Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

PCAST Updating 2010 Report on Federal NITRD Program

September 7th, 2012 / in big science, policy, research horizons, resources / by Erwin Gianchandani

From left to right at the head of the table (far end), Peter Lee, Susan L. Graham, and David E. Shaw present to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) this morning.The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) heard this morning from Susan L. Graham (UC Berkeley and the Computing Community Consortium), Peter Lee (Microsoft Research), and David E. Shaw (D.E. Shaw & Co.), co-chairs of a small PCAST working group assessing the status and direction of the nation’s Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program. The objectives of the working group, which is producing a short update to the comprehensive report on the NITRD program that PCAST issued in December 2010 as required by law, are three-fold: to understand what has transpired in the nearly two years since the last report (both in terms of policy and technological advances), to assess the government’s response to the recommendations in that report, and to propose additional recommendations and identify emerging research areas. Graham, Lee, and Shaw focused their short remarks primarily on the process they are undertaking, but there were a few teasers of what could be in the eventual update, expected sometime in November.

Graham began by noting key advances in networking and information technology in just the last two years (following the link):

“[Because of the pace of advances in this field] two years is a very long time for networking and information technology. Just look at some of the things that have happened — we now have the Curiosity rover exploring Mars. That constitutes a triumph for computer robotics [as well as other areas of computing]…


“We are being flooded with data in electronic form. We’ve made a lot of progress in understanding that — in understanding how you take raw data and begin to learn things from it. We have a long way to go, but a lot has [already] happened.


“And we now have these MOOCs — massive open online courses. Two years ago, nobody would have thought that we would be enrolling hundreds of thousands of students and would have thousands of students completing a course at the same time. That’s also made possible by networking and information technology.”

Lee elaborated in some detail on one particular emerging area — “social computing“:

“One of the areas highlighted in the 2010 report is understanding of collaboration between very large numbers of people and networked systems — it’s called ‘social computing’ within the National Science Foundation (NSF).


“In 2009, [the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or] DARPA started some experimentation — the DARPA Network Challenge — which was strangely enough a massive balloon hunt that was attempting to crowdsource ideas without any access to satellites or any other airborne surveillance technology. And there was an amazing amount that we learned from that.


“And since then, many government and private experiments — one notable one is DARPA’s Manufacturing Challenge which led to crowdsourced design of a new military transport vehicle.


“As these experiments have emerged, a science is starting to emerge around this area of social computing — and a mathematical and algorithmic understanding that allows us to have predictive power in such large conglomerations of people and networked machines is starting to emerge. And this has fairly significant implications for the future.


“So a new science — if we look in just one area, we see fairly significant progress emerging.”

Beyond the research directions, Graham noted that the working group is revisiting some of the other issues covered within the 2010 report — notably the strengths and limitations of the framework and coordination mechanisms enabled by NITRD, as well as the role of Federal investment in networking and information technology R&D and how Federal agencies account for this investment. There are “some areas in which we’ve found spectacular progress,” Graham said — highlighting the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) during a short Q&A session that followed the prepared remarks — and there are others where things may be moving more slowly but “we are getting [helpful] insight into why.”

Also this morning, PCAST heard about public-private partnerships, including US Ignite, and the role of prizes in inducing innovation.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

PCAST Updating 2010 Report on Federal NITRD Program

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