Archive for June, 2005

PITAC no more?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

As was reported last Friday by Federal Computer Week, the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) , which was established during the Clinton adminstration, was not renewed after its authorization expired June 1st. This surprised not a few people, especially because no hint was given as to whether there is any intension to restart or reconstitute the group. But just the decision to let this important advisory body lapse, even temporarily, adds another note of alarm to a growing list of such notes that our community has been following over the past year.

Many past PITAC recommendations have been implemented in whole or in part, and they have validated the committee’s value in strengthening US IT efforts. The most recent report, released just last week, presented the work of PITAC’s Computational Science subcommitee, chaired by Dan Reed of the Univeristy of North Carolina. In his comments to CTWatch yesterday about the lamentable lapse in PITAC’s authorization, Dan reiterated the importance of the committee to the national IT agenda:

Today, I believe the U.S. faces substantial challenges to its long-term competitiveness and research leadership. The PITAC computational science report [from last week] reflects those concerns. We must be coordinated advocates for strategic planning and investment in the computing future. PITAC’s renewal is part of that process. Otherwise, as Santayana noted, we will be condemned to repeat the past.

 

Microsoft to tap Asian innovation

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Bill Gates recently announced plans for Microsoft to invest in software research in Japan through the establishment of a Microsoft Institute for Japanese Academic Research Collaboration (IJARC). The Institute will involve a handful of top IT Japanese universities and will leverage Japan’s already strong expertise in mobile and consumer electronics. Stating that research is easier to conduct overseas, Gates didn’t reveal how much Microsoft is planning to spend on this effort.

This new investment suggests that beyond the purely economic value of investing in Asian expertise, Gates is perhaps acknowledging that more new, innovative ideas are to be found abroad compared to right here at home, especially from the academic sector. In addition, he’s investing in how people will interact with computers and information technology in the future. So what does this have to do with cyberinfrastructure? Gates is clearly betting on the next generation of interfaces and AI for future IT. The plan, according to Gates, is for the new institute to develop natural language and speech recognition, graphics, and user interface software.

Such technology is likely to play a crucial role in the overall fabric of cyberproduction in the decades to come.

A tip of the hat goes to InfoWorld.

Reinventing the Internet

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

Today’s Federal Computer Week includes a story about an NSF-funded research project being done by David Clark of MIT. Clark, according to FCW, will be conducting a preliminary study into what computer scientists can do to create a new Internet architecture. In the long run, it seems that this effort is an attempt to answer the question “If we knew back then what we know now, what would we have done differently?” Also from the story: “NSF’s agenda includes a proposal for creating a new office devoted to cyber infrastructure. But the agency’s tight budget could thwart such projects, some observers say.”

A copper topper

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Technology Review covers the emerging realm of silicon-based optical connections in its current issue.

The take:

[E]xisting optical components, which are made out of such exotic semiconductors as gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, are far too expensive for use in individual computers or even local networks. If you could make optical devices out of silicon, which is cheap and, at least for a company like Intel, easy to manufacture, that would change everything… Companies would likely exploit that capability first by replacing copper connections with optical links in networks. But eventually, silicon photonics might also replace copper wires between processors within a single chip.

Pat Gelsinger, a senior VP at Intel, has a vision: “Silicon to us, it’s maybe not a religious experience, but it’s pretty close. Silicon has proven cost effective, scalable, durable, manufacturable and has all sorts of other wonderful characteristics… Today, optics is a niche technology. Tomorrow it’s the mainstream of every chip that we build.”

Still holding strong on computing power

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

The previous post on the PITAC report that states US prowess in computational science is on the decline doesn’t mean all aspects are on the decline. Though raw computing power is just one component of computational science, to some it is the most important. In that vein, the latest Top500 list of supercomputers suggests that US dominance in this sector isn’t waning. With IBM once again flexing enormous muscle, Big Blue not only holds the first and second positions but they command nearly 60% of the total installed performance with over 50% of the total systems on the list. Hewlett-Packard is second in both performance and number of systems. The number of US installed machines on the latest list increased 5% since November’s list going from 267 to 294 machines, which continues a recent trend.

The latest Top500 list can be found at the Top500 website - http://www.top500.org/

Relinquishing the lead in computational science

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

The US Office of Science and Technology has released the PITAC (President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee) report that focuses on computational technology. This new report, aptly titled Computational Science: Ensuring America’s Competitiveness, calls for an overhaul of the existing models for computational collaboration and funding within industry, academia, and government.

Citing the lack of clear vision for computational science in the US and increased globalization in computational technology production, the report examines where the US is going with respect to computational capability. Mentioning complacency, lack of organization, and the lack of understanding of what computational science is all about, the committee

believes that the Nation’s failure to embrace computational science is symptomatic of a larger failure to recognize that many 21st-century research challenges are themselves profoundly multidisciplinary, requiring teams of highly skilled people from diverse areas of science, engineering, public policy, and the social sciences.

In addition, the report provides some disturbing statistics about the decline in intellectual resources. Among them,

The 849 doctoral degrees in computer science and computer engineering awarded in 2002 by U.S. institutions was the lowest number since 1989, according to an annual Computing Research Association survey [NRC,2005].

So what is the report asking government to do? In a nutshell, provide a stronger commitment, better long term support (aka funding), and better coordination (aka leadership) within the computational science ecosystem.

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