Bringing together knowledge and maths

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C. James Cooper looks forward to an exciting decade, as the universal language of mathematics underpins efforts to integrate knowledge from different domains

Maths is the reason why computers were invented - ballistic simulation and cryptography were two of the initial applications that launched the digital era in the 20th century. Of course, today's generation of maths software would astound those digital pioneers. Systems like Maple can not only crunch numbers but can also represent the thinking and the concepts symbolically. For many of us in the industry, it still seems a bit like magic! The modern maths software segment is now more than 20 years old, and all of us are proud of the contribution we've made in transforming the way scientists and engineers do their analysis and modelling. So what do we do for an encore?

The first peek into the future is not entirely exciting, but fairly important for a mature market - to continue to enhance and refine the basics, such as core mathematical performance, usability, interoperability within product lines, and with other important systems. These 'motherhood' elements will continue to support the growing user-base and make the powerful technology more accessible and useful across all industrial segments. Indeed, Maplesoft, we believe, has led the pack in these elements over the past few releases, with technologies such as the Maplet UI customisation tools, and intelligent unit management. Fundamental horizontal technology will still be critical for a long time to come.

Having said that, one cannot ignore the importance of applications in technical computation. Time pressures in industry increase every year, and the ability to quickly obtain all of the benefits of your software is often determined by how easy is it to configure the system to the science and domain of your industry. Historically, software vendors have responded with large, complex, and expensive vertical market design software that is typically tied in to a monolithic proprietary platform. Many in our industry believe users will want greater choice in the application world, and we're already seeing these choices emerging. Whether it's la carte options for application toolboxes, which let you pick and choose exactly the functionality you want, or shareware applications that offer enough of a head start at no additional cost, our industry continues to explore options to make advanced computing techniques viable for more people.

Then, there are the technological 'wild cards' - major technological innovations that, depending on how the world evolves, could revolutionise the way we work and think (like the word-processor, laptops, and the internet), or fade into memory as curiosities at best (like Iridium phones, and the Bob user interface). Some technologies to which we at Maplesoft pay close attention include new hardware platforms, new engineering sciences, and the continuing evolution of the Web and the connected world.

For hardware, platforms such as the Tablet PC, and parallel or grid computing, seem terribly close to being ready for 'prime time' and, with the right software, the scientific world could see major shifts in the way we compute. Likewise, new scientific frameworks like mechatronics and multiphysics are challenging the traditional parochial view of the engineering disciplines. More people are beginning to realise that integrating the knowledge and maths from different domains can be key in dealing with the complexity of modern systems. In such a case, a traditionally horizontal maths technology like Maple becomes critical as, underneath all the technical domains, is the universal language of maths.

Finally, 22 years after Marc Andreessen introduced the world to Mosaic and consequently launched the WWW revolution, the Web and overall connectedness of the world continues to amaze everyone. The engineering and scientific world still seems to be struggling, however, to figure out how the Web fits in with its core analytical activities. Many believe that connected technology has yet to successfully strike at the heart of the engineering process. The range of engineering information and knowledge is significantly more complex than typical business information, and the true collaborative leverage points of the engineering Web are only beginning to be identified. We're looking forward to a very exciting decade.

C. James Cooper, P. Eng., is President and CEO of Maplesoft