Presidential series: Exclusive Interview with Professor Dr. Heinz Zemanek

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Professor Heinz Zemanek served as IFIP President from 1971 to 1974. In 1998, he became the third IFIP Auerbach Award recipient.


Delivery Co.: (1) During your tenure as IFIP President what, in your opinion, were the most significant IFIP developments and activities?

H. Zemanek: The developments during my term (and during my vice-presidency while I was a kind of acting assistant to President Dorodnicyn ) are described in extenso in the 25 Years Volume of IFIP. Here is only a list of keywords:

TC 4, TC 6, TC 7, TC 9 (First conference Human Choice and Computers), Congresses 71 and 74, MEDINFO 74, IFIP Summaries 1971 and 1974, Congress 80 held in two continents, IFIP Technical Day, IFIP Silver Core, IFIP Annual Report, FIACC, APC, Cognizant Persons.

Delivery Co.: (2) Are you currently interested in IFIP? If so, are there any developments, which you like in particular and you feel should be encouraged?

H. Zemanek: It is evident that the transition from the main frame to the PC and further to the general network of them (the Internet) changed the character of IFIP’s subject, the nature of information processing: consequently the federation has the duty to adapt to the new situation. The global interconnections increase the importance of global cooperation and so increase the significance and value of IFIP.

The future additional area of similar importance is tele-operation. He who dials a phone number or selects an Internet address, triggers tele-operation: certain switches establish the interconnection. It is easy to imagine the generalization to other kinds of distant action. It is less easy and will take some time (but it will come) to standardize the actions and their commands. This will trigger a new era of information technology. TC6 of IFIP was instrumental to start the internet – IFIP, I am sure, will establish a TC to prepare this new era.

Yes, I am still interested in IFIP and I keep close relationships to the IFIP Director and Laxenburg. In my archive - see(3) – I have an unusual collection of IFIP documents ( some were destroyed against my intentions, e.g. my TC 2 and WG 2.1 documents ).

Delivery Co.: (3) Are there any specific issues you find important for IFIP to address?

H. Zemanek: The issue I would propose to the heart of IFIP is information technology for handicapped people (under which name ever ). There are initiatives and some results, in IFIP itself and more so in some member societies, but IFIP as a whole has not put enough weight on this subject which is one of the most worthwhile and human issues that exist in our field.

We do not have enough ladies in our profession and we need more female spirit. My idea is not to have ladies imitating man (men can do the male jobs better). We need more of the intuition, of the generality, of the users view, of the female users view (as specialists men are good enough) ladies dispose of. That is not achieved by electing 50% ladies in our committees.

And this leads to the wish I have expressed in the 36 Years Volume: IFIP should press to regain the universal nature of the IFIP congress which they had in the first years – not an agglomeration of three special conferences. Information technology is all-embracing. Our specialists can not have a sufficient appetite for this line.

Let me come back to the spirit of our founder: in a time period of American predominance in computer technology and in an era of "cold war", I.L. Auerbach conceived and created an instrument of cooperation and mutual understanding ( including the "enemy" ) which was also a tool of peace: people who understand information technology know the importance of global cooperation and are workers for peace. This idea of Auerbach is as actual today as it had been in his time. Auerbach had to convince his contemporaries to join his tool. IFIP has to detect the present nature of this Auerbach principle and to implement the tool necessary for our days.

The cooperation with the successor nations of USSR and with China is as urgent as 40 years ago. I think it is not powerful enough. And there are further gaps to be bridged.

Only one idea (South America would be another): The Islamic world is not yet strong in information technology and has, due to its philosophical base, lots of obstacles to master before getting stronger. A cold war of different nature may develop. People who understand information technology in those countries will be workers for peace for the same reason: they will recognize the need for global cooperation and mutual understanding. But without promotion by IFIP, this process may go much to slowly for all involved respects.

Delivery Co.: (4) Please share with us a few words about yourself at present

H. Zemanek: I am retired from IBM since 1985, but I not only continue to lecture at my Vienna University of Technology (where I read since 1947 – more than 50 years, and during all that time I also have a room in the electrotechnical building), I publish and I am an (all too often) invited speaker. The subjects on which I lecture now are the same which I would name as my present main fields of interest and as my hobbies: history of information technology and automata with computers, of course, as center of gravity; human aspects of our field (relationships between brain and computer); and theory of design which I call abstract architecture (what makes a design a good design?).

Over the last years I suffered a sad defeat: in my attempt to start an Archive for the History of Information Technology in Austria (including its relationships to the world development, USA in particular). In spite of the support by the ministry of research (an area of 2600 sqft had been rented) the effort did not succeed and I withdrew from it, saving my material – the main body of the archive content when I left – to my university where I got (in two steps) the necessary space and furniture. But this is a mausoleum rather than an archive: a storage of dead material without custodians. There is too little interest for history in our time and there are no people willing to contribute to the enterprise (even if paid).

I was appointed IFIP historian. That is not a voluminous job. In my opinion history is an elementary subject. Whatever it is: understanding its nature is only possible by knowing its history. Our time ignores this fundamental truth, and my experiences (like the ones described above) inhibited the inclusion of the subject history under (3).It would have been a useless repetition.

I trust in the life of IFIP, simply because it is a need for society to be aware of information technology, to foster it beyond the immediate technological nature, and to do this in international, in global cooperation (if there is any global village: IFIP is the global village). The IFIP headquarters (I witnessed its growth from London and Geneva to Laxenburg) has been made an excellent tool and offers still much more than actually used. Information Technology has a big future and IFIP has a big future. Find the right people – and it will prosper.