UK computer scientists identify future IT challenges

A group of British computer scientists have proposed a number of "grand challenges" for IT that they hope will drive forward research, similar to the way the human genome project drove life sciences research through the 1990s. Ambitious goals include harnessing the power of quantum physics, building systems that can't go wrong and simulating living creatures in every detail.

A grand challenge is a goal recognized one or two decades in advance, achievement of which represents a major milestone in the advance of knowledge or technology, according to a report describing seven grand challenges to inspire and direct IT research, released last week by the British Computer Society (BCS).

Some of the challenges identified by the academics are of commercial interest to the computer industry, most notably the development of dependable systems, and of systems that model or behave like living organisms.

To achieve the goal of building dependable computer systems, the scientists suggest building a verifying compiler, a tool that proves automatically that a program is correct before allowing it to run -- something first written about in the 1950s.

Other themes include:

-- Architecture of brain and mind: Once seen as a matter for philosophical debate, explaining the connection between the brain (as computing machinery) and the mind (as a virtual software machine) is increasingly becoming a scientific problem of interest in the development of information processing systems;

-- Memories for life: As we all accumulate personal digital memories such as e-mail and photos, it will become necessary to manage the information gathered over a human lifetime. The challenge is to allow people to gain maximum benefit from these auxiliary memories, while maintaining their privacy;

-- In vivo - in silico: Through the human genome project, IT has already brought life sciences forward by leaps and bounds, but the next step is to make possible the computer simulation of entire living organisms, allowing scientists to examine a plant, animal or colony of cells in virtual reality, from the cellular scale on upwards, and at different speeds from freeze-frame to faster than life;

-- Science for global ubiquitous computing: Many of us already carry several computing devices (cell phone, laptop, organizer) that communicate with one another and with others further afield, but such communications sometimes fail, as software interacts in unexpected ways. The goal of this challenge is to develop a scientific basis for the design and engineering of a global, ubiquitous computing infrastructure so that the results of interactions between devices are entirely predictable -- or, simply put, that they work as we want them to;

-- Scalable ubiquitous computing systems: Not only do we want our devices to interact predictably and reliably, we also want them to interact with every other conceivable device -- but the complexity of many systems grows much faster than the number of nodes in the system. Computing engineers need scalable design principles: developing and applying them is the goal of this challenge;

-- Journeys in nonclassical computation: Classically, computation is viewed mathematically in terms of algorithms, but there are other ways to look at it. These include rethinking the rigid classification schemes computers use and turning to others based on family resemblance or on metaphor; taking advantage of the behavior of materials at the molecular or subatomic scale to perform calculations in different ways (nanotechnology, quantum computing); using statistical models to compute how sure we can be that the answer lies in a particular range, rather than trying to calculate its exact value; and finally, seeking inspiration from biological systems to develop properties such as auto-immune or evolving hardware.

The search for inspiration began in 2002, as an initiative of the U.K. Computing Research Committee, prompted in part by an early project of the U.S. Computing Research Association. An academic conference followed, in March 2004, culminating in the publication of the report, "Grand Challenges in Computing Research."

The seven challenges are presented in seven chapters of the report, each one describing the ultimate goal, the kinds of research needed to reach that goal over a 15-year period, and the disciplines that would need to be involved. The suggestions -- quite detailed for the early years but vaguer and more conjectural as they look further ahead -- are intended to provoke discussion of the long-term aspirations for computing research.

The Grand Challenges report can be found on the BCS Web site at

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?