I’ve just returned from the CCC-organized Symposium on “Computing Research that Changed the World.” (http://www.cra.org/ccc/locsymposium.php) It was a marvelous experience. There were 12 wonderful 15-minute talks that highlighted major achievements in computing in the last 10-20 years, the research advances that enabled them, and the opportunities to move forward in the various fields in the years ahead.
In the morning, Al Spector outlined the technologies that enable us to google, Eric Brewer explained the emergence of the cloud, and Luis von Ahn showed us how captchas are being used to build accurate digital archives of corpuses such as the New York Times. Then Barbara Liskov explained the key ideas and challenges of security in distributed systems, Daphne Koller highlighted some of the myriad applications enabled or enhanced by machine learning, and Jon Kleinberg taught us about the science that underlies social networking and the ways in which those concepts are fueling new applications.
As if that weren’t enough, in the afternoon, Larry Smarr showed some of the major achievements (both scientific and technical) fostered by the nation’s investments in supercomputing for the research community, and highlighted the importance of huge amounts of data and ultra-high bandwidth networking for future progress, Chris Johnson showed us the rapid evolution of visualization techniques and the scientific understanding they have facilitated, and Gene Myers gave a fast summary of genome sequencing past and future and the opportunities to drive progress in molecular biology as a data-driven science. Then Deborah Estrin showed the wondrous new applications that are being enabled by the ubiquity of sensors, and the research challenges that must be met, Pat Hanrahan reminded us of the remarkable evolution of digital media from text to audio to video to photography to HDTV, and Rod Brooks gave us a great summary of the stunning advances in robotics.
The day was spellbinding. I never once opened my laptop. I was reluctant to tell speakers their time was running out when I moderated a session. I was reminded over and over how rich our field is and how fast it continues to evolve. Just as it was when I started out as a student, it’s an exciting time to be in computing.
It’s a beautiful room, but relatively small, so attendance was limited. But it was a great crowd — some senior C.S. faculty, some junior faculty, key former and current NSF people from CISE, from other parts of the Foundation, and from the National Science Board (including current Director Arden Bement and former Director Erich Bloch), Congressional staffers, and a collection of colleagues from other greater Washington organizations. Congressmen Lipinski and Holt were able to join some of us for lunch.
The sessions in the Members Room were followed by a closing session (more like a reception) in the Madison Room. There were some really cool demos there. Ed Lazowska, who had made the opening remarks in the morning, gave a brilliant summary of the day, despite the challenge of talking in a cocktail party setting. Congressman Lipinski also spoke, and gave those not at lunch an opportunity to meet him.
The speakers did an outstanding job in making their talks accessible to that diverse audience. Consequently, these are great talks to share with student audiences, to show them what computing is really about. Those of you that checked might have noticed that there was no webcasting, but the talks and the discussions that followed were videotaped, and will appear on the CCC website soon. I strongly encourage you to take a look!