On Saturday, SIGACT, in conjunction with the Computing Community
Consortium, held a workshop on Visions for Theoretical Computer Science. The
goal of the workshop was to produce "vision nuggets" about exciting
research themes in TCS that could have a large impact in the future.
In other words, to craft PR materials that advertise TCS outside the
community (most importantly, to funding agencies). Some pre-workshop
socializing started off a bit dangerously, with Anna
Karlin explaining that Avi Wigderson should saber the champagne since
she ended up in the emergency room…
The visioning began excruciatingly early (certainly before I could see clearly), but it started off with some good news from Sampath Kannan, the new director of the Computing and Communications Foundations (CCF) division at NSF: We're moving up in the world (or at least in the new NSF bureaucracy tree). CCF will be restructured into three top-level clusters:
- Algorithmic Foundations
- Communication and Information Foundations
- Hardware and Software Foundations
Then we broke into groups to "brainstorm" the nuggets; the groups were arranged into categories based on nugget sketches submitted ahead of time: computational complexity, data-centric computing, economics and game theory, natural science, parallel computing/networks/architecture, and security/privacy/reliability. By lunch time, various nuggets emerged, with potential titles like "Debunking the privacy vs. utility myth" (followed by an argument about whether this constitutes a double negative and should be replaced by "Bunking the privacy vs. utility reality"?). Watch the wiki for polished nuggets appearing in the near (hopefully) future.
The workshop was not without controversy, with Leonid Levin and Avi diametrically opposed on the number of nuggets we should be creating. Leo thought we should have 0 nuggets, since the future of science cannot be mandated by committee. Avi, on the other hand, treated the nuggets much like crack (the more the better). At one point, a group wondered "Should we merge these two nuggets into one?" with Avi replying (paraphrased) "But they're so fundamentally important, why not split them into three?" In the end, we seemed to find a happy medium (especially once Levin realized that our goals were less as "Gestapo" and more as "PR firm"). In the mean time, the view out the window of the UW CSE department provided a calming distraction.
Thanks to the organizers: Bernard Chazelle, Anna Karlin, Richard Ladner, Dick Lipton, and Salil Vadhan for all their hard work in designing a productive and non-too-painful day of workshopping. Credits to Claire Mathieu for some of the pictures.