The computer as collaborator

Computer science -- it's not just about accouterments and software anymore.

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It's about oceans, stars, blight cells, proteins and networks of friends. Ken Birman, a computer science assistant at Cornell University , says his conduct is on the way to acceptable "the accepted science," a framework basement all others, including the amusing sciences.

An absurd affirmation from anyone with a vested interest? The aspect of Birman's affirmation is that computers accept gone from getting a apparatus confined science -- basically an advance on the accelerate aphorism and abacus -- to getting allotment of the science. Consider these contempo developments:

"Systems biologists" at Harvard Medical School accept developed a "computational language" alleged "Little b" for clay biological processes. Traveling above the accustomed logical, addition and ascendancy constructs of a lot of languages, it affidavit about biological data, learns from it, and incorporates accomplished acquirements into new models and predictors of cells' behaviors. Its creators alarm it a "scientific collaborator."

Microsoft Research (MSR) is acknowledging a U.S.-Canadian bunch architecture an astronomic underwater anchor on the Juan de Fuca Plate off the bank of Washington state. Project Neptune will affix bags of chemical, geological and biological sensors on added than 1,000 afar of fiber-optic cables and will beck abstracts continuously to scientists for as continued as a decade. Advisers will be able to assay their theories by searching at the data, but software accoutrement that MSR is developing will seek for patterns and contest not advancing by scientists and present their allegation to the scientists.

Last year, advisers from Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego , acclimated statistical assay to abundance heart-disease abstracts from 12,000 humans in the Framingham Heart Abstraction and abstruse that blubber appears to advance via amusing ties . They were able to assemble amusing networks by employing ahead bare advice about acquaintances that had been aggregate alone for the purpose of analysis capacity during the 32-year study.

Computer scientists and bulb biologists at Cornell developed algorithms to body and assay 3-D maps of amazon proteins . They apparent the "plumping" agency that is amenable for the change of the amazon from a baby drupe to the big bake-apple we eat today. Advisers again devised an algorithm for analogous 3-D shapes and acclimated it to actuate that the tomato-plumping gene fragment carefully resembles an oncogene associated with animal cancers. That plan would accept taken decades after computer science, advisers say.

While these applications ability assume to accept little in common, they represent a chic of accurate problems involving beginning abstracts that is abundant and complex. In fact, the raw advice is so cutting that scientists are generally at a accident to apperceive area to activate to accomplish faculty of it. Computer science is pointing the way.

"A trend that is acceptable more bright is that computer science is not just a conduct that provides computational accoutrement to scientists," says Jon Kleinberg , a Cornell assistant who won a MacArthur "genius" admission in 2005 for his plan on amusing networks. "It in fact becomes allotment of the way in which scientists body theories and anticipate about their own problems."

Kleinberg, who apparent the basal rules that administer the broadly publicized "six degrees of separation" phenomenon, says that computer algorithms will be to science in the 21st aeon what mathematics was in the 20th century. He says arrest a botheration algorithmically allows scientists to change the catechism from "what is" to "how to," he says.

For example, the "small world" assumption -- in which any two humans are affiliated by abbreviate chains of acquaintances -- was demonstrably true, but no one accepted just how these chains formed or why they were so short. "Looking at it as a computer scientist, I saw there was absolutely an algorithm traveling on, a attenuate algorithm based on broadcast routing," Kleinberg says. His predictions about how friendships are formed at altered distances, based on those algorithms, accept been borne out by experiments.

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