by Peter Kunz
On 28 May, in conjunction with the ERCIM Spring Days meetings in Paris, ERCIM and INRIA organised ERCIM's 20th anniversary celebration. The anniversary was marked by a seminar including presentations by renowned personalities from research and industry, and representatives from the ERCIM community.
Set in the heart of the historical Le Marais district, 'Les Jardins du Marais' was the venue not only for the celebration, but also for the ERCIM Board of Directors and Editorial Board meetings, several ERCIM Working Group meetings and two European project meetings, namely InterLink and EuroIndia. In all, 180 attendees participated in ten meetings over three days.
The highlight of the anniversary celebration was the seminar held on the afternoon of 28 May. It was organised into three sessions: 'Science and Society', 'ERCIM Activities' and a 'historical round table'. Following the welcome speeches by the ERCIM President, Keith Jeffery and President d'honneur, Cor Baayen (a founding father of ERCIM), Wendy Hall (University of Southampton) gave the first talk. As President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), a position to which she was elected in July 2008 as the first person from outside North America, Hall presented plans to create a European chapter of the ACM. She then talked about the new discipline known as 'Web Science', the main concern of the Web Science Research Initiative that she recently founded together with Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt and Daniel J. Weitzner. The goals of Web Science are to promote and encourage multidisciplinary collaborative research, to study the development of the Web, to provide a global forum enabling academia, government and industry to understand the scientific, technical and social factors that drive the growth of the Web, and to encourage innovation.
Mazin Yousif (Avirtec Inc., CEO and former-Intel executive and chair of the ERCIM Advisory Committee) talked about 'green computing'. When looking at the worldwide energy consumption of data centres, for example, the importance of this topic is obvious. The energy consumption of all data centres worldwide is similar to the entire energy consumption of a country like Argentina or The Netherlands. Reducing energy consumption relies on four pillars: new technology (new materials, virtualisation of computing facilities etc), efficiency (energy-efficient equipment, minimising resources executing workload etc), conservation (energy caps, resource consolidation, certificates) and operations (advanced cooling technology, best practices, holding IT accountable for cost etc). This is an area in which ERCIM could take the lead, promoting green computing in Europe, encouraging the establishment of a Green Computing Working Group, drafting a green computing research vision, encouraging green computing initiatives, and working with European standardisation bodies and the EU to expand the code of conduct.
Gerard Berry (INRIA) delivered a remarkable speech about his personal experience of teaching computer science to school children. Unlike the current generation of teachers and scientists, children today grow up with technology forming a natural part of their life. These days, there is little emphasis on teaching children the concepts of how computers work. Yet getting today's children enthused about scientific subjects such as computer science is crucial to ensuring a good cohort of engineers and scientists tomorrow. As Berry pointed out, what we must do is educate children in such a way that they choose to develop from consumers into creators.
Philipp Hoschka (W3C) spoke about the work of the W3C (of which ERCIM is the European host) and progress towards the Ubiquitous Web. Ubiquitous computing is now at an inflection point, where both hardware and software offer solutions for applications. Recent examples include the 'Sekai Camera' that can display and create 'floating air tags' when a user is navigating through a museum, and 'SixthSense', developed by the MIT Medialab, a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. W3C is currently working in fields such as geolocation, camera API and widgets. More work is needed on model-based user interface design and device-to-device communication. Hoschka concluded that mobile Web applications will play an important role for ubiquitous computing and that they are a good opportunity for European research and industry to get involved.
Walter Weigel, Director General of ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, gave a talk entitled 'Standardisation of research results'. ERCIM and ETSI have developed a well-established cooperation, through five years of shared Grid technology experience, partnerships in European projects, and through the joint 'Infinity Initiative', a series of annual advanced seminars. Weigel explained the key challenges for successful innovation. With innovation cycles accelerating, market segmentation demands faster product and service takeoff and thus an increased investment in R&D. However, it is not sufficient simply to be innovative, or to master the innovation environment: the crucial question is how to ensure that an innovative advantage is not wasted. This is why work in standards is so important for transforming innovation leadership into market leadership. 'First movers' can set the standards and use them to impose their market leadership. Standardisation is also an important 'market access tool'. As Weigel explained, if we look at standardisation as a business process, successful innovation then needs to manage the increasing overlaps in the research, test and development and product phases. A closer link is therefore needed between research and standardisation.
