COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

Loyola University Chicago
Lake Shore Campus
May 13, 2000

I bring you good news and bad news.

First the bad news. The bad news is that your college graduation coincides with the birth of the Information Age. Consequently, those of you who thought their education days were finally finished, will find that they have entered an environment of unceasing new education demands. The day when a college education served a graduate for a life-time is history. We have entered uncharted waters. Information technology and the Internet will be to the Twenty First Century what electricity had been to the Twentieth.

To put that statement into its proper perspective, remember what the world looked like at the turn of the last century:

Britain was still the empire on which the sun never sets;

Marconi had just invented the radio;

Automobiles were considered nothing but a fad;

Heroin was touted as an excellent cough syrup;

The phonograph was the most popular form of home entertainment;

It was still before the Boy Scouts were invented;

Before Wilbur and Orville Wright did their thing at Kitty Hawk;

Before the first motion picture was produced in Hollywood;

Before the first World Series game (Boston defeated Pittsburgh in 1903);

And, yes, it was before Albert Einstein changed the destiny of mankind.

Think about how far we have come! And yet, those were the slow days. Then, it took knowledge months if not years to be transmitted. Today, the world’s store of knowledge travels and expands by the minute, indeed by the millisecond. Ten years ago when my grandson was five, he sat on my lap as I taught him how to use the computer keyboard. Today, as a sophomore in high school, it is impossible for me to keep up with the knowledge about the computer that he has at his fingertips. And the kids in the classes behind him will soon know a lot more.

No formal degree program, no matter how fine its scholastic level, not even the one here at Loyola, can impart its students with knowledge that has not yet been conceived and that will not be discovered until the moment after the graduation celebration has ended and the graduate has said his last good night to his date.

So what is the good news? The good news is that your college graduation coincides with the birth of the Information Age. Indeed, if you could choose the beginning of any century in history in which to graduate, you could not pick a better time than the onset of the Twenty First Century. You are at a moment in our history where opportunity is without bounds; where your personal potential will be limited only by your own imagination. As I said, information technology and the Internet will be to the Twenty First Century what electricity had been to the Twentieth.

If there is anyone to blame for this happenstance, I suppose it falls on John Bardeen, Walter Brattain, and William Shockley, three Bell Laboratory scientists who on December 23, 1947 invented the first transistor. That invention and its offspring, the microchip, transformed everything: the computer, the space program, the television, the automobile, telecommunications, and, to be sure, the markets. We discarded the gold standard in favor of the information standard. And it led us to the incredible invention of the Internet.

Today, millions of transistors are etched on wafers of silicon. On these microchips, all the world’s information is being stored in digital form. At the same time, cyber-wizards combined the sorcery of electrical and electromagnetic waves and propelled them at incredible speed, about three-quarters of the way to the moon with every second. In doing so, they have produced a wave of energy that can carry a computer command, the human voice, indeed our entire store of knowledge, from anywhere to anywhere via the Internet.

A mere five decades ago, immediate access to information about any subject was available to perhaps fifteen, maybe twenty percent, of mankind. Even so, during those ensuing fifty years we were able to go to the moon, decode many of nature's age-old secrets, and probe the fundamental components of life. Not too shabby a record. But today, immediate access to information about any subject is available arguably to everyone on the planet—to some six billion people. Think about the resulting effect on the expansion of knowledge. Some bright young person this very moment in Mongolia, Africa, or China who until now had no chance to contribute his or her mind to the world’s discovery process is now part of the team. It is no surprise then that new discoveries in every field of endeavor are occurring seemingly every instant, and in that same instant are available for everyone else to use—and upon which to piggy-back the next discovery. All the while technology continues to expand in quantum leaps. What all this portends for mankind’s store of knowledge in the coming years is anyone’s guess.

At the same time we are crossing a technological divide that will soon unplug us from existing infrastructures and communication hookups. We are about to become wireless. This will create a dramatic lifestyle emancipation. Suddenly, we will have many more choices about where we live or work. Everyone will be connected, carrying small pocket devices that can be used to communicate, or as a computer, or a fax, to download money, or to trade. Tiny chips will no doubt be implanted in our bodies that will act as a universal credit card, driver’s license or passport. Telephones as we knew them will be history. Wireless e-mail will be the instrument of choice.

And robots will certainly free our hands from the drudgery of many manual chores. Complex medical services will be carried out thru cyberspace. Sophisticated satellites will assist our daily travels. Nanotechnology, the science of making microscopic size machines—from regulating human medical functions to regulating environmental changes—will move from its current embryonic state to maturity. National and economic borders which have already been blurred, will dissolve completely. A revolutionary cross-pollinization of knowledge will take place between people from diverse arenas of expertise. Our solar system will really become a part of earth’s immediate neighborhood. These changes, these advances will surely allow mankind to soar to unimaginable heights.

The Age of Cyberspace will also cause an enormous shift of power from producer to user. The Internet is a force for democracy and individual empowerment. The consumer will become king because it changes the old rules. Consumers who don’t like what they see will just click and move on to the next screen. In the past, bigger was often better. But with the cost of entry lower and easy access to the global marketplace, competition may come from smaller entities with a flexibility to offer innovative services. In the past, success had a lot to do with location; in the future, where you are located may not matter.

And the Internet forever changes the nature of government. Is it not ironical that in 1948, at the very same moment that the Information Age was born, George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 was published depicting a future social order where the truth was concealed from the people. Orwell could not have possibly known that the invention of something called a transistor would prove him dead wrong.

Modern telecommunications capabilities fostered instant mass informational flows in total disregard of governmental prohibitions or national boundaries. This proved to be the common denominator for the dramatic upheavals we witnessed. The truth could no longer be hidden from the people. Those of us fortunate enough to be present in the final decade of the Twentieth Century, were privileged to witness events equal to any celebrated milestone in the history of mankind. We were ring-side spectators at a global rebellion when in less than an eye-blink the Berlin Wall fell, Germany was unified, Apartheid ended, Eastern Europe was liberated, the Cold War ceased, and a doctrine that impaired the freedom of three generations was decisively repudiated. Information technology was the primary catalyst.

This is not to suggest that Nirvana has been achieved. Globalization, a direct by-product of the Information Age, has unleashed a tide of nationalistic fervor that is as dangerous as it is infectious. The experience in the former Yugoslavia taught us that ethnic cleansing did not die with the Nazis; nor is what happened in Rwanda anything but an appalling example of genocide. The Holocaust is only fifty years old and already some would deny its occurrence. The gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" continues to widen both within nations and internationally and represents an intolerable condition with explosive potential. Our planet’s environment is increasingly at risk as are some of its inhabitants. Nor have weapons of mass destruction disappeared from the face of the earth. Some are in the hands of rogue nations as well as villainous terrorists. And as the recent "love bug" virus gave clear testimony, modern technology has made democratic societies highly vulnerable to cyberspace bandits. So the world remains a very dangerous place.

Still, the impact of the Internet on our society can be an overwhelming force of good, one that can offset most evil. But it defies absolute predictability. Andrew Grove, Chairman of Intel, estimates that our present use of the Internet represents less than five percent of its potential. In other words, the remaining 95% is in your hands. The world is thus entrusting you with this invention of spectacular power and potential. What you do with it, how you guide its use, what rules you prescribe for its application, how you settle the complexity of its intellectual property questions, and how you respond to the myriad of other issues it raises, many of which are still hidden from our view, will determine its ultimate value to civilization.

Your mission is to use your Loyola education as the first rung in the knowledge ladder you must now climb. The course of the Twenty First Century depends on it.

I bid you good luck and congratulations!

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