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About the School

[Adapted from Gary Chapman’s 2009 text]

The Inspiration for ISDT

ISDT is an idea with roots that go pretty far back.

The School was modeled after ISODARCO, the International School on Disarmament and Resolution of Conflicts, which itself launched in 1967 in Italy. ISODARCO has been holding annual residential courses for 42 years, as a program of Italian Pugwash. ISODARCO was created and is still directed by Professor Carlo Schaerf of the Department of Physics of the University of Rome Tor Vergata. The connection with Pugwash gives ISODARCO a noble heritage: Pugwash International was started by Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, Hans Bethe and other founders of the nuclear age, and the organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. (President Obama’s Science Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, gave the acceptance speech.)

Professor Schaerf has, over 42 years, created a remarkable network of colleagues and friends who now span three generations and who live and work all over the world. Several of them return to ISODARCO year after year. Of course, it’s not hard to get people to travel to the Dolomiti mountains in northern Italy during ski season—ISODARCO is held in the ski resort town of Andaló each January—and to spend their time with world-class experts in peace, science and technology. And one of the great ideas that Carlo had for ISODARCO is that everyone is treated equally, as a peer, no matter how famous or how young. For many people who have been part of ISODARCO, it’s become a global network of lifelong friendships.

So ISODARCO was the model for ISDT, but we have a different focus on digital technologies that are changing the world, and we’re getting together in a different place—Porto, Portugal. Porto has the advantages of being a gorgeous city that is unfamiliar to many people and thus not yet overrun by tourists, plus it is home to a highly respected university where people are doing innovative work with digital technologies. We believe that once people visit Porto, they’ll want to return. The opportunity to launch ISDT was provided by the UT Austin-Portugal Project, which is a five-year partnership between the University of Texas at Austin and two Portuguese universities, including the University of Porto, a collaboration that is focused on digital media.

A beautiful place, a globally significant subject, a network of friends and colleagues from around the world who want to share their ideas and work: this was too good an idea to pass up.

So welcome to ISDT, which we sincerely hope will continue to emulate its Italian inspiration by going for another forty-plus years or longer, and by building an international network of friends, colleagues, supporters and devotees.

What is ISDT?

The International School on Digital Transformation is not meant to be a typical academic conference. Instead of faculty members delivering papers and conventional academic presentations, we’re mostly interested in dialog, and in inspiration, and sharing ideas.

For those reasons, the “spirit” of ISDT is important, meaning how the week makes everyone feel. We’ll be disappointed if most people feel they’ve been to a long conference where they listened to people give lectures. We’ll be satisfied if everyone feels that the dialog has been productive and stimulating, that the free time built into the schedule has been used well, and that the experience is rewarding enough that people want to do it again.

We’ll be really happy if all the participants feel like full participants in something very exciting and novel, in an effort that will branch out in different ways that will reach a lot more people and convey a sense of enthusiasm and purpose.

How well this works depends on everyone who participates. We hope that the program is already interesting and engaging, and we’re confident that the people who are coming are diverse, fascinating, enthusiastic, and all the other qualities we want to share for a week. We hope that the presentations will launch really memorable discussions, both in the formal schedule and outside of it. We want everyone to look forward to whatever is next in the program. And of course everyone should enjoy Porto and the new people they will meet.

We have people coming from all over the world, and people who work in diverse parts of the world, so this is a seed of inspiration and sharing that can spread over the entire globe.

A final hope that is important: everyone at ISDT should be treated as a peer, as an equal, as someone who has expertise and who is a critical part of the success or failure of the program. The faculty list was deliberately configured to include people at early stages of their careers, and people who have been working in a field for a long time. Participants should feel encouraged to share their experiences and their thoughts during the discussion periods, and to engage faculty members outside of the scheduled sessions. We encourage people to get together and discuss topics on their own in informal groups. There should be a kind of blur between the scheduled lectures and the dialog they stimulate.

A week of really intense, memorable and enjoyable conversations would be a success!

-Gary Chapman, 2009