ERCIM News No.48, January 2002 [contents]
Strategic Research Workshops
by Jean-Eric Pin
ERCIM has organised a series of strategic research workshops under the auspices of the European Commissions Information Society Technology Programme, Future and Emerging Technology activity, and the US National Science Foundation, Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.
These workshops have been set up to identify key research challenges and opportunities in information technology. On the European side, ERCIM was assigned to solicit ideas for high-level workshops from the European IT scientific community and to then organise the workshops. Based on over 350 suggested topics, a strategic workshop review committee selected the areas for joint research initiatives according to the following criteria:
Bionics, Future Information Processing Technologies and Semantic Web were three of five strategic emerging topics selected by the Strategic Workshop Review Committee. ERCIM organised a workshop on each of these three topics in 2001. The workshops were intended to facilitate breakthroughs in innovative domains, and stimulate research activities and scientific discussions of mutual interest. The respective programme committees were nominated by the strategic workshop review committee. Participation was by invitation only, and each workshop was attended by a total of twenty participants from both Europe and the US. In addition to these three workshops, a fourth workshop on R&D Strategy for a Dependable Information Society, partly supported by the NSF/EC scheme, was organised in December 2001.
Bionics - Bio-Inspired Information Technologies
BIONICS is a common term for bio-inspired information technology, typically including three types of systems, namely:
The Workshop has been divided into four areas: (i) sensing, interfaces and sensors, (ii) human-machine interaction with autonomous sensors and various prostheses (iii) bionic systems and brain-controlled automata, and (iv) bionic and bio-inspired device technologies.
New technologies will have to be developed in order to provide the bionics industry (sometimes also called info-bionics) with reliable tools and techniques for making commercially viable products and services. From this perspective, several key research challenges are to be studied and overcome. The main challenges to be addressed are:
The drafted results and recommendations are intended to serve as a basis for a joint EU-NSF research program. Such a program for discovering and implementing new ideas, methods, and devices in the field of bionics would be beneficial for millions of people suffering from various handicaps and diseases, and could create a new industry in the 21st century.
International Workshop on Future Information Processing Technologies
The selected topics in the workshop were: Future System and Technology Challenges (two sessions), where emphasis was placed on the convergence among PCs, PDAs, cell phones and the related network infrastructure; Silicon Evolution and the Future, which addressed system-on-chip design challenges, reconfigurable computing and low-power design issues; Enabling Technologies, such as optical networking and human interfaces; and Emerging Technologies, addressing smart dust, superconducting devices and new implementations of quantum computers.
The Semantic Web can be thought of as an infrastructure for supplying the web with formalised knowledge in addition to its actual informal content. No consensus exists on how far the formalisation should go: it ranges from precise metadata schemes (like the Dublin core metadata markers) to fully-fledged logical representation languages. One of the challenges of current semantic web development is the design of a framework in which all these systems can coexist. The participants have agreed that the best achievement of the Semantic Web would simply be called the web. The workshop itself was composed of two days of presentations, each participant having a negotiated topic. These presentations were grouped into four sessions (Languages; Resources and Infrastructure; Clients and Human Interface; and The Semantic Web in Application Areas). After each session, a general discussion was held in order to isolate topics for further discussion. On the third day, the participants were split into four working groups (Language; Infrastructure; Human-Related Issues; and Ontologies) and research perspectives and agendas were elaborated for the years to come.
There are a few application scenarios that have retained the attention of the audience: the Semantic Web for electronic commerce, knowledge management and bioinformatics. It seems that some of these could be seeding further applications (both test benches and early adopters for Semantic Web techniques: the bioinformatics community could be for the Semantic Web what the physics community has been for the web).
The participants expressed a need for transcontinental and transdisciplinary collaboration, ie, since the web is a worldwide resource, research should also occur on a worldwide scale. They also strongly supported the idea of seeing entities like EU or NSF supporting open-source realisation of high quality software and shelter organisations for this software (like the Apache Foundation).
R&D Strategy for a Dependable Information Society
This series of strategic workshops will continue in 2002 with a possible extension to newly identified research priorities.