Foreword - Professor Muffy Calder
This issue of Science Scotland focuses on some of the research challenges for Computing Science and Informatics, and advances made by researchers in these areas across Scotland.…
This issue of Science Scotland focuses on some of the research challenges for Computing Science and Informatics, and advances made by researchers in these areas across Scotland. These are exciting times, as computing and information systems are becoming smaller and larger (from iPhone to air traffic control), more interconnected and mobile, and sometimes more autonomous. They involve new types of human interaction, from touch to smell and thought, and they are becoming integrated into our entire social infrastructure, from Facebook to government. We are increasingly reliant on these systems for advances in other areas of science – in mathematics, technology, medicine and the arts. From rocket science to internet shopping, the power of computing is changing lives. But the sheer ubiquity of computing sometimes obscures the fundamental intellectual challenges of the discipline; this issue aims to reveal some of these challenges.
The main focus of the issue is on SICSA – the Scottish Informatics and Computing Science Alliance, a collaboration of over 200 researchers in Scottish Universities. It was formed in recognition that Scotland has one of the five biggest top-quality research clusters in Computing Science and Informatics in the world, with a critical mass of research excellence rivalling Boston, Pittsburgh, Kyoto and Silicon Valley. SICSA is already catalysing new collaborations between universities, and allowing Scottish institutions to exploit critical mass in funding, recruitment and commercialisation.
The overarching research aim of SICSA is to secure, interface, model and engineer the systems of tomorrow. Some of the highlights covered here include low-carbon computing, system robustness, mathematical modelling and next-generation internet. For example, research in low-carbon computing aims to answer questions such as how to design energy-efficient hardware and software, without which computing system energy consumption is set to treble over the next decade. Research in modelling uses advanced mathematics and computer science theories to model and reason about system behaviour: when there are hundreds of variables and millions of system states that cannot be explored by raw compute power, clever representations of problems are needed. This research applies to both computing systems and other systems such as biological ones, thus demonstrating the effect computing is having on thinking in other disciplines. Robustness involves developing systems in which data are secure yet easily accessible, and the systems are platform- and location-independent; for example, we might require a system to run on a mobile phone or a laptop. Research into the next- generation internet is motivated by the fact that we are running out of internet addresses, and soon speed and security just won’t be acceptable.
The last two articles cover advances in two other, related, organisations: the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) and the Scottish Bioinformatics Forum (SBF). The EPCC is a supercomputing research centre that has developed and applied supercomputing research to a wide range of problems requiring massive compute power, ranging from challenges set by physics research to those encountered by large businesses, such as Rolls Royce, as well as by small- and medium-sized enterprises. The SBF brings together researchers in industry with bioinformatics activities and researchers across several academic research pools in, for example, the life and medical sciences, engineering and computing.”
Professor Muffy Calder, FRSE, FIET, FBCS