Saturday, January 8, 2011

What CS Gains From Interdisciplinary Computing

Following up on last night's post about the reasons why many people engage in interdisciplinary computing work, I'd like to briefly list off some examples that came out in our meeting discussion today. At one point we decided to get specific and share examples of how the computer science discipline has directly benefited from interdisciplinary collaborations.

Here are some of them, written as close to verbatim as I could take notes on the fly. I'm certainly not expert in many of them, so anything I say that is missing an important or interesting piece hopefully someone will chime in and amplify for me. However! this is a classic facet of interdisciplinary collaboration - no one individual can know multiple fields at the same depth and accuracy. That is part of why it is such productive work!

The Folding at Home project involves experts in bio-medicine, distributed computing, bio-technology, high performance computing. As the site implies, computer science has been stimulated in HPC (high performance computing), algorithm development, networking, and simulations. We have expanded boundaries of computational understanding in all these areas.

Distributed computation not only in that project but in other very large scale projects has pushed the boundaries of computational efficiency to new levels as we develop the necessary algorithms to tackle ever more seemingly intractable problems, that are not necessarily so intractable.

Online auctions. I missed the intro to this conversation, but when I picked up, the discussion was about the movement from manual to electronic auctions requiring a change in how economists worked on what turn out to be NP-hard problems. Computer science theory is making advances so that these auctions can function properly. I could use someone helping to fill me in on what I missed in this conversation because it sounds very interesting!

Working with the film industry has driven both the development of 3D graphics and User Interface development. Many of the "old" rules of thumb (meaning circa early 90s) no longer apply and computer science has stepped up to revamp our understanding of what we can do with graphics at very fundamental levels. User Interface theory and application has evolved right along with it. For example, imagine how far we have come from Star Wars  (1977) to  Toy Story (1995) to Avatar (2009).

These advances in computer science from interdisciplinary work with the film industry in turn spurred development on the side of GPUs (Graphic Processor Unit), which were then deployed in so many areas of computing from games to simulations and beyond that they cannot be easily itemized.

Music downloads - the virtually ubiquitous desire to stream music in one form or another, has led to advances in basic streaming technologies and support algorithms that now are used in far flung applications such as digital image processing in medicine and transfer of image data (MRIs for example) to medical service providers on short notice across long distances. There was mention specifically of recognition algorithms as a subset of algorithms that have advanced, - I could use some supplementary information on this one!

Just a few ideas to whet your appetite. Speaking of appetite, I may not have one for a week. Two days of intense cognitive load and equally intense gastric load have left me with wonderful memories and a bit of a tummy ache. Brings a new meaning to "Brain Food".

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