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Public Lecture: Blown to Bits
Co-organized by
Steering Committee of 4-Year Undergraduate Curriculum and Centre for the Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT)

Speaker Professor Harry Lewis
Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Harvard University
Date 13 May, 2009 (Wed)
Time 5:30pm – 7:00pm
Venue Wang Gungwu Theatre, Graduate House, The University of Hong Kong


Wherever we go … whatever we say, write, photograph, or buy … whatever prescriptions we take, or ATM withdrawals we make … we are generating information. That information can be captured, digitized, retrieved, and copied – anywhere on earth, instantly. Sophisticated computers can increasingly uncover meaning in those digital traces – understanding, anticipating, and influencing us as never before. Social networking seduces us into giving up yet more information, and phones with global positioning systems can help anyone we call a "friend" to track our every movement.

Digital technologies enable unprecedented social interconnection and dissemination of learning. But technologies are morally neutral: Google Earth, for example, has been used both to discover new rain forests in Mozambique and to plan terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We review instances in which social institutions have responded inappropriately to perceived technological threats, and ask whether the liberating force of the technology can withstand the fears it arouses.

About the Speaker

Harry Lewis is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences of Harvard University. His undergraduate and PhD degrees are from Harvard, and he has taught there since 1974. He is the senior member of the Undergraduate Admissions Committee, and from 1995 to 2003 he served as Dean of Harvard College. In addition to his special field of theoretical computer science, he also teaches an innovative general education course about principles of digital information technology and the societal dilemmas it is creating. His recent writings include two acclaimed books, Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future?, which has been translated into Chinese, and Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion.