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Visions of the Future

ACM joined forces with the British Computer Society to deliver its first academic research conference in Europe.
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ACM-BSC Visions Conference
The ACM-BSC Visions Conference was held at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum.

Delegates from Africa, Europe, and North America gathered at the University of Edinburgh in April to discuss the latest research in computer science and listen to innovative project proposals for the U.K. Computing Research Committee’s Grand Challenges program.

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, president of ACM and professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, opened the ACM-BCS Visions of Computer Science 2010 conference, alongside British Computer Society President Elizabeth Sparrow.

Hall discussed the importance of diversifying ACM beyond the U.S. and, after welcoming more than 100 conference delegates, handed over the proceedings to computer scientist Michael Foreman of the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. Foreman paid tribute to the recently deceased Robin Milner, eminent computer scientist, co-creator of the Grand Challenges, and ACM A.M. Turing Award winner, and proposed a Milner symposium next year to celebrate the scientist’s work.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge, delivered the first keynote speech, “The Dependability of Complex Socio-Technical Systems.” Anderson described the evolutionary convergence of branches of knowledge, including philosophy, mathematics, and economics, into computing, and questioned how it should advance. “We are responsible for everything,” said Anderson, “and must deal with the global-scale socio-technical systems that are emerging and will be the way the world works.”

The second keynote speaker, Nicolò Cesa-Bianchi, professor of computer science at the University of Milan, discussed “The Game-Theoretic Approach to Machine Learning and Adaptation.” To consider whether game theory could complement or surpass statistics in the analysis of algorithms that learn and adapt, Cesa-Bianchi presented research that replaces statistics to describe an interaction between a learning agent and a changing environment with a repeated game between an agent and environment. This approach, he says, is particularly appropriate to machine learning in arbitrary and adversarial environments.

The other keynote speakers were Jon Kleinberg, professor of computer science at Cornell University, who presented “Exploring the Structure of Online Social Networks: the Roles of Positive and Negative Links in Network Interaction,” and Barbara Liskov, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and ACM A.M. Turing Award winner, who discussed “The Power of Abstraction.”

“Things have changed, and our work has become more interdisciplinary,” notes Wendy Hall.

Among the conference’s sessions covering subjects from ubiquitous systems to theoretical computing and the digital economy, one proved particularly timely. As a massive cloud of ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano shut down air traffic across Europe, Ken Anderson, associate professor of computer science at the University of Colorado, outlined a vision for technology-mediated support for public participation in mass emergencies and disasters.

Following Visions 2010, Hall introduced the Grand Challenges session. “Things have changed,” said Hall, “and our work has become more inter-disciplinary, feeding into areas such as health care, climate change, and security. We need to make evolutionary, not revolutionary, change, but a new list of Grand Challenges will emerge.”

Eighteen proposals for the Grand Challenges, a program supported by the U.K. Computing Research Committee, were added to nine existing projects, with a decision on the proposals expected over the summer. The candidates included a project using software engineering to achieve zero-carbon buildings by 2019, a program to develop information and communication technologies for a global population of nine billion people in 2050, and five proposals about health care and independent living.

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UF1 Figure. The ACM-BSC Visions conference was held at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum.

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