Pitt News The official student newspaper of
the University of Pittsburgh
Friday March 2, 2001
Sun Microsystems Inc. researcher speaks at Pitt

Mac Booker
Staff Writer
John Gage, researcher at Sun Microsystems, Inc., visited Pitt yesterday to share his thoughts on the future of technology.

Gage's lecture, "The Future of Technology and Humanity: It's Not What it Used to Be," drew an audience that filled about three-quarters of the assembly room in the William Pitt Union.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Toni Carbo, dean of information sciences, introduced Gage. Carbo spoke briefly about Sara Fine, the former information sciences faculty member for whom the lecture series has been named. Gage's speech marks the first in the series named for Fine and sponsored by the Sara Fine Institute for Interpersonal Behavior and Technology.

Gage commenced his lecture by contrasting human and machine ability, his primary example man's ability to display and recognize emotions. He said this mammalian quality is made possible by the limbic brain. Later, he revisited the topic to advance the theory that humans are incapable of pure reason, because of the metaphorical nature of human thought patterns.

To clarify the theory, Gage provided an example of teaching a child about numbers. He said that the idea of positive numbers can be conveyed by piling objects on a table. This metaphor cannot be used, however, to teach negative numbers. A new metaphor, such as a number line, must be used to effectively communicate the concept. After using a new metaphor, Gage said the child will say, "That's perfectly understandable. That's a metaphor I can internalize."

Gage said this concept can apply to information technology because the internal working of computer operating systems have been translated into other concepts to make them easier to understand. Computer users may be familiar with concepts such as a desktop, a sketchpad, a library, a conversation or even an organism.

Throughout his lecture, Gage also talked about cross-cultural translation, different kinds of human intelligence and the history of information technology, from oral tradition to multiform network objects.

Among his other commentary, Gage mentioned other topics that interested him, including molecular physics and mesons, subatomic particles recently found to have much different properties than physicists once thought.