Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for February 2009

Open Access – Revolution in Rights Management

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The recent Intellectual Property Ireland 2009 Conference now has presentations available online.

In my presentation, “Open Access – Revolution in Rights Management“, I sought to point out how the move towards Open Access mandatory depositing of publicly-funded research results, consistent with publishers’ requirements, is part of a very significant shift in this particular area of intellectual property.

In concluding I pointed to how IP ranges from proprietorial to the public domain. How there are many and varied agents and actors in any area of IP. How different areas of R&D differ hugely in their approaches to IP. And how great complexity is at the same time a breeding ground for innovation and imagination.

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Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/02/22 at 20:04

Computing, Intellectual Property, and the Engineering of Our Future Health Systems

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The Grand Challenges in Computing Research Conference 2008 Report, edited by John Kavanagh and Wendy Hall, has just been published by the UK Computing Research Committee. In my contribution at this conference, on “The impact of biosciences”, I wanted to look a little beyond the immediate horizon. Apart from the big question of where computing is going, I wanted to draw attention to the very major influence that biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and life sciences have brought to scientific research.

Each discipline has a unique contribution – the diversity of models in the case of computing, for example. But the bio and life sciences have come to tower above all others in the way that citation rates have become so important, as has team-based research, and the role of intellectual property.

So what I look forward to is how our information infrastructure can and should fuse with the health and life sciences.

From my Computing Research Grand Challenges intervention: “As generic drugs gain ground, could they become like software? There are many formal similarities between them. Maybe, too, drug development will need a new Google-Pharma information search and fusion infrastructure at its core, making use of information and data which will be increasingly in the public domain. Beyond that perhaps our health system will be based on a Google-Health information infrastructure, with the door opened at last to a much tighter merger of health and computerisation in terms of personalised health care.”

A most interesting overview of the way that intellectual property is evolving in the pharma sector, furnishing on the way plenty of food for thought about how our health systems could and should be run, is provided by a European Commission Preliminary Report on the Pharma Sector Inquiry (a 426 pp. document).

That our future health system has a considerable amount of relevance to current science and engineering is clear enough. I have sketched out in a recently published article some implications of this related to how research is carried out, and how it is funded, by comparing and contrasting the current situation with the past. This article is “Origins of modern data analysis linked to the beginnings and early development of computer science and information engineering“, published in the Electronic Journal for History of Probability and Statistics (vol. 4, no. 2, Dec. 2008). In this article I cover some of the evolving context of research and applications, including research publishing, technology transfer, and the economic relationship of the university and society.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/02/15 at 13:35

Our Compute and Energy Environments – a Shared Destiny

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To face the challenges of the future a great deal of research, and of ICT in particular, must become at a minimum energy-aware, and largely energy-focused. The international computing science community sees the future as one where computational thinking will be pivotal. This embraces systems thinking, and the power of abstraction, to be applied to problem-solving in all fields. The need for considering computational thinking as a guiding principle at all levels of our educational processes – which extend from the earliest age and continues throughout one’s life – was initially proposed by Jeannette Wing (Carnegie-Mellon University and Assistant Director of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the US National Science Foundation). Now consider the yardsticks to be applied by computational thinking. Traditionally these have been space (storage, for example) and time (computational). To these we now add a third to all areas of system design and associated computational thinking, the criterion or indicator of energy.

The closely coupled areas of energy, environment and climate pose urgent social needs, and – the reverse side of the same coin – marvellous opportunity for science and technology, for engineering and business. The costs implied by our global needs to address energy in the coming decades are enormous. According to the International Energy Agency, IEA, 30 trillion Euro must be invested worldwide by 2050 in order to reduce CO2 emissions by half. Just think of how complete change is needed in our transport systems, in urban physical infrastructure renewal, and in recovery after extreme and exceptional climatic events. There is another way to view such daunting investment requirements and it is to bundle them with investment in other areas.

Perhaps nowhere is the development of energy and environment more closely linked than with the future development of ICT.

Take the example of telecommunications and the power grid system.

• For both areas, cable laying and upgrading is costly but is carried out in the same way.
• There are analogies between the modelling used in both cases to support new, high quality services, and the associated value chains.
• On both sides, autonomic approaches ensure robust behaviour and optimized performance.
• Energy handling is clearly a vital property of any telecoms device, and data handling can be an added property of a power grid. On the telecoms side, energy scavenging is one approach to dealing with scare resources. On the power grid side, the grid can carry data, for example, to deliver rural broadband.

We have sketched out some particularly close parallels and convergent behaviour of telecoms and of wide-area energy distribution and delivery. In addition to telecoms we can add pervasive and ubiquitous computing, including sensor networks and distributed computing generally. In all of these areas we are dealing in fact with information collection, reprocessing, distribution and delivery. On the other hand we see that energy distribution follows a very similar path.

The point here is that, from the close analogy between information and energy, there are bound to be financial and other resource expenditure economies to be had, as well as lucrative opportunities to be availed of. All we require for this is one composite and integrated view of these apparently separate areas.

The sciences of information and of energy are on highly convergent trajectories.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/02/09 at 23:24