Page 3

called distance education, in which students and instructors may never meet face-to-face. These situations raise one of the greatest drawbacks of the digital age—increasing depersonalization. Some can compensate for this, but others can become increasingly isolated. Institutions of learning must take great care in moving into this arena.

Libraries are also changing, as almost all new information is created in digital format and much of it is available online. The need for a student or a researcher physically to be near a library is diminishing. Specialized information previously unavailable to the general public is now available. For example, the Library of Congress is mounting its collections on the World Wide Web; the National Institutes of Health offers medical information to everybody, not only doctors; and the Cornell University Legal Information Institute Web site emphasizes service to professionals who are not lawyers. Stanford University, among others, has established a “digital library.” Many universities have licenses to such digital libraries and offer access to all their faculty and staff. The Association for Computing Machinery has placed all of its publications in a digital library.

Publishing is also changing. Posting research results on the Internet offers researchers a fast and low-cost method of disseminating their results around the world. For example, physicists post preprints of papers in the online archives at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, among others, offer similar services. Publishers are converting their journals to electronic format and are eliminating paper versions of some journals. Since electronic journals are not constrained by the cost of printing, researchers can augment research papers with raw data and examples.

Almost every field of research is making use of computing, and in some disciplines the methods of research are changing fundamentally:

  • The Internet permits social scientists to conduct surveys more quickly, more cheaply, and in greater detail. For example, data mining is being used to detect patterns in structured and unstructured sets of data.

  • Remote access to instrumentation, including the remote operation and shared control of robot-like data-harvesting or data-refinement tools, is increasingly the rule. Early examples of this form of “telescience” include network access to an

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement