Distinguished Lecture

Pilot Project for a Future University

Wednesday, February 21, 2007
4:00 pm to 5:30 pm
Brian Cantwell Smith, University of Toronto

Academic units (schools and departments) are usually identified either (i) by focusing on a distinctive subject matter, and/or (ii) by employing a particular method or approach. This combination of subject matter and method forms the basis for the disciplines or fields to which we take ourselves to be held accountable.

I will propose that the emerging breed of "Information Schools" should break this mold. "Information" is an almost vacuously broad notion, after all; everyone deals with information in one form or another. The term is unlikely ever to denote an appropriately circumscribed subject matter. Nor, given the impact of information on the world, should we restrict ourselves to an identifiable set of methods. Information-dependent phenomena cover the entire gamut of worldly affairs.

Rather, the rationale for the existence of i-schools must be understood diachronically — as "change agents" within the structure of society. What then should be our goal? To prototype the future of information-intensive practices, as society adapts to the transformative effects of new information technologies.

Brian Cantwell Smith is Dean of the Faculty of Information Studies, Professor of Philosophy and of Computer Science, and Canada Research Chair in the Foundations of Information at the University of Toronto. For almost 40 years, since his freshman year at Oberlin College, Smith has been struggling to understand the conceptual foundations of computing. At Xerox PARC, Stanford, Indiana, Duke, and Toronto, in courses ranging through AI, computer science, cognitive science, and philosophy, Smith has disinterred such notions as formality, digitality, information, and effectiveness. The inquiry has led him into fundamental issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and subjectivity. A sketch of his ideas is presented in On the Origin of Objects (MIT Press, 1996). Rumours continue to circulate about a forthcoming a 7-volume series entitled The Age of Significance: An Essay on the Origins of Computation and Intentionality.

Last updated:

March 26, 2015