Information Technology Research 'Crisis'

Gregory Alan Bolcer (
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 12:55:14 -0700

Everything's a crisis, but a presidential
advisory commission concludes that federal
support for research in information technology
is "'dangerously inadequate' and 'too narrowly
focused on ``near-term problems.'"

Panel will urge spending for computer research

New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO -- A presidential advisory commission
made up of some of the nation's leading computer
scientists plans to deliver a report Monday to the White House,
calling for a significant increase in federal spending on
advanced computer research in order to create ``expeditions
to the 21st century.''

The report, a draft of which was given to The New York Times
by someone close to the committee, calls current federal
support for research in information technology ``dangerously
inadequate,'' and too narrowly focused on ``near-term

The panel, known as the Presidential Advisory Committee on
High Performance Computing and Communications,
Information Technology and the Next Generation Internet, has
as its co-chairmen William Joy, a founder of Sun
Microsystems, and Ken Kennedy, a computer scientist at Rice

The draft report calls on the federal government to
finance research centers that will pursue broad-ranging
computer research in the spirit of the early explorers of
North America.

``Much like Lewis and Clark opened the West,'' it
says, ``virtual centers focused on future technologies and
applications can, by making bold assumptions about the future,
give us key research insights into the manifold possibilities of
the 21st century technologies.''

Such new research centers might build upon, but move
beyond work done at today's federally financed
supercomputer research centers and their attempts to advance scientific

Computer research with such government backing has
resulted in some of the most significant new industries
created since World War II, including personal computing and the
Internet. Almost all of those advances came from basic
exploratory research, rather than research and development
efforts aimed at solving specific problems.

``Although total federal spending for R & D has
remained steady, there has been a marked shift toward support
for applied R & D,'' the report says.

It also stresses the need for new emphasis on
software research, saying that the nation has become too dependent on
outmoded software, like systems long used by the Federal
Aviation Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.

``The FAA and IRS systems have proved to be
amazingly difficult to upgrade,'' the authors write,
maintaining that while there have been dramatic improvements in computer
hardware in the last 40 years, the ability to develop
software has not kept pace.

The report also warns that federal funds for
supercomputing have largely collapsed since the breakup of the
Soviet Union. The authors argue that failing to support
high-performance computing is a national security risk that the
nation cannot afford to take.

In order to keep the United States leading in
building the world's fastest computers, the nation should set a
goal of creating machines capable of reaching the speed of a
petaflop -- one thousand trillion mathematical operations a
second -- by the year 2010, the report says.