Jesse Schell Delivers Keynote Speech at INI Diploma Ceremony (Video and Transcript)

May 23, 2014

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INI alumnus Jesse Schell (MS4), the founder of Schell Games and a distinguished professor at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, addressed the graduates of the Information Networking Institute's 24th class on May 18, 2014.

View the speech on the INI's YouTube Channel.


"Wow. Hi, everybody. I can't tell you how weird this is for me. I was MS4. And here I am looking at MS24, right in front of me. There's a lot more of you. We thought there were a bunch of us back then. There were 36 students, and no one had ever seen such a big INI class before. But, there's a few more of you now!"

"I thought I would start by talking a little bit about the history of INI because I'm not sure that everybody knows the history. INI was not an idea that came out of Carnegie Mellon, initially. INI was an idea that came out of Bell Communications Research. There was a vice president there who, he observed that, at Bell Communications Research and at Bell Labs, they had a real problem. He observed that they had three different types of employees: computer scientists, electrical engineers, and MBAs. And he realized that they were very bad at talking to each other, and that it was a huge problem for the company. And so, he had a vision of a program that would blend these different pursuits together, so that people who had an undergraduate degree in any of these could come together, and work with each other, and learn each other's disciplines. So that hopefully they would become the future leaders at Bell Labs."

"He put a team together, and they went all around the country looking for the right university. They went to a dozen different colleges. They decided, hands down, that Carnegie Mellon would be the best choice because not only did it have excellent schools in all of these disciplines, but it had a celebration of blending different things together. It really had a focus on interdisciplinary.  And so, that was how the INI started."

"And so, I was at Bell Communications Research when this had begun. And I had no interest in information networking, at all. So, how did I get involved in this? I had an undergraduate degree in computer science. I was very focused on artificial intelligence. That's what brought me to Bell Labs. But when I was working with them, I said, 'Look, I would really like to find a way to go to graduate school, and I'd love to go for artificial intelligence.' And they said, 'No, that's not gonna happen. But we do have this information networking thing.'  And I thought, 'Man, I do not care about that at all.' Right? You gotta remember, it's 1992. There's no Internet… eh, there's Internet, but there's no Web yet. It was not interesting to me at all."

"But I went away and I thought about it. And when I would think about things, I liked to play pinball when I would think. And I was playing pinball, and I was thinking, 'No, I don't want to do information networking, what I'd really like to do is make things like this pinball machine.' I started thinking, 'Yeah, that would be great. How would I do that? Well, I'd have to have a bunch of sensors, and they'd have to detect things, and they need to communicate through wires. And, oh my God, it's information networking… And so I decided, 'Alright, I'm going to do it. I'm gonna go for it." So that was what brought me to the INI initially, and I ended up focusing on virtual reality and how you can network virtual reality systems together, which has been very useful to me. In my computer game work, certainly."

"One of the last things that happened to me while I was at INI was Professor Marvin Sirbu, who was one of the early faculty running the INI. He called me aside. This was probably a month before I graduated. And he said, 'Hey, hey, I want you to check this out. Something. Something different.' And I said, 'What is it?' And he said, 'Check this out!' And it was the Mosaic web browser. And I had never seen a web browser before, and he had just found a way to install it a few days ago. And he said, 'Yeah, look at this! I think this might be big.' And it turns out, yeah, he was right. There was something to that."

"And it's very strange for me, looking back twenty years now at that day when I first saw a web browser at the INI, and you think how much the Web and associated technologies have changed the world. They've changed everything about us."

"They've changed the way we talk to each other. They've changed they way we work. It's changed the way we play. You know, with dating systems, it's changed the way people fall in love. It's changed the way that everybody communicates. It's changed the way we go to war. It's changed the way we save lives."

"There's a number of people who are of the opinion that the Egyptian revolution would not have happened without social networking. These technologies make a tremendous difference. And really, they've just started."

"When I think about how different things were twenty years ago as to how they are now, I want you to think forward twenty years from now. They're going to change much, much more than we've seen in the last twenty years. In the next twenty years we're going to see incredible changes in the nature of computer networking, and you guys are going to be the ones to do it."

"I want you to always remember how important the work you do is because on one level, sure, it's just computers and you're just programming computers, but that's not really what you're doing, is it?  That's not what information networking is. What you're doing is you're connecting people. And when you connect people incredible things happen."

"And so, I look back over these last 20 years and we've seen so many things. And you're going to see so many more. You're going to see the creation and destruction of billion dollar empires. Your work is going to save lives. And your work is certainly going to change the lives of so many people. So, I know many people are excited. They're graduating from INI! They're going to be able to go into a career where they make a lot of money, and that's very exciting. Money is exciting. And some people are excited because they're going to work in jobs that are going to be super fun. And that can be very exciting. But what I also want you to think about is how your work is going to affect people. Because it is. There's no doubt about it. The work you do is important and it's going to change lives."

"So, I ask you as you go forward today, to go forward with eyes open with an awareness of the importance of your work. And I ask that you do your utmost to keep in mind the impact that your great work is going to have on our little world. Thank you."