Blog Post

HASTAC Conference Notes: Keynote by Daniel E. Atkins

Let me just go on record that this talk sometimes went by me so fast that I had to run fast to keep up.  So this may read as a bunch of interesting nuggets, but his entire powerpoint is online, so perhaps you can make of it what you will.  A second keynote will reportedly be covering similar ground, so perhaps together they will give people like me a strong footing in cyberinformatics.


Cyberinfrastructure: Technical + Social = Transformative if you help

Daniel E. Atkins (Prof of Community Informatics, University of Michigan) (his powerpoint online)


cyberinfrastuctures—platform of technology, human and organizational support for advanced, integrated computation and information resources

  • i.e high performance computing
  • data storage
  • online observatories
  • portals, workflow environments

goal—to evolve and sustain a platform for functions needed by knowledge community

challenge—to figure out how to use a flow through four quadrants to accomplish goals, accelerate learning, work together

            four quadrants include (for people): physical meetings, shared physical artifact, AV conference, Email; (for information): physical books, library reserve, web search, intelligent agents (among other examples)

this talk is going to be hard to blog about because his images are rich, but need his context.  When I write his context without the image, it may get confusing, but I’ll do my best

cyber-infrastructure platforms have potential to transform the what, how, and who does the learning and discovery

about HASTAC—it was music to his ears, so wants to consider the org’s mission

  • asks question: “how would our research look if we took seriously momentous opportunities for learning posed by our digital era?”
    • HASTAC is a network of individuals and institutions, interested to use technology to explore possibilities for how we learn, teach, communicate, create, organize…concerned with social entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and pubic policy on a local or global scale
    • Openness and inclusiveness are hallmarks of HASTAC
  • His talk with present a set of challenges for us
  • In brief—mission is to discover
    • He wants our learning to be part of iterative design process
      • Can’t leave technological development up to the IT folks
      • We have active role to play not only in application but nature of technology
  • Are humanities finding ways to leverage the large investments being made in cyberinfrastructure for science?
  • He’s making super nerdy jokes, and they aren’t necessarily hitting home (take a moment to process super nerdy jokes), but they are awesome
  • What is the extent of (mutually beneficial) collaboration btw humanists, CI specialists (geeks), and scientists/engineers?

Transformative potential

  • Note: his powerpoint is great—very visual, but also benefits greatly from what he adds to the visuals
  • E-science, e-humanities & arts, e-learning, e-development—all lead into research university in the digital age (uses e- cause understood widely in Europe)
    • If view mission of univ. as search/discover/teaching/learning, then there are threads of activities addressing all of these—so our talk today is about the future of the research university
  • now giving examples of his work along these lines

The fourth paradigm: data-intensive scientific discovery

  • Way of trying to articulate new set of capabilities we are evolving to extract info. From vast amounts of data
  • Mgram service provided by google--gives examples of how used by historians
    • How massive amount of computing is being used on our behalf
    • Corpus computing (notes he isn’t getting into copyright issues here)
    • Early form of 4th paradigm of data-intensive discovery
  • Petabyte becoming a commonly used term—it is a A LOT of data
  • Too big to know: how the internet affects what and how we know
    • Need reflect on nature of knowledge

“digital age”—digital is a technical detail, but doesn’t actually capture what we are trying to say.  More about extreme connectedness that technology enables.  Need new language.

  • Citing David Weinberger:
    • Knowledge as settled consistent truths demonstrates limitations of knowledge medium, not knowledge itself
    • New medium for knowledge is not a publishing system so much as a networked public
  • Atmosphere conference organized by google—moves through quickly
  • Shift now is to cloud paradigm
    • CI environments built on five pillars of capability
      • Social (collaboration)
      • Mobile
      • Cloud (platform, infrastructure)
      • Big data (storing and processing)
      • Cyber-physical (sensors-activators)
    • Social includes: policy, regulation, dang, missed the rest. Must stop reading along with Twitter
  • We have to help do this at our institutions: we need to simultaneously rationalize IT investment (faster, better, cheaper) and then convince provost to take savings from that an reinvest higher up in stack to explore true innovation


  • Says distinguished faculty, in particular, need to get involved
  • IT is critical infrastructure to our academic enterprise
  • Need encourage forces on campus that encourage synergistic dialogue

How we help

  • Articulate academic value vision in cyberinfrastructure
  • Need advocate for government, policy  initiatives

Education crisis of access, cost, flexibility.  With 30 million people qualified to enter but no place available.  That number will only grow

“To meet this staggering global demand, a major university needs to be created every week.”



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