Disappearing computer kicks off lecture series

 28 February 2006

Grand Challenges in Computing image The first ever Computer Journal Lecture on 23 February produced a lively debate about ubiquitous computing.

Fuel for the discussion was provided by Robin Milner of the University of Cambridge, who began the evening with a talk on the subject, which was followed by short invited responses and a question and answer session.

'The vision of ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) is that computing entities become an effective part of our environment, supporting our lives without our continual direction, so that we can be largely unaware of them,' explained Robin to the audience at the BCS' London offices.

Ubiquitous Computing is one of the UK Grand Challenges for Computing Research. The research project, in which Robin is involved, addresses not only the ubicomp vision, but also the design principles and theories that will support it. Ubicomp will entail hardware and software systems that exceed those that we know by orders of magnitude in size.

There is little chance of extrapolating existing methods of software production to cope with them. Ubicomp offers an opportunity to develop a deeper science of computing that interweaves three ingredients - vision, design and theory - more intimately than ever before. In his talk, Robin explored how this could be approached.

After his presentation, many interesting points were raised. Marta Kwiatkowska of the University of Birmingham, for example, pointed to how ubiquitous computing  was also characterized as 'the disappearing computer', and asked  if this implied that computer science had to disappear also, or at least merge into a new discipline.

Nick Jennings from the University of Southampton referred to the multiple stakeholders in this field, and the potentially important role of computational game theory. He also spoke of his own team's work with a sensor network in a Norwegian glacier.

The lecture itself, and the detail of the discussion following it, will be edited for the Computer Journal and will be available on the Computer Journal website http://comjnl.oxfordjournals.org and in print very soon.

Further Computer Journal lectures will follow a similar format. A second lecture has already been planned for 12 June on 'Prediction in Online Compression Models' with Volodya Vovk and Alex Gammerman as speakers.

Computer Journal lecture details