Computer Science at the World Economic Forum

March 18th, 2012 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

Stephanie Forrest, University of New MexicoThe following is a special contribution to the CCC Blog by Stephanie Forrest, professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico — and until recently, a member of the CCC Council. Stephanie attended the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Annual Meeting earlier this year, and she writes about her experiences here. 

U.S. computer science and engineering was well represented at January’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Several academic computer scientists were invited to participate in sessions known as Idea Labs, each of which was organized around a single theme and institution. Tomaso Poggio and Alex Pentland participated in a session titled “Worms, Machines and Brains with MIT”; Justine Cassell, Pradeep Khosla, Tom Mitchell and Manuela Veloso comprised a session on “Leveraging Human-Machine Collaboration with Carnegie-Mellon University”; and I spoke in the session titled “Managing Complexity with the Santa Fe Institute.” Each 75-minute session consisted of a short introduction, usually by the university’s president, followed by (very) short talks from each presenter, and then breakout sessions following up on the talks.

The World Economic Forum [image courtesy www.weforum.org].Each talk was in the visual “Pecha Kucha” format — five minutes, pictures only, slides automatically change every 20 seconds — a major challenge for those of us accustomed to giving 50 minute talks with graphs, proofs, and pseudo-code. In addition to the Idea Labs, many of the scientists spoke in specialized sessions and panels on related topics. For example, Poggio was one of two speakers in a session devoted to “The Mind and the Machine”; and I was a panelist in a session on “Risks in a Hyperconnected World” focusing on cybersecurity. My remarks on “biological models for software security” elicited questions from an immunologist, the Chief of Europol (the European Police Office), a Vice President of the European Commission, and the CEO of a large multi-national corporation. The participants in these sessions were well-acquainted with the economic and legal issues surrounding cybersecurity and cyberattacks, but there was little discussion of the increasing role played by cybersecurity issues in international relations, the rise of Internet censorship, etc.

Attending the Forum was a refreshing change from academic computer science, and we all have entertaining stories of chance encounters with famous people we had never heard of, and some we had. A recent article in The New Yorker captures the tone of the meeting nicely. Yes, the parties were awesome!