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Introducing Viktor Mayer-Schönberger: Bringing Cyberspace and Law Together at Harvard University

bridges vol. 2, July 2004 / News from the Network
by Jutta Kern

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Viktor Mayer-SchönbergerThe prospect of an "environment in which academic rigor, originality and performance are appreciated" made Mr. Mayer-Schönberger decide to accept the position of Associate Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1999. His work focuses on business, legal and policy issues of the new economy. He is also an expert on the European Union, especially its regulatory framework and business-government relations.

 

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick - all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest}"At Harvard University, you dare to ask the 'big' questions to fathom things out instead of searching for quick answers." To illustrate the difference between the two academic cultures he adds, "while in Austria, academia is widely carried by risk-averting strategies."
At the same time, Mr. Mayer-Schönberger does not fail to mention that "there are top-notch institutes and departments in Austria. The academic landscape in Austria is not homogenous," he acknowledges, and "of course Harvard University has its problems, too." In clearly rebuffing the widespread myth of Harvard University's unlimited resources, Mr. Mayer-Schönberger speculates that "this impression could well be a ramification of Austria's 'Calimero-Syndrome', the feeling that anyone else is always better off than oneself." He strongly emphasizes that "doing research at Harvard University means constantly applying for grants at foundations and endowments with all the complicated and long peer review processes involved." Besides, "the pressure to publish is tremendous, in terms of both quantity and quality! Not least because also the level of perception is different: publications from Harvard University are looked at by the entire global research community - one just cannot afford to publish in mediocre quality."

Although not part of the U.S. tenure track, Mr. Mayer-Schönberger completed his habilitation nevertheless. He confides to us that it was "a pledge I made to my father, who died in 1992," and also that he takes the academic pledge very seriously: "I still return to the University of Graz's law school, the Austrian academic institution that bestowed the venia docendi upon me in 2001, on a regular basis and accept Ph.D. candidates."

Before moving to Massachusetts, Mr. Mayer-Schönberger served as the first Administrative Dean of the postgraduate program on Legal Informatics at Salzburg University from 1989 to 1990. From 1993 to 1996, he directed the Information Law project at the Austrian Legal Policy Institute, while advising governments on privacy and data protection as well as cryptography, security and digital signature issues. While Mr. Mayer-Schönberger studied law in Salzburg (Mag.iur, '88, Dr.iur '91), Cambridge (UK) and Harvard (LL.M. '89) and received an M.Sc. (Econ) from the London School of Economics in 1992, his strong interest in technology led him to found Ikarus Software in 1986. The company released "Virus Utilities," which soon became best-selling software in Austria and resulted in Mr. Mayer-Schönberger being voted one of the Top 5 Software Entrepreneurs in Austria in 1991 by the business magazine Trend. The State of Salzburg named him Person of the Year in 2000.

Together with Lewis Branscomb, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger chairs the Rueschlikon Conference on Information Policy in the New Economy, which annually brings together leading strategists and decision makers of the new economy. There, he tells bridges, he can start a conversation with people like Dave Clark, the research scientist who invented the Internet protocol in the 1970s, which ends up in a profound discussion on the problem of spam. "Having intellectual dialogues like this is the point where I really feel enabled to influence and change things - I would not have the same opportunities if I had stayed in Austria."

The Law of Cyberspace (1997, in German) is one of the seven books Mr. Mayer-Schönberger, age 38, has published. He is also the author of over 70 articles on the legal and political aspects of modern information and communication technologies.

Asked for his advice for upcoming young researchers, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger suggests: "Leave! Go out into the world and broaden your views! It doesn't have to be the USA; be it Asia, Africa, a European country or Latin America - whatever place one goes to, one will benefit greatly from it!"

Related links:
David Clark: http://www.lcs.mit.edu/people/bioprint.php3?PeopleID=81
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger Biography at Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government: http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/iip/Biographies/vms.html
Rueschlikon Conference on Information Policy in the New Economy: http://www.rueschlikon-conference.org
Viktor Mayer-Schönberger's private web site: http://www.vmsweb.net/vms_main.html


The interview with Mr. Mayer-Schönberger was conducted in German.{/access}

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