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ERCIM News No.50, July 2002

Towards a Strategic Cooperation with the European Science Foundation

by Jean-Eric Pin

Discussions between representatives from the European Science Foundation (ESF) and ERCIM led to a proposal for cooperation between the two organisations. Both organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding and organized an exploratory workshop to develop a joint vision for the future of e-Science. This workshop took place at CWI in Amsterdam on 30-31 May 2002.

The main thrust of the workshop was to investigate jointly a foresight for Information Technology (IT) in Europe. Twelve experts from ERCIM and twelve from ESF were invited to discuss important spearhead areas for the future, analyse strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for European research and make recommendations to ERCIM, ESF and the European Union. Four discussion groups were constituted to take into account the interdisciplinary and the applied aspects of computer science.

Interdisciplinary between Mathematics and Computer Science
This group discussed the numerous interactions between the two disciplines. Logic plays a key role in semantics, in databases and in the design of modern programming languages. Probability and statistics occur in the modelling of networks, including the web, in data compression and in default analysis. Computing a realistic 3-D image or moving a robot requires a large amount of geometry. Modern cryptology relies on sophisticated methods provided by number theory. Discrete mathematics are at the heart of many algorithms. Numerical analysis, differential equations, optimisation and dynamical systems occur almost everywhere in scientific computing and their numerous applications. Perhaps more surprisingly, some concepts issued from computer science have deeply influenced modern mathematics. For instance, the famous P versus NP problem is one of the seven Millenium problems, and the automatic group concept is directly issued from the notion of automaton, the simplest model for a machine.

The discussions also included most of the topics presented in this issue of ERCIM News. Three key areas emerged from the discussion:

  • Algorithms and Optimisation
  • Computational Science (Modelling, Analysis, Simulation)
  • Next generation computing.

The first two topics were selected for their strong interdisciplinary aspect and their wide field of applications. Europe is very strong in both areas, and should build on this competence. The last selected topic is much more prospective in nature and includes recent fields like Quantum Computing, Optical networks, DNA computing, and computation models beyond Turing machines.

The group recommended further action on Optimization, on Mathematics and next generation computing and on Games. Suitable mechanisms could be an ESF Scientific Programme, Scientific Forward Look and Exploratory Workshop respectively.
The group recommended to ESF to establish a scientific programme on Optimization, a forward looking on Mathematics and next generation computing, and an exploratory workshop on Games.

Emerging Applications in Sciences
This group explored topics covering medical informatics, bio-informatics, applications in astronomy, physics, etc. Three key topics emerged from the discussion:

  • User easy access to facilities (data, software, computers, detectors / instruments with intelligent assists).
  • Homogeneous view of heterogeneous data with analytical / visualisation /modelling tools
  • ICT supported cooperative working among scientists in different disciplines and geographical areas.

Selected examples of scientific applications include post genomic R&D (with applications to health care), development of realistic models for the simulation of tumour growth and therapy (in order to replace experiments in vitro or with animals with in silico experiments), material characterisation and non-destructive evaluation (for improving eg, air safety and economy), intelligent transportation systems (with economic and environmental impact), environment: global warming (effects on agriculture, tourism).

ICT Services for User Communities
Information and Communication Technologies had already a huge impact on many domains of our daily life, where large databases can be used for the retrieval of information or the execution of appropriate actions. Obvious applications can be found in digital libraries. On a smaller scale, various forms of knowledge management are often used in order to control and preserve the knowledge acquired by a given group of people.

Official organisations are using their specific form of knowledge management for informing the public of all kind of useful information about the rules, laws and rights that govern the society. This domain of e-government has been extended with several electronic services and actions, including e-voting and web-supported decision making procedures (e-democracy). Internet technology for all kinds of commercial transactions is leading to e-business and e-commerce. Two spearhead areas were selected:

  • Complex interacting systems (digital libraries, knowledge management, e-business, e-government, etc.)
  • Intelligent retrieval (Context awareness, multilingual queries, semantic description of data, multimedia queries and retrieval by content and context, ontologies, intelligent search engines, etc.).

The group suggested:

  • to create a roadmap for intensive research in complex interacting systems and to create a research programme at the European level on high-quality automatic translation
  • to organize through networking an inhanced collaboration between research groups working on intelligent retrieval of data from large and complex databases.

Advanced Communication Technologies and Scientific Computation
The demand for communication and computation solutions has been fuelled by the proliferation of wireless communication and information devices, the proliferation of the Internet, the proliferation and acceptance of e-tools as indispensable communication and computation tools, the competitive necessity of ‘when-ever, where-ever’ access to any community, in particular the scientific.

Of key importance in delivering solutions that can accommodate all the above demands are the computation and communication systems that are employed. Industry is leading the research for the near future, but the scientific research has a key role for investigating and discovering relevant new areas. Therefore, it is essential to promote the scientific research and to stress co-operation among scientists.

In line with this vision, the group identified the following key topics of ICT research:

  • The quest for e-collaboration among scientists, whenever, wherever you are
  • Meeting the challenge of distributing and integrating simulation, model and visualisation
  • The need of co-operation and decision making in complex /critical situations.

Further Actions
A common recommendation by the four discussion groups was to assist ESF in IT by using ERCIM’s pool of experts. It was also agreed that ESF and ERCIM jointly offer their expertise and advice to the European Commission. Scientists from ERCIM and ESF domains should also cooperate on projects in the sixth EC Framework Programme.
This meeting was a first step in the ESF – ERCIM cooperation in the fields of computer science and applied mathematics. A detailed report on the workshop will be presented to ESF’s PESC Committee and Executive Board and to ERCIM’s Board, as well as to Philippe Busquin, the European Commissioner for Research. The report will be accessible on ERCIM’s website.

European Science Foundation

Please contact:
Jean-Eric Pin, ERCIM office