Opening the second session of the seminar, Alessandro Fantechi (University of Florence and ISTI-CNR) gave a presentation on the Formal Methods for Industrial Critical Systems (FMICS) Working Group as an example of an ERCIM success story. The Working Group was created in 1992 by Stefania Gnesi and Diego Latella (CNR), following an initial successful workshop in Pisa, Italy. Although model checking was then in its early days, the FMICS community was already aware of the great potential of formal verification techniques. Since then, the Working Group has advanced with the development of formal verification techniques and model checking in particular. The series of annual workshops, started in 1996, is now a well-established conference in the Formal Methods community. It has promoted an ongoing scientific discussion focused on identifying the most efficient verification techniques, with a keen eye on their industrial applicability. Most members of the FMICS community have strong links with industry; this has aided in the gradual introduction over the last decade of formal methods into the development cycle of industrial critical systems.
'Beyond the Horizon' (BTH) and INTERLINK are two examples of how ERCIM has affected EC strategy, and were presented by Dimitris Plexousakis (ICS-FORTH). BTH - Anticipating Future and Emerging Information Society Technologies, a project carried out in 2005-06, defined the major challenges and promising research directions in ICT-related strategic areas. Support for these was provided through a well-organised, extensive and systematic consultation of the relevant research community in Europe. The project was composed of six thematic groups investigating the topics 'Pervasive Computing and Communications', 'Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology', 'Security, Dependability and Trust', 'Bio-ICT Synergies', 'Intelligent and Cognitive Systems' and 'Software Intensive Systems'. The intended impact was to enhance Europe's reactivity to emerging scientific and technological challenges, to build research communities and research networks in these fields, to encourage interdisciplinary research, and to increase industry's awareness of new trends, challenges and visions in information society technology-related research. As a result, a large majority of the proposals were adopted as proactive initiatives in the Future and Emerging Technologies Work Programme of the EU 7th Framework Programme.
INTERLINK - International Cooperation Activities - takes a similar approach. This project had several missions: to identify and address globally relevant basic research problems where significant added value is expected to be gained from worldwide cooperation; to establish communication and cooperation mechanisms within and beyond Europe to support the formation and functioning of a related scientific community; to identify complementarities in selected thematic areas among EU and non-EU countries that can give rise to knowledge and technology exchange; and to define joint basic research agendas, road-mapping activities and joint RTD initiatives. The thematic areas of INTERLINK are 'Software intensive systems and new computing paradigms', 'Ambient computing and communication environments', and 'Intelligent and cognitive systems'. The outcomes of project are comprehensive state-of-the-art reports and research roadmaps in the three thematic areas, as well as a number of new proposed research themes, including 'ensemble engineering' and 'socially-aware ambient intelligence'.
Both projects were carried out under the guidance of, and in collaboration with, the European Commission. As with the BTH project, it is expected that INTERLINK will have an impact on the European Commission's work programmes. It is also expected that the INTERLINK results will be noted by the research programs of the US Congress on Robotics and the Japanese Science Foundation on Cognitive Systems.
The session on ERCIM activities ended with presentations from Andreas Rauber (TU Vienna/AARIT) and Michal Haindl (Institute of Information Theory and Automation, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic/CRCIM), who reported on their personal experiences and views of the Cor Baayen Award and the ERCIM Fellowship Programme respectively. Andreas was the 2002 Cor Baayen award winner; Michal was one of the first three ERCIM fellows in 1990, and since then has hosted an ERCIM fellow himself. In a very diverting and personal manner, they demonstrated how these two ERCIM activities contribute to an increase in scientific reputation, scientific community building and the establishment of international contacts.
The seminar ended with a 'historical round table' composed of two former representatives of ERCIM's Board of Directors, and members of the Executive Committee and Editorial Board, namely Alain Bensoussan, Paul Williams, Bob Hopgood, Georges Nissen, Henk Nieland and Siegfried Münch. They explained how ERCIM began in 1989, discussed the early achievements and visions and answered questions from the audience.
The celebration continued into the evening with a gala dinner to which the participants were welcomed by Keith Jeffery and Michel Cosnard, President of INRIA. The dinner set the scene for speeches from former ERCIM presidents Gerard van Oortmerssen and Cor Baayen, presenting what they have contributed to ERCIM as presidents, what has been achieved during their term of office, and their recommendations for the future.
More information: http://paris2009.ercim.org