GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY


"SCIENCE SUPPORT SYSTEM"
WILL BE AN IMPORTANT COMPUTER SYSTEM BY THE YEAR 2000


SUBMITTED TO
PROFESSORS HABERMANN & REEDER
DEPARTMENT OF ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT


BY
NIKOLAOS KASSELOURIS


WASHINGTON, D.C.
EMGT 256
December 3, 1990

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The majority of current uses of Computer Systems (CSs) support the operation of organizations. The reason [for that is] the relatively simple structure of "operational information" and the current capabilities of the systems.

The position of the paper is that by the year 2000 will be apparent the CSs use in sciences because of technological advantages in the computer systems.

I will prove my position in three steps.
First, I will describe the needs of sciences - opportunities for application of CSs. I envision needs for improvement (systematization and integration), needs for development, and needs for acquisition and dissemination of knowledge.
Second, I will analyze the existing capabilities of the systems in terms of structure, functions, and user-system interface.
Finally, in the third step, I project the present capabilities of CSs emphasizing the attainable objectives by the year 2000, which will be in the previously mentioned parameters of structure, functions, and user-system interface.

I. INTRODUCTION

The advent of Computer System (CS) five decades ago, which "extend our thinking power ... just as gears, gas engines, and electric motors extend our physical power" (Sanders 1988, xxiii), is of the most important events in the 20th century. Since the 1940s there has been a tremendous evolution of CSs and a wide spread use of its applications. Of course, this evolution will continue and revolutions lie ahead (Info..., 19).

Today, what characterizes the majority of the applications of CSs is that they support the manipulation of the "operational information" of organizations (business or other). The reason for that is the existing capabilities of the systems.

The focus of this paper is on scientific uses of CSs. A main source of information in my paper is the 1989 report of the Panel on Information Technology and the Conduct of Research of the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy which is a joint committee of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. In this report first of all it is acknowledged that little research exists on general scientific uses of information technology (Info..., 8). Also, the report states that the today impediments in this use are 1) technological, 2) financial, and 3) complex institutional and behavioral constraints (Info..., 11).

The purpose of my paper is to show that the technological improvements will be the determining factor for the widespread use of CSs in sciences.

Approach. In the second section I will describe the existing needs, the driving forces of the evolution. In the next section, "where are we," I will present the present capabilities of the systems. Finally in the fourth section I will expand on recent trends, emphasizing the attainable goals by the year 2000.

II. NEEDS OF SCIENCE - OPPORTUNITIES FOR CSs APPLICATIONS

There is general consensus about the importance of information in our "information age." Already, since the 17th century Francis Bacon, British philosopher, said that knowledge and power are the same thing (Getmanova 1989, 7).

The general need. In the most abstract terms, the existing need is to enhance the productivity of sciences. More specificly there are three needs:
the need for improvement,
the need for development, and
the need for acquisition and dissemination of our knowledge.

Need for improvement. One of the main characteristics of our knowledge is its quantity. "The total amount of scientific information available in the world doubles every twenty months" (Mondy et al 1988,180). This fact created one of the main needs for our society. The need for systematization and integration, in other words improvement of our knowledge. This need is apparent to everyone who is enrolled in our teaching and knowledge producing organizations. Articles as "the management theory jungle" also show this need (Ibid,26). To systematize terminology (Slocum 1989, 29), to resolve ambiguities, to eliminate inconsistencies and contradictions are some needs in this category.

Need for development. Despite the existing quantity of knowledge, the need to expand the frontiers of our knowledge are obvious. And here lies the potential use of the new tools, the CSs, that give us new possibilities (Info..., 12).

Need for acquisition and dissemination. Finally there is the need for acquisition and dissemination existing knowledge. Translation of knowledge from one language to another is a major limit to acquire knowledge (Slocum 1989,24). Creation of abstracts that help to acquire more knowledge and rapidly are another example.Improving teaching methods is another. Finally, improving the dissemination of information, will result in the elimination of duplications an impediment in the productivity of research.

III. WHERE ARE WE

Understanding the needs of science, potential goals for CSs applications is not enough. One must also be fully aware where he is. So, in this section I analyze the existing capabilities of CSs. Also I include a subsection about the nature of human information, to clarify points necessary in my analysis.

A. HUMAN-INFORMATION IN GENERAL, PHILOSOPHICAL TERMS.

The irony in the "information age" is that "there is still no accepted integrating theory for dealing with data and information, let alone with knowledge, which is the focus of many so-called `knowledge-based systems'" (Fox 1989, 1).

Definition of human information (HI). I perceive HI as a unity of three representations. These representations were created in a long historical process together with the creation of humanity. The first representation, is the "thought" in our minds, which represents the real world, a prerequisite for the existing of every animal system. The second representation is the correspondence of sounds (words) in these thoughts. The creation of this second representation was a revolutionary stage for mankind. It was the main thing that differentiated humans from animals, and a prerequisite in the creation of human society. Finally the third representation is the correspondence in the existing entity sounds-thoughts, and visual symbols (letters). This third representation appeared many years after the second representation and was a second revolution in the evolution of humanity. It was the cause for the appearance of sciences as shown in Greek history.

HI has many forms. The unity of sounds and symbols we call language. In the world many languages exist that represent human thoughts. So, HI exists in many forms. But all these different forms have something in common. All are representations of the same thing, the real world that exists independently of humans but which includes humans.

Structure of HI. Furthermore, HI can be divided into smaller parts. The indivisible elements which preserve its characteristics, I call concept. The structure of every concept has a language element (which consists of a symbol and a sound component), and a thought, which we usually call meaning. In this perspective, data, information, and knowledge are all conceptual systems (structures of concepts). Its difference depends only in the degree of the complexity of their structure. Of course, there is no clear criteria in this distinction.

Subjectivity of HI. I must emphasize that the nature of HI depicts its main characteristic, its subjectivity. It is a complex representation of the real world, but not reality itself. So its validity (if it is true or false) depends on its comparison with reality, not just with other information.

B. THE COMPUTER SYSTEM.

The advent of CSs, machines to manipulate HI, came only when the evolution of technology made feasible to man to do another representation on the human information. This new digital representation is at final analysis a combination of electric circuits, a representation of the symbols of HI. In the early years only numbers and instructions were represented. This is why the first functions of CSs were computations. This fact also gave its name to systems, computers. But, through the years we are witness in the evolution of the complexity in this representation. The next step was the representation of words which gave rise to the creation of data bases. Furthermore, in the 1980's representations of relations between words gave rise to knowledge bases and the advent of the so called "expert systems" and other artificial intelligence products.

The support role of CSs. But at least now and the next decade, subject to my paper, the CS is unable to deal with the main characteristic of HI, its subjectivity. Only the human at the final analysis is the one who decides about its validity, because only he can compare it with the reality. The system only in very limited ways can decide about the truth of HI, and this can be done only in an indirect way -- through comparisons with other existing conceptual systems. In this perspective, the CSs have a support role, and this support role will continue for many years.

1. The structure of CSs.

In the early years the structure of CS was simple. Its components were the hardware (input/output devices, storage devices, and the central processing unit), and the software (data, programs). Today with programs that manipulate other programs and not just data-representation but knowledge- representation the distinction of data/programs is not clear.

Another aspect of the structure of the CS is that the structure may be a simple CS or a network of CSs. The creation of CS networks characterizes the 1980's because of the advent of microcomