Thursday, 5 June 2008

BCS at Cheltenham Science Festival

I went across to the Cheltenham Science Festival today, for the BCS sponsored talk "Computer Whizz: The Best is Yet to Come" given by Professor Dave Cliff, from University of Bristol. It was a really enjoyable talk...

Dave Cliff started off by covering some of the big things to happen over the last 50 years. He talked about the idea that one major thing happens every decade and how Moore's Law (giving examples relating to processors, hard drives, digital cameras) is being proved right and has indeed become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He showed the progression from mainframe - minicomputer - PC - LAN/distributed networks - Internet/Web - utility/service computing.

He also talked for a while about utility computing, sharing some of the thinking from HP. He showed the design for a centre with 50,000 blade servers which was interesting to see, especially to learn that around 350 are replaced a day and new kit arrives in shipping containers. In fact, Sun/Google have patented the shipping container which has it all ready to go and just needs "plugging in". The cloud (HP called it utility computing, IBM on-demand computing, Sun N-1) is the future business model offering real-time processing (drug design, real-time translation, simulation, gaming worlds). And in fact, there has been work done on market-based control so computers can effectively bid for work, and the user can determine the price they are willing to pay for remote processing.

Cliff also explained a little how computing is learning from nature - e.g. genetic networks, superorganisms, ecosystems - and socioeconomic systems - .e.g marketplaces, languages, ontologies.

And of course, being a science festival, a talk on computing wouldn't be complete without a reference to robots! There has been a lot of work on humanoid robots but there have been many successful commercial applications of non-humanoid robots e.g. Cliff also shared some thoughts on how the lines between human and robot may be becoming blurred, through for example, the use of intelligent prosthetics for amputees; cochlear implants. Might there be a future for storing our memories increasingly on devices and not in our heads?

Lastly, he touched very briefly on two new-ish areas: amorphous computation and quantum computing. Apparently, Bristol Uni is a Centre for Excellence for quantum computing. Though this is where it started getting a little rushed and possibly too technical to cover neatly in a few minutes so will have to look into these a bit more...

All in all, a really enjoyable presentation :-)

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