A group of British computer scientists have proposed a number of "grand challenges" for IT that they hope will drive forward research, similar to the way the human genome project drove life sciences research through the 1990s. Ambitious goals include harnessing the power of quantum physics, building systems that can't go wrong, and simulating living creatures in every detail.
A grand challenge is a goal recognized one or two decades in advance, achievement of which represents a major milestone in the advance of knowledge or technology, according to a report describing seven grand challenges to inspire and direct IT research, released Tuesday by the British Computer Society (BCS).
Some of the challenges identified by the academics are of commercial interest to the computer industry, most notably the development of dependable systems, and of systems that model or behave like living organisms.
To achieve the goal of building dependable computer systems, the scientists suggest building a verifying compiler, a tool that proves automatically that a program is correct before allowing it to run -- something first written about in the 1950s.
Other themes include the following:
-- Architecture of brain and mind: Once seen as a matter for philosophical debate, explaining the connection between the brain (as computing machinery) and the mind (as a virtual software machine) is increasingly becoming a scientific problem of interest in the development of information processing systems;
-- Memories for life: As we all accumulate personal digital memories such as e-mail and photos, it will become necessary to manage the information gathered over a human lifetime. The challenge is to allow people to gain maximum benefit from these auxiliary memories, while maintaining their privacy;
-- In vivo - in silico: Through the human genome project, IT has already brought life sciences forward by leaps and bounds, but the next step is to make possible the computer simulation of entire living organisms, allowing scientists to examine a plant, animal or colony of cells in virtual reality, from the cellular scale on upwards, and at different speeds from freeze-frame to faster than life;
-- Science for global ubiquitous computing: Many of us already carry several computing devices (cell phone, laptop, organizer) that communicate with one another and with others further afield, but such communications sometimes fail, as software interacts in unexpected ways. The goal of this challenge is to develop a scientific basis for the design and engineering of a global, ubiquitous computing infrastructure so that the results of interactions between devices are entirely predictable -- or, simply put, that they work as we want them to;
-- Scalable ubiquitous computing systems: Not only do we want our devices to interact predictably and reliably, we also want them to interact with every other conceivable device -- but the complexity of many systems grows much faster than the number of nodes in the system. Computing engineers need scalable design principles: developing and applying them is the goal of this challenge;