2011年9月20日星期二

Introduction to the Grand Challenges

http://www.bcs.org/content/ConWebDoc/4688

Summary


These web pages are a record of the Conference 'Grand Challenges in Computing 2006' (GCC06) held in Glasgow on 22-24 March 2006.


The reports summarise progress and present future plans for the Research and Education Grand Challenges established at the preceding conference GCC04 [1,2] held in Newcastle on 29-31 March 2004. They also present some new Challenges proposed at GCC06.


Introduction


There can be little doubt that the invention and exploitation of the digital computer was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, facilitating the day-to-day operation of business, world-wide communication, international security, finance, entertainment, and supporting advances in many other fields, particularly science, technology and medicine.


Computers have evolved from highly specialised pieces of equipment that only governments and the largest companies could afford to the ubiquitous personal computers now accessible in over 80% of households in the UK and given away free (or at very low cost) in devices like mobile phones.


All sectors of western economies responded to the potential of computing technology, including the education sector.


In the UK, computing became a significant feature of almost every higher education institution, and students wanted to study it in large numbers, encouraged by the employment prospects available on graduation.


The discipline of computing also developed, initially with a focus on core hardware and software technologies, but rapidly broadening out to embrace the technologies needed for a wide range of industrial applications and business solutions.


Nearly 30,000 students applied to enter higher education to read computing in 2000/1. Computing was pre-eminent.


But in the 21st century the computing climate changed, particularly in higher education. A 'dot-com' crash precipitated a severe decline in the number of applications to study computing within higher education, resulting in computing departments being restructured and significantly reduced in size.


Computer scientists, having invented something truly useful, now saw their invention perceived as a routine piece of domestic furniture rather than something that retained complex technical challenges.


Simultaneously, The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) [3] reduced the level of funding for university computing by 35%, which had a much greater impact on computing than other science and technology subjects.


In research, the rise of exciting inter-disciplinary initiatives using e-science - the use of very large data sets, large computing resources and high performance visualisation across global collaborations - facilitated new application areas in astronomy, biosciences, environmental science, finance and healthcare. These attracted funds and attention away from ‘core’ computing subjects. Computing was in danger of becoming subordinate.


Yet contrary to the popular perception, demand for computer scientists (concerned with the core hardware and software technologies), computing and information technology specialists (who have the technological knowledge necessary for a wide range of industrial applications and business solutions) and skilled computer users remains high.


In 2004, e-skills and the Gartner Group published a report [4] on perceived skills shortages in computing. The report highlights:



  • the significant number of people needed each year to enter the computing workforce, filling increasingly complex, high added value jobs;

  • the rapidly changing skills necessary in that workforce, particularly a broadening and deepening of skills from those entering the workforce from the UK, noting the increased use of offshoring to satisfy demand for lower level skills;

  • the fundamental strategic importance of computing technologies to UK companies, but the relatively poor take-up of advanced skills by business;

  • the need for ongoing skills development within the workforce;

  • the importance of IT literacy to the population as a whole, noting the current levels of functional illiteracy and innumeracy in the UK population;

  • the need for unprecedented, government-enabled collaboration with educators and employers working together in new models of partnership.


At the same time, the UK Computing Research Committee (UKCRC) sought to promote fundamental research in computer science by developing a set of Research Grand Challenges. After extensive, community-wide interaction and discussion, a set of six Research Challenges emerged.


These were presented to, and endorsed by, the UK's computing research community at the GCC04 conference. They were recognised as embodying demanding goals which, if reached, would represent major advances in computing theory and engineering, with many important practical implications. Furthermore, they would act as focuses of work that would stimulate much-needed critical mass in research effort.


It was also evident that there were issues in computing education that called for grand challenge effort, so three Education Grand Challenges were presented, alongside the Research ones, at GCC04.


Alongside these specific challenges there is an over-arching challenge: how the Council of Professors and Heads of Computing (CPHC) (which exists to promote public education of computing and its applications and to provide a forum for those responsible for management and research in university computing departments)
with the UKCRC and the BCS can promote the resurgence of computing as an academic discipline which:



  1. offers exciting opportunities that inspire students to develop their full potential;

  2. conducts leading-edge research in the core concepts and technologies of computing and their wider application;

  3. is at the heart of the technology necessary to enhance the UK's future prosperity.


How will the discipline rise to this challenge?


First, we have to work with some key external sectors, including schools, to challenge perceptions of computing and build profile for it. Schoolchildren approach computing as users but are seldom stimulated to progress significantly beyond that stage, either to harness the full power of the technology or to help develop it further.


By working with our industrial partners we aim both to promote computing as a stimulating subject for study, with the expectation of good career opportunities, and to produce 'industry ready' graduates.


Secondly, as the opportunities for computing research become more numerous in collaboration with other academic disciplines, we need to engage with our academic partners to take advantage of the beneficial synergies and stimulate an enterprising culture in computing research.


Thirdly, we need to engage with many partners, but particularly HEFCE and the Government, to resolve the tension between the autonomous nature of universities (free to provide education for which they perceive greatest demand) and the need to promote subjects that are manifestly in the national interest.


The challenges reported in the ensuing record of GCC06 build on these themes. They are indeed grand challenges.


By Keith Mander, general conference chair, and CPHC chair
University of Kent
April 2006


References


[1] Grand Challenges in Computing: Research 
(eds Tony Hoare and Robin Milner). Published by BCS, 2004.


[2] Grand Challenges in Computing: Education 
(eds Andrew McGettrick, Roger Boyle, Roland Ibbett, John Lloyd,
Gillian Lovegrove and Keith Mander). Published by BCS, 2004.


[3] HEFCE circular 2003/42


[4] IT insights: trends and UK skills implications, e-skills UK and Gartner Consulting, Nov 2004

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