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Cornell's Opportunity in the Information Sciences

The onset of the "information age" is transforming academic research and educational methodology and creating new opportunities for collaboration that is unconstrained by physical location. The impact of this accelerating revolution, which is already substantial, only hints at what will come. Working together, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, and the University Library have developed a blueprint whereby the University can seize an early lead in the use and development of information resources. During 1997-1998, the "Digital Futures Strategic Plan" was developed to catalyze efforts in networking and communication.

Our vision of "information science" encompasses much more than just the three areas in volved in formulating the plan. Like the physical and biological sciences, which consist of bodies of knowledge and formal models of phenomena spanning many application disciplines, the information sciences involve thought paradigms, tools, and techniques with broad applicability. Information is a broad term, referring not just to data arising within a domain but also to relationships between data, explanations, and models.

While the Information Age is enabled by technology, the emergence of information-driven scientific research in many disciplines points to something more fundamental. Technology has given us the tools to capture, represent, and store new forms of information, to access information with unprecedented ease, to maintain and browse huge information archives, and to communicate and collaborate in ways that could not have been anticipated even a decade ago. Sciences of the past lacked the means of acquiring or working with such vast quantities of information. The discontinuity associated with the transition from science limited by information to science stimulated by nearly unlimited information is creating remarkable opportunities.

Relationships between information and explanations of information are emerging as the intellectual currency of this new era. The information sciences are concerned with the recognition of relationships, the imposition of structure on information, and the development of new thought paradigms and theories that can be validated by experiments upon information archives, yielding fundamental insights. Research aimed at enhancing the value of information is occurring throughout the University, and as more and more material is captured, the trend will surely accelerate. Important information-based opportunities exist in the biological and genetic sciences and in other computational sciences. Information sciences are shedding new light into models of human behavior and psychology. Historians, creating new kinds of cross-indexed historical archives, are revisiting classical questions of history from dramatically new perspectives. And this pattern continues across the entire university, extending into the classroom, the library system, laboratories, and offices of our research staff.

Computer Science will play a major role in developing and promoting information science research throughout the University. Our role involves aggressive hiring in strategic areas as well as collaborations with other disciplines. Computer Science is participating with the University Library, considered to be one of the very best research libraries in the world, in a Digital Library research effort. Jointly with electric power researchers in EE, we are developing a major project to look at secure and reliable management of the restructured electric power grid. And the Cornell Theory Center, under the direction of Tom Coleman, is creating links with financial computation experts throughout Cornell. All these efforts will keep Cornell, and CS, at the forefront of some of the most exciting research during the coming decades.