Feeds

US govt cuts squeeze crucial computer science, shoot country in foot

Budget slashing ruins education, ruins science, ruins HPC, ruins planet

3 Big data security analytics techniques

SC13 Analysis The US is shooting itself in the return-on-investment foot by tightening the screws on support for research on advanced computing systems.

That was the message expressed loud and clear by a trio of HPC heavyweights during a "Retrospective on Supercomputing Technologies" session celebrating the 25th anniversary of the SC13 supercomputing conference in Denver, Colorado, on Thursday evening.

David Keyes, a professor of applied mathematics and computational science at Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST) and former director of advanced computing research at the Lawrence Livermore Lab, recalled last year's 20th anniversary celebration of the US Networking Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) group, formed in 1992 to bring together most of the federal agencies that sponsor computing research.

According to Keyes, the ripple effect engendered by information-system research supported by the one-tenth of one per cent of the federal budget invested in the NSF, DOE, NIH, NASA, NIST, NOAA, "and their dozen sisters" has been responsible for about two-thirds of the growth in the US's gross domestic product (GDP) during the 20 years of NITRD's existence.

Not only that, Keyes said, but the federal investment in those agencies supported innovations and inventions with which US corporations "changed our lives," and which corporations used to expand imports "from commercial airplanes to Hollywood movies" – both computer-dependent.

If the industrial economy could have kept up with the technical advances supported by the NITRD group in the past 20 years, which Keyes claimed provided a one thousand–fold increase in aggregate computing power per dollar per decade during its existence, "We could fly from JFK to Narita – a 15-hour trip – in one-twentieth of a second," he said. "If we had the same price-performance [improvement] over those 20 years, the cost of higher eduction in the US would be twenty cents per year – tuition, room, and board."

From Keyes' point of view, the advances in computing over the past two decades have been "an amazingly productive economic engine, and it all can be traced to a very strategic federal investment." But those investments are now stalling.

Fran Berman, a computer science professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and former director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center, said the US federal government's attitude toward investment in computing research has changed over time – and not for the better.

"It's much harder to do 'blue sky' projects," she said, "the kind of high-risk, high-reward stuff that really fuels some of the most interesting innovations."

And the climate in Washington DC that's causing agencies to tighten up their purse strings is not just hard on the researchers whose grants are being affected, it's also hard for the funding folks themselves. "I think it's hard for our colleagues who work in the agencies," she said, knowing both the fiscal and political pressure they are under.

Capitol illing ... The bucks stopped here, in Washington DC

Possibly even more insidious than mere budget cuts is the fact that pure research is more and more being devalued as not having an immediate and quantifiable return on investment.

"I think there seems less understanding that research is unpredictable, that you can have a really good idea and it might not pan out the way you thought it would," Berman said. "That doesn't mean your research failed, it means that you tried something, you learned something, and it set you and the rest of the community up for different ideas."

But don't blame just those nasty politicos. As Walt Kelley's Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

"It seems that the general public expects that if you spend money on a research project, that you're going to get an answer, and that answer will be the right answer," Berman said. "And so, somehow, if you don't get that answer, that research and investment was not a good investment. And that, I think, is challenging for us all."

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Inside the Hekaton: SQL Server 2014's database engine deconstructed
Nadella's database sqares the circle of cheap memory vs speed
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
IRS boss on XP migration: 'Classic fix the airplane while you're flying it attempt'
Plus: Condoleezza Rice at Dropbox 'maybe she can find ... weapons of mass destruction'
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
New Facebook phone app allows you to stalk your mates
Nearby Friends feature goes live in a few weeks
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.