On the Cutting Edge of High-Tech

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The Computing Research Association recently released a report that lists five “Grand Research Challenges” in high technology. These challenges, which relate to building information systems of the future, provide long-term goals for the research community and read almost like science fiction. Appearing on the list are a post-disaster safety net and “cognitive partners” for humans including robots and software.




The report is the result of a three-day workshop supported by the National Science Foundation, attended by 65 leading computer science and engineering researchers. The invitation-only conference asked attendees to choose five “deliberately monumental” research challenges. Attendees were supposed to choose challenges that would require at least 10 years of concentrated research in order to progress. This workshop was the first in a series of workshops on Grand Challenges for IT research. The next workshop is scheduled for November 2003 and will cover the topic of computer security.




According to the report, the five Grand Challenges are:





  • Create a Ubiquitous Safety.Net: In order to minimize damage from disasters and to save lives, a Web of systems should be in place to predict, prevent, mitigate and respond to natural and man-made disasters.




  • Build a Team of Your Own: Cognitive partnerships of humans with software and robots will allow people to achieve complex goals. The technological agents will help amplify physical capabilities as well as attending to specialized thought processes. This, according to the report, will bring about greater personal productivity and effectiveness.




  • Provide a Teacher for Every Learner: There’s no doubt that learning is now lifelong. This challenge involves helping all students to receive instruction that is tailored to their personal learning styles in “an environment of unlimited digital resources.”




  • Build Systems You Can Count On: Reliable and secure systems are a necessity, and this great challenge is to ensure that all systems—everything from the regional electric grid to individual heart monitors—are reliable and secure.




  • Conquer System Complexity: Large-scale information systems are complex. If researchers can overcome this complexity, they can bring about greater use of information systems and help realize the four preceding challenges.




The report states, “In the future, we can expect our computational infrastructure to offer an even more impressive range of social and economic benefits as it grows to include billions of people worldwide. Information technologies have the potential to reduce energy consumption, provide improved health care at lower cost, enhance security, reduce pollution, enable further creation of worldwide communities, engender new business models and contribute to the education of people anywhere in the world.”




You can find the report at http://www.cra.org/Activities/grand.challenges/.

Emily Hollis is associate editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at ehollis@certmag.com. 

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