Report from the FMC Conference

Before I launch into my impressions of the conference, I should mention that the home page (and source of a lot of relevant links) for the conference is at MSRI's page:

The Futures of Mathematics Communication Conference at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley, CA, Nov. 30 - Dec. 3, 1994, was the first conference I have ever attended, but I have it on good faith from a number of people who attended that it was very good; certainly it was interesting and stimulating, two very important qualities in any conference. There were a lot of really famous people there (e.g., Andrew Odlyzko, Neil Calkin, Whitfield Diffie, Aviezri Fraenkel, Paul Ginsparg, Van Jacobson, and Steven Wolfram, to name just a few), and I had a great time meeting as many people as possible, finding out what's happening in technology, exploring the Bay area, and in general thinking a lot about current trends in technology and forming my own plans for focus.

In fact, there's so much to write about that I've decided to split this article up further, into the following six categories:

Current Trends in Technology
It seems appropriate to present some of the interesting statistics quoted at the conference, as well as a general overview of what is currently possible and what will soon be possible. The amazing thing about all this is that the technology is progressing at an exponential rate, and mathematicians are already behind the times. Catch on or catch up, one might say.
Scholarly Publication at a Turning Point
The very first talk of the conference was by Andrew Odlyzko, and I've chosen his title for the title of this section. Much of the focus of the conference was on the changing roles of publishers and librarians, as publications make the transition from print to the electronic world. Very far-reaching consequences and insightful possibilities were mentioned; many of those present are convinced that most journals we currently use will be entirely electronic by the end of the century.
Virtual Collaborative Environments
This is a topic which (together with the next one) especially holds my interest. One extremely important use for the developing technology is the creation of online collaborative environments, in which researchers can meet with each other in a sort of ``virtual hallway,'' talk (literally, via audio), share ideas on a whiteboard (which exists only in the computer's memory), use programs together in a shared environment, etc. The possibilities are truly endless, and will forever change the way we do research.
Education through the Net
Research and publication practices aren't the only areas which are being changed by technology; education, too, is changing. Indeed, in some senses secondary and elementary schools are responding to these changes faster than universities are. I have my own visions for what can be done in this area, and it was exciting to here what others across the nation have already accomplished in their classrooms.
Pricing the Net
Currently, the Net appears free to us, the users. How will this change? Efforts are underway to introduce virtual cash and electronic billing schemes; certainly commercial interests need such advances to be able to peddle their wares on the net. It seems only natural that once the technology is available, it will be employed. There are many difficulties to be overcome, of course, but many clever solutions are being found.
Of course, much more than this was covered. There were also discussions on the role of scholarly societies, presentations of up-and-coming software, and very deep (and difficult) questions of user-authentication and intellectual property issues that I suspect may always plague us, but are no less important than other issues I've covered in more detail. What steps need to be taken next? Where will we be a year from now?