Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Changing the Research Focus: Towards Industrial Projects and New Startups

Since 2001, when George Johnson said: “all science is computer science” – even with some researchers from different areas not agreeing with it – we can see some changes in research and other discussions such as: “computation is the third branch of science, along with theory and experimentation” and “every discipline is becoming computationally intense” are being raised. In the EDUCAUSE review, on July-August 2006, Sandra Braman starts some important reflections about the Transformations of the Research Enterprise. In this interesting paper, she discusses – among other – that research is more likely to be carried out in the context of a problem-oriented application than within the context of a specific academic community. Her analyzes is based on key funding agencies as National Science Foundation (NSF) which is starting the process of shifting research funding attention toward specific problems and away from discipline-bound and theory-driven basic research. In her words “as a corollary, researchers are increasingly required to respond to social and political demands to be accountable rather than isolating themselves within an ivory tower”. In Brazil, we are having some initial efforts in this direction, for example, with the FINEP agency which has stimulated research projects involving academic institutions and companies. In special cases in the country, this reality is being common in some universities/innovation institutes which believe that this integration is essential for its impact on the city/state/country or even in the world. In Recife, this effort started about 11 years ago headed by Prof. Silvio Meira which was the mentor of the Recife Center for Advanced Studies and Systems (C.E.S.A.R) and next of the Porto Digital. The result of this new way of think/do/transform can be seen with important awards such as Microsoft Imagine Cup, ACM Programming Contest and recently with the Intel/UC Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge. In the last one, in this year, in the first step, from 65 business plans from different universities were selected 20, which 5 were from Recife (RiSE was one of them). Considering that in the last year, the 2nd best business plan was from Recife, we can easily see the results. In addition, we can comment other programs in this direction involving universities (Recife Beat) at Federal University of Pernambuco and Garage at C.E.S.A.R which can increase these benefits in the future. For other universities and companies in the country, we hope that this feedback can be useful to start new reflection in this direction and generate a path for the country starts a new era.


Daniel Lucrédio said...

I would like to cite a joke to make a point: computers were invented to solve problems that did not exist before. This is true, in the sense that computers are "problem solvers". There are no "natural phenomena" to be studied (like in chemistry, physics or other sciences), other than problems and phenomena created by computers themselves. And this is why I think computer science can not be carried out without the purpose of solving problems. And the more concrete the problems are, the better the results will be.

And we can't deny our responsibility of making these tendencies more concrete, by keeping our research always close to real problems. While in other computer science areas there are room for more theoretical research, I think that in Software Engineering there's a great chance that this kind of thought will always lead to useless results.

Vinicius Garcia said...

I agree with Daniel... Another point of vision is interesting in Software Engineering. We can easily see some advances and great results in other areas of computer science, like IA and Computer Networks. The "problem" to see these results, specifically in SE, is the fact that SE is a fundamental structure, is the basis for everything that needs a some kind of computation - software. So, in this context, we have SE in every kind of problem and solution (of course).
Related to the initiatives from CESAR/UFPE/Digital Port, I think that this is a big step in order to bring the computer science closely to the real problems of the society. We have some problems, globally (we don't have created all of them :D), that can be solve or partially solve by the use of computer science. Some new problems grow up, since we use the technology in some areas of course, but this is the evolution. This is the natural way to survive. News facilities come with new problems, and new problems force the needed to find new solutions... and so on.

Danuza Neiva said...

I think that the great power of the Computer Science is not in solving problems, but in solving problems in a efficient way. For exemple, from a SE perspective, we need to achieve a satisfactory problem structuring to reuse solutions. This is differential of our science, having more concrete and efficient results.