Sunday, February 10, 2013

John Seely Brown, The Chief of Confusion

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John Seely Brown, frequently referred to as JSB, sees himself as the “Chief of Confusion, helping people ask the right questions”.[1] His received his BA from Brown University in 1962 in Mathematics and Physics and his PhD in Computer and Communication Sciences from the University of Michigan in 1970. His dissertation was titled "A Symbiotic Theory Formation System". He has received 6 honorary degrees in science, humane letters, economics and design. He worked as the chief scientist of Xerox Corporation and was the director of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). While working with Xerox for almost 20 years, he supervised radical innovation projects, organizational learning, adaptive systems and nanotechnology. During this time he helped to create the Institute for Research and Learning, an interdisciplinary think tank focusing on learning’s various forms and sites. Currently, his research topics focus on digital youth culture, digital media, institutional innovation and new forms of communication and learning.

JSB is the co-chairman of the Deloitte’s Center for the Edge, a company which helps clients to solve problems focusing on audits, financial advisory, tax and consulting.[2] He is also a visiting scholar at the University of Sothern California at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society. JSB has shown his dedication to understanding education though his actions by serving on numerous educational boards including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and is a trustee of the MacArthur Foundation. He also serves on numerous international advisory boards in Spain and Singapore.

A full list of his over 100 publications can be found on JSB’s website, JSB brings and interesting balance to educational theory and information technology. While looking at reviews for Brown’s books, reviewers from both the IT world and the educational world praised him for his non-alarmist attitude in regards to technological advances. However, as Michael F. Winter states in his review of The Social Life of Information, “there is much to admire and learn from…there is nonetheless a kind of Victorian faith in progress and problem solving through invention, innovation, and exploitation of the market[3] (2001, 90).  Finally, I found a great article about why Brown would be more prone to hire a World of Warcraft (WoW) player than an MBA from Harvard, as WoW is a meritocracy and an area of collaboration and knowledge refinement. The full video of the interview can be watched here.

[3]Winter, M. (2001). The social life of information (Book Review). College & Research Libraries, 62(1), 87-90.

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