The first day of FOCS is over. The highlight of the afternoon was the talk by Nancy Lynch, winner of the Knuth Prize. She began with, as one attendee put it, a nostalgic synopsis of FOCS/STOC from her first Denver 1972 conference in a cheap hotel across from a dirty movie theater on through the splintering of theory and distributed computing in the 80s. She then launched into a very accessible description of her famous paper on the impossibility of distributed consensus. The talk ended with an overview of current and future work in the field.
I think everyone in the audience was pretty satisfied with her outlined research agenda involving models of distributed computing on mobile networks until the air traffic controller example. She primed us by suggesting that her research could replace traffic lights with virtual traffic lights, which made me tense up slightly. Then she suggested we could even replace human air traffic controllers with virtual ones. While we all understand the benefits (e.g., you can have controllers over the ocean, machines don't get tired, etc.), I think we all had a sort of collective gasp. I guess at the end of the day, I just want to know there's a human behind it all, attentive and directly in charge.
One more thing I think is worth mentioning – this is the first Knuth prize (out of 8) awarded to a woman. This same year was the first year (out of 41) that a woman, Fran Allen, won the Turing award. This trend is both alarming (it took 41 years?) and encouraging (ample research and personal experience demonstrates the significance of female role models for professional women). Congratulations and my sincere gratitude to you both for paving the way.