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Ines Wesley-Tanaskovic, Jacques Tocatlian, and Kenneth H. Roberts
Recognizing that science and technology have an increasing impact on our social and natural environments, the United Nations University decided to have a forum for international experts to contemplate the directions in which certain advances are leading society. To this end a series of international symposia on "Frontiers of Science and Technology" are being carried out in cooperation with major Japanese universities.
The first symposium in this series was held in 1991, in cooperation with the University of Tokyo, to assess the impact of chaos on science and society, reflecting the growing body of knowledge on chaotic behaviour in a variety of scientific disciplines.
The second symposium was held in Kyoto in 1992 in cooperation with Kyoto University, and its aim was to evaluate the potential of the new information technologies to improve information handling, retrieval, and exchange and, in general, to expand access to science and technology.
It is recognized that new information technologies are fundamentally restructuring traditional ways of providing access to science and technology. However, despite the current rate of technological innovation, there is a trend to greater disparities among nations in terms of access to information and the ability to apply knowledge for social and economic development. The opportunities of developing countries to use the new information technologies were a major concern of the second symposium.
The Kyoto symposium reviewed the experiences and strategies of major international information programmes over the last 25 years that aimed at improving the capabilities of countries, and recognized that a significant infrastructural gap and lack of a systematic approach persist. Therefore, the symposium took as its central focus the requirements for planning future infrastructure development in a more systematic way by fully taking into account the new technological potential.
The symposium also examined technological experiences in database and data bank construction and use, communication networks, and the problems encountered by the developing countries in acquiring, adapting, and using the new information technologies.
One general area attracted particular attention: intelligent information access and its impact on information retrieval and transfer. Intelligent information access is a central area for research and development in information and computer sciences. It is expected that the advances in human-computer interaction and particularly in interactive technologies of natural language processing will open new perspectives. Access through natural language will become more creative for seeing in the computer an agent with a broad spectrum of communication means with the human user. Language must be integrated with other channels to attain multimodality for information access. The resulting hypermedia systems based on cognitive theories of human information processing open up horizons.
The paradigm of "sub-languages" that are domain-specific promises to offer an imaginative solution to the problems of user-computer interaction: the user as a processor of information. This approach encounters perceptual and processing limitations as well as applications to the user interface, such as input devices, displays, and dialogue design. "Flexible information processing" is another paradigm that is considered essential for the advancement of information technology applications in the real-world environment and that was examined at the symposium in terms of its future prospects.
A panel discussion at the symposium's end evoked recommendations for international cooperation in expanding access to science and technology.
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