MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- Innovation will be key for America to compete globally in computer technology, said panelists at a Microsoft Research event on Tuesday.
The event, called the Microsoft Research Silicon Valley Road Show 2006, also featured demonstrations of technologies in development by the software giant in areas such as Internet search and parallel computing. Panelists from the academic and business communities, meanwhile, offered perspectives on attracting students to technical pursuits, which is an acknowledged problem in the United States, as well as on staying competitive.
American technologists will have to compete by innovation and by looking for the next big breakthrough, said George Johnson, associate dean for special programs in the engineering college at the University of California Berkeley.
"I view globalization as a challenge to really step up and identify, as was mentioned earlier, sort of the cutting edge aspects," Johnson said.
"One out of 10 of those next big things might actually be the next big thing. You have to be pushing and pushing and pushing," Johnson said.
Another panelist, Jim Morris, dean at Carnegie Mellon West, said Silicon Valley prevailed 15 to 20 years ago when there was talk of Japan taking over the computer business. He cited the valley's farming out the production of memory chips to focus on developing more interesting chips.
"It's going to require leadership and nimbleness," to compete in the global environment, Morris said.
America cannot compete on commodity activities, Johnson said. "If that's what we're going to compete on, we don’t have the numbers in this country."
Morris disputed popular contentions that offshoring makes computer science unattractive. One study said offshoring would not make a dent in available jobs; research also has shown a great demand for software engineers, Morris said.
Panelists emphasized offering students flexibility in their academic pursuits to encourage pursuit of technical disciplines. A biology student, for example, also could study technology, said panel moderator Denise Denton, chancellor at the University of California Santa Cruz.
"You really don't have to worry too much about being channeled into one [area of study]," Denton said. "People really surf through boundaries now," she said.
Computer science can cover multiple disciplines, such as using computers to design a vaccine for AIDS, said Rico Malvar, a Microsoft distinguished engineer and director at Microsoft Research.
Among those perusing Microsoft Research projects at the event were some local high school students. Technology projects on display included:
-- Dryad, for parallel programming on large PC clusters. This effort involves making it easier for programmers to program large clusters for applications such as data mining. The project currently is not being applied to wide-area, grid computing, however.
"We're assuming you own all the computers," in the cluster, said Michael Isard, a Microsoft researcher involved in Dryad. The project is currently in a research stage, with no release date set.
-- Wild Thing. This technology for expression matching makes it easier to search the Web by enabling users to enter just a few characters of a query to receive back broad-based data. It recognizes previous searches and is considered ideal for conducting searches from mobile devices.