Integration, Integration, Integration

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Tom Wilkie looks at 10 years of scientific computing

Scientific Computing World is 10 years old. Since its initial publication in 1994, it has tracked some tremendous changes in the technology of computing and in the application of computing and IT to the solution of problems in science, technology, and engineering.

To celebrate this anniversary, we have invited contributions from some of the leading figures in the scientific computing business. We asked them not to be retrospective, but to use this as an occasion to look forward. There is therefore no wallowing in nostalgia in the pages that follow. Instead, there is an incisive appraisal of where we stand today and of the trends, discernable now, that are likely to influence the development of scientific computing over the years to come.

What is striking is the common theme of 'integration'. Experts in disciplines ranging from life sciences, through chemistry, to mathematics and statistics software have independently come to broadly similar conclusions.

Scott Kahn, Chief Science Officer at Accelrys, believes that the greatest change over the next decade will be that computation breaks down barriers between disciplines and enables real 'e-research'. C. James Cooper, President and CEO of Maplesoft, writing from the perspective not of the life sciences but of mathematics software, believes that 'integrating the knowledge and maths from different domains can be key in dealing with the complexity of modern systems'.

Chris Randles, President and CEO of Mathsoft, shares that view that 'the next big thing will be technologies that truly enable collaboration with ready access to information' and he sees in XML a possible tool to realise that goal. Integrated access is the theme of the article by Robert J. Massie and Ramond D'Angelo, respectively President and Senior Scientist at CAS, as they survey the challenges of providing researchers and engineers with the information that they want.

From the perspective of chemistry, both Antony Williams, VP Scientific Development at ACD/Labs, and Steve Maginn, Director of Scientific Services for Chemical Computing Group, both see a need to integrate chemical structures and other information and to connect up the opposite ends of the chemistry software industry: the computational and the bench chemists.

On the instrumentation side, Robert Pavlis, President of Labtronics, also employs the 'i' word, in this case the integration of laboratory instruments with laboratory information management systems. James Truchard, President and CEO of National Instruments, foresees the end of 'islands of automation' as virtual instrumentation coupled with the internet allows not only the integration of common measurements such as machine vision and data acquisition but also data-sharing and remote operation.

Perhaps the most radical vision comes from IBM's Guy Lefever, who suggests that the combination of modern molecular biology with seven key technologies related to scientific computing could lead to the redefinition of disease and transform the face of modern medicine.

Of course, there are differences of emphasis and some very interesting differences of view as to what will be the key technological 'breakthroughs' of the next decade. But the common theme is almost a reprise of that hippy slogan from the 1960s: 'Only connect!' It is interesting to see it appear in such a context some four decades later.

The role of this magazine too is one of connecting, of bringing together European scientists and engineers and providing them with information about the latest developments in computing that will make their professional lives easier, more interesting and more productive. One prediction is secure: 10 years hence, Scientific Computing World will have just as interesting an array of technologies and applications to survey as it has today, and as it had a decade ago. It will be a different array of technologies and applications and readers of the magazine's 20th anniversary issue, 10 years hence, will be able to look back to the predictions in this one and see how much has come true.