National Academies Press: OpenBook

The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology (1988)

Chapter: 1 Introduction and Summary

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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 1
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 2
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 3
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 4
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction and Summary." National Research Council. 1988. The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technology. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10331.
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Page 6

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PartI The Challenge

Introduction and Summary As the world leader in computer science and technology, the United States has been at the forefront of the evolution of this new discipline into an unportant, pervasive, and indispensable field that accounts for approx~nately 10 percent of the gross national product (GNP) and is a key factor in the national defense (CBEMA 1987~. Looking forward, we see immense and growing technological promise as well as a unique opportunity to use U.S. strength in this area to enhance productivity and competitiveness across our economy. At the same tune, we see the U.S. position in this field threatened from without by external competition and Tom within by underappreciation of the need for basic research. The challenge before us is to assure continued U.S. preemunence in computer science and technology. We attribute U.S. leadership to a unique innovation engine. Universities and industrial research laboratories perform the basic research that fuels the entire engine; venture companies function as effective agents of early technology transfer; and mature companies develop and market the innovations that achieve widespread accep- tance. In the past, government funding has played a key role in lubricating the engine. Another important ingredient of success has been the rich governmental and industrial research infrastructure consisting of advanced computational research tools. 3

4 The use of computers can boost national productivity and com- petitiveness across the entire economic front. This potential is ev- ident from exiting and anticipated applications. For example, in design, computers offer ever-unproving simulation of industrial prod- ucts to provide more knowledge of their qualities and performance prior to production, thereby improving product quality and relia- bility while reducing manufacturing costs. In the office, Attributed systems can save time on projects involving dispersed personnel and can help to soften interdepartmental rigidities by making communi- cation and cooperation easier. Already, computer networking shows promise for expediting the ordering and scheduling delivery of goods and services (minimizing inventory costs and production delays), the settlement of invoices, and other interorgan~zational transactions. Expert systems can become the power took of tomorrow, helping professionals in engineering, finance, medicine, manufacturing, and many other fields to be more knowledgeable and productive. Robots and other computerized systems are already unproving precision, production times, and consistency in manufacturing, and they wiD eventually allow specialized goods and services to be made at or near mass production costs. Computers can also contribute to the increase of scientific pro- ductivity and improvements in the conduct of research. Computers are ideal tools for scientific modeling: for example, biochemists use computers to mode} molecular structure and behavior, gaining in- sights unobtainable through such earlier analytical techniques as X-ray diffraction. In aerodynamics, computers simulating wind tun- nels make possible more experunents at lower cost than would be possible using actual wind tunnels. In meteorology, computers are being used to mode} turbulence, global atmospheric movements, and cloud behavior. And in the social sciences, computers make possible large econometric models for economists and stimulu~presentation experiments for cognitive researchers. Finally, supercomputers have so greatly transformed the conduct of scientific work that many physicists and chemists speak of computational science as an intel- lectual revolution equal in impact to the observational paradigm of Galileo and the theoretical insight of Newton. Computer networking has already contributed to progress in many scientific disciplines and is expected to be even more vital to researchers as services and access are enhanced. During the next decade, with adequate investments in research we can expect that computer science and technology will make major

s advances in three areas in particular. The first area is that of ma- chines, systems, and software: new developments in multiprocessors will harness many computers to a single task an-d wiD allow comput- ers to be used more powerfully and cost-effectively across new and existing applications; developments in distributed systems will in- volve intercommunication of computers through local and long-hau} networks; and developments in software wall enhance the capabil- ities of existing and new computer systems. The second area is that of artificial intelligence and knowledge-based systems: progress is expected in sensory computing, i.e., machine understanding of speech and visual images; in expert systems, which represent and use expert human knowledge in specialized professional domains; in deeper cognitive systems, e.g., machines that can plan, reason, and learn from practice; and in robotics, i.e., intelligent machines that can interact purposefully with the physical world. The third area of anticipated advances is that of theoretical computer science: progress is expected in understanding the laws that govern complex computational phenomena and the limits on what is possible; this fundamental understanding wiD lead to the development of impor- tant algorithms and representations. These advances, together with others, will make computers more useful and easier to use. The more sophisticated, versatile, and easy to use computers become, the greater wiD be their potential benefits, while the cost of a given level of performance should continue to fall. Nevertheless, the United States has had uneven success in applying computers, and it is only beginning to come to grips with social and economic changes that may accompany their growing use. The board has developed two broad, strategically oriented rec- ommendations on the basis of its deliberations to date, reco~runen- dations that wit guide much of its work to come: 1. Enhanced, nationwide computer networking should be seen as essential to maximizing the benefits in productivity and competitive- ness that are created by computers. Networking will facilitate the application and delivery of diverse advances in computer science and technology to the benefit of all segments of society. The board en- v~sions an enhanced national information networking capability, and it has already begun to examine a host of related questions about how physically to unprove data networking infrastructure; associated costs, unpacts, and benefits; and the roles of industry, government, and other interested parties.

6 2. Investment in people to clo research, identification and funding of selected grand challenges, strengthening of the research environ- ment, and funding for basic research projects especially in the areas of theoretical computer science, software productivity, and commer- cial applications of computer technology and infrastructure should be seen as essential if the United States ~ to continue to lead the world In this field and to realize its promised benefits in a tunely manner. Support for such basic research ~ currently increasingly uncertain. The Computer Science ant! Technology Board proceeded inde- pendently in developing these recommendations, which are in har- mony with those of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (1987) set forth in a recent report to Congress. The OSTP report called for a broad initiative to further the development and use of com- puter science and technology and specifically encouraged networking computers in the nation's scientific community. The board will now move to develop more specific recommendations through individual projects of narrower focus. /

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