Consultation with people who use or want to use computing and communications to accomplish their objectives provides a sometimes sobering perspective on technology design and implementation. The three Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) workshops on high-performance computing and communications were designed to foster discussion among application specialists-including technology experts (developers or systems managers) and professionals in crisis management, digital libraries, electronic commerce, manufacturing, and health care-and researchers to explore how computing and communications technologies are used in these areas, the problems or shortcomings associated with current technologies, and potential improvements that might both enhance the technology base in these national-scale applications and advance the state of the art in computing and communications. Researchers and users discussed not only traditional high-performance concerns, such as speed and scale of computation and networking, but also capabilities in information management, collaborative work, decision making, and many other areas. Such capabilities are enabled by advances in the underlying computer and network systems and at the same time make them more useful, thus hastening the evolution of a collection of computers and communications links into an information infrastructure.
The workshop series fits with the intent of several federal programs to foster greater interaction among researchers, developers, and users of leading-edge computing and communications. The framework for many of these activities has been the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative (HPCCI; see Appendix B for a brief discussion), which has stimulated such interactions, beginning with scientific investigation of ''Grand Challenges" and continuing toward study of broader "National Challenge" applications. A CSTB review concluded that the HPCCI has demonstrated the value for computing and communications research of interaction between developers and users of technologies (CSTB, 1995). Related activities include a February 1994 forum involving several hundred researchers and others, "R&D for the NII: Technical Challenges," that yielded a discussion of current research topics in communications and computing infrastructure technologies (Vernon et al., 1994). The Committee on Information and Communications (CIC) of the National Science and Technology Council developed a plan for coordinating research and development (R&D) across multiple federal agencies, identifying strategic R&D focus areas that relate to agency missions and other user needs (CIC, 1995). More narrowly focused efforts have illuminated research opportunities in specific application areas, such as health care and digital libraries.1 These recent examinations of research needs, however, have drawn mainly from the research community.
By comparison, the CSTB workshop series emphasized crisis management as an application domain and featured the substantial participation of end users, including nontechnologists.2 Traditionally, crisis management has not been a focus of academic computing and communications researchers, other than in the context of military system development. But at the CSTB workshops, crisis management inspired fresh discussion of a full range of computing and communications research issues and provided a real-world perspective for calibrating research needs related to other national-scale applications—some of which have been examined more extensively through various federal programs and private-sector activities-against one that is particularly demanding in terms of urgency and unpredictability of needed resources. Crisis management was also appropriate for framing questions relating to federal support for research in an application area that is primarily a public-sector responsibility.
initiate actions in the face of an inevitable degree of uncertainty and incompleteness of information.
Workshop discussions covered a spectrum from research through development to deployment and use of technology. The mix of professionals fostered consideration of how the conditions in which computing and communications are used can affect the perceived value of technologies and the demand for improvement—nontechnological conditions, too, shape perceptions about the kinds of features that would be helpful. Resource constraints of local and state crisis management agencies, for example, limit the amount of training available to users of technological tools and require users to trade-off performance and other features of new technologies against the life-cycle cost of equipment.
Out of these discussions came ideas about where truly high performance technology may be helpful in different application domains, where advances in performance at the leading edge would yield benefits in more mainstream