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Business Technology: Does Fine Arts + Comp Sci = A Better Future?

Carnegie Mellon University's new master's program blends the disciplines of the university's top-rated computer-science school with that of its prestigious fine-arts program to yield a master's in entertainment technology.

What do you get if you cross Computer Science with Fine Arts? No, not Jurassic Park, and no, not just JibJab. Instead, how about an emerging discipline called Entertainment Technology, whose practitioners are developing the skills and perspectives to tackle problems typified by these examples:

You're the New York City Fire Department and you want to make your firefighters not only "New York's Bravest" but also the world's best-trained and best-equipped first-response team for handling hazardous-material emergencies. Where do you turn?

You're a Rust Belt state whose world-class universities attract extraordinary students, but each year you watch impotently as they leave because there's no life in that state after graduation: no entrepreneurship, no cutting-edge social life, no jobs, no ... future. Where do you go for help?

You're a parent concerned that the dark side of your child's mastery of computers and the Web is his/her exposure to cybersecurity dangers ranging from spam to viruses to chat-room seducers to pornography. Where might you look for help?

Or you're involved in the IT profession and feel it's getting kinda predictable and uninteresting, and that budget cuts have sucked all the innovation and creativity out of it, and that the magic is gone. Where can you find some inspiration?

One place you could look is Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, home of a new master's program that does indeed blend the disciplines of the university's top-rated computer-science school with that of its prestigious fine-arts program to yield a master's in entertainment technology. While the name, I think, fails to do justice to the curriculum and to the remarkable ideas, projects, and innovations generated by the students, the vision the entire program offers into the potential of blending deep technical knowledge with other disciplines is breathtaking. That's partly because students don't just sit in classes all day--they also engage in a series of projects each semester where they have to work with different classmates on different projects using different platforms. Oh, yes--plus regular field trips out into the "real" world.

And this left-brain, right-brain meld in entertainment technology is exactly what so many IT organizations are striving for today: using IT skills to power stuff outside of IT, such as enhancing business performance and customer intimacy, optimizing supply chains and global operations, identifying new revenue streams and marketing opportunities, and cementing the idea that brilliant technical knowledge can be valuable in itself but is vastly more valuable when paired with a different set of skills and perspectives.

Another example: the ETC is working closely with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's initiatives to offer more-effective hands-on training to medical students by using intelligent dummies (put that one on your oxymoron list, George Carlin!) in concert with team-care "gaming" simulations that give instructors an almost unlimited range of variables to throw at the students. (By the way, a physician at UPMC has found that video-game skills can predict/improve laparoscopic surgery skills.)

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