Your faithful correspondent recently attended the paired ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science 2010 and UKCRC Grand Challenges conferences at Edinburgh University. (Due to volcanic ash and the resulting travel snarls, this correspondent’s stay in the UK has been extended longer than expected!)
The Visions conference was designed to highlight research visions for the future and consisted of invited plenaries and submitted talks. The plenaries were extremely well done. Ross Anderson spoke about the integration of social issues and computing in the design of increasingly complex systems, using numerous examples from history and economic theory. Nicolò Cesa-Bianchi explored frontiers in machine learning, Jon Kleinberg spoke about the future of social networks, and Barbara Liskov provided a very interesting retrospective on the work that lead to her Turing Award coupled with lessons from this work for the future.
The UKCRC Grand Challenges effort has been underway since 2002; Sir Tony Hoare and Robin Milner (the conferences began with a very nice tribute to him) started the effort following Hoare’s attendance at CRA’s first grand challenges workshop. The UK effort has been considerably more structured than similar efforts in the US: there is a steering committee, a group of topics was selected, leadership committees were created, funding was obtained for activities and, over time, road maps for research in each area were developed. Status results were presented and the results have been mixed. Some areas, e.g., Dependable Systems Evolution, are seen as quite active and self-sustaining. Others, e.g., Ubiquitous Computing, seem to have faded with research still ongoing but not focused by the grand challenges effort. It is not clear whether the grand challenge model has generated any substantive additional research funding for the selected challenges.
The conference addressed the status of ongoing efforts as well as discussions about new ones including tele-health, IT & Global Climate Change and Computing for 9 Billion People. The steering committee will select which ones to advance; finding a strong advocate will be a key selection criterion. Interestingly these more recent proposed grand challenges are definitely focused on societal problems rather than computing ones.
Both of these efforts are directly related to the activities of CCC in envisioning and promoting research futures in computing.
(Contributed by Andy Bernat, Executive Director of CRA)