressional staff participants is very encouraging as we now begin to plan future seminars on campus and in Washington."

Dr. Crowley is frequently on campus and is available for meetings both in Cambridge and Washington. Dr. Vest has urged faculty to use the Washington office when they have occasion to visit there.

Dr. Vest makes monthly visits to Washington policy makers and also hosts meetings with them at MIT. For example, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Administration, and Independent Agencies spent a day visiting with MIT students and faculty in February, and Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown will be visiting the Institute in May.

A version of this article appeared in the April 13, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 29).

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