Currently Mihai Nadin is a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, appointed to the Ashbel Smith Professorship in Interactive Arts, Technology, and Computer Science. He is director of the Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems. Nadin is also a member of the Advisory Committee of University of the People.
Born in Braşov, Romania, Nadin was educated under the communist regime imposed after World War II. He studied electrical engineering, telecommunications and computer science, as well as studying at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. He took a Master of Science with honors. He studied philosophy at the University of Bucharest, receiving a Master of Arts; then received his doctoral degree with a specialization in aesthetics. He attended the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, studying for a post-doctoral degree (“Habilitierung”) with Professor Dr. Wolfgang Stegmüller in Philosophy, Logic, and the Theory of Science. His dissertation was entitled The Semiotic Foundation of Value Theory.
Nadin’s contributions to human-computer interaction (HCI) have a strong foundation in semiotics. Based on his work in Peircean semiotics and his training in computer science, Nadin was the first to recognize that the computer was the “semiotic machine par excellence”. His work in the field serve as a standard reference for working groups in semiotics and HCI.
A conceptualist, Nadin’s first work in semiotics was rather on the theory than in application. Due to the interest of Europeans, especially of Germans under the aegis of Max Bense, Nadin was attracted to the work of the American polymath and philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Under the influence of Bense, Nadin’s early work in semiotics was dedicated to a rigorous foundation for the advancement of Peirce’s semiotic.
Published in 1997 by Dresden University Press, The Civilization of Illiteracy provides a systemic view of the age of computation and information processing. The book has been translated—in its entirety or in part—into several languages. Since its publication, many of the book’s predictions were realized: the competitive drive towards higher efficiency leads to the change from the economy of satisfying needs to that of meeting ever-higher expectations; networking (not only via Internet) became the locus of innovation, as well as social interaction; the interconnected future redefines knowledge acquisition and leisure through digital newspapers, the eBook, the digital library, music, digital TV; the ubiquity of computation; genetic engineering; a new human condition arising from interaction with technology. The book advances a model of education for the age of the networked society (as currently implemented in the activity of the University of the People). The leading German journal BrandEins, in a 2015 interview (following up on Nadin’s predictions of 2003) confirmed the new stage in which the computer evolved into the ubiquitous smartphone. Reviews of the book highlight the unifying thesis: the centuries-long hegemony of traditional literate habits of meaning-making is coming to an end. It cannot encompass the scale of complexity that is the hallmark of our emerging global civilization. That complexity is born from the exponential effects of networking billions of people, artifacts, and human enterprises, economically and communicatively. In such a complex dynamical system, non-linearities become salient: We can no longer expect outcomes to be simply proportional to inputs, or the properties of wholes to be wholly predictable from knowledge of their constituent parts. Nadin’s ‘civilization of illiteracy’ is partly a description of the present, when literacy has become a much smaller fraction of the total mediation of our activity in society, and partly a projection for the future. He predicts that a much more heterogeneous mix of semiotic regimes and cultural styles will barely suffice to keep pace with the practical demands of life in a brave new world that he was the first to label post-literate.
Nadin has opposed the viewpoint that tools that are extensions of human physical abilities, the computer should be considered an extension of the human mind. He founded the world’s first program in Computational Design in 1994 at the University of Wuppertal (Germany). Its purpose was twofold: 1. development of a theory of computational design; 2. the design of products and processes through digital means. These products and processes themselves integrate digital technology (they are embedded systems). Thus, the program’s long-term goal is the constitution of the world of ubiquitous computing.
Nadin’s actual work in what was to become “computational design” started around 1985, with his appointment as Eminent Scholar in Art & Design Technology at the Ohio State University (Columbus). One of his major assignments there was to draw up a plan for a center in which research in the art and design possibilities of digital technology would serve as an intermediary between education and applications for art and industry. The result of his investigations was a broad plan entitled Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. His plan was not limited to computer-aided design and animation, but extended to digitally aided visualization for the sciences, technology, medicine, education, as well as art and design. (OSU kept Nadin's title for the Center, but limited its activities to computer graphics and animation.) In 1999, Nadin and colleagues presented a framework for a design program to Stanford University.
At the Rhode Island School of Design, Nadin made a name for himself as one of the first proponents, in the nation, of integrating computers in education. He lectured on the topic around the USA and consulted for several institutes of higher education (Rochester Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Oregon, Hadassah University in Israel, among others) in setting up programs in art and design with computers.
Prior to the widespread use of the Internet, Nadin developed several computer-aided educational aids. Docent, a HyperCard based software program, was integrated in the CD-ROM for interactive learning. (Docent is a metaphor for interactive learning and teaching.) Both Docent and MetaDocent were first developed for the videodisc medium. MetaDocent gave users the possibility to create individualized image/text files. The indexing of image, sound, navigation, and especially the possibility to produce an individualized record (through an integrated Notebook application) were unique at the time
Based on the fact that play is serious work for the very young, Nadin initiated a program in Toy Design at SUNY - Fashion Institute of Technology to train designers to develop the minds of the very young through all the senses. He also insisted on integrating the (then) new digital technology into toys for pre-school and school-age children so that they could experience the possibilities of digital technology beyond mere computer games.
Anticipation is the focus of Nadin’s most recent research. Parallel to the pioneering work of Robert Rosen regarding anticipatory systems, Nadin researched the anticipatory characteristics of the human mind and anticipatory behaviors. After research at Stanford University, he developed possibilistic models for market processes, auction models, and real-time radio-astronomy data processing.
He founded the antÉ - Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems in 2002. In 2004, he brought it to the University of Texas at Dallas. A major project involving anticipatory systems is entitled Seneludens, which aims at maintaining anticipatory capabilities in the aging through the creation of virtual interactive environments.
antÉ lab-first known quantification of anticipatory characteristics
The antÉ Lab pursues the quantification of anticipatory characteristics pertinent to human activity, aging, performance evaluation.
In 2012 he founded the Study Group on Anticipation at the Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg/Hanse Institute for Advanced Study (Delmenhorst, Germany). In this framework, he organized three international conferences: Anticipation: Learning from the past. The Russian/Soviet contributions to the science of anticipation; The Interdisciplinary Perspective; Anticipation and Medicine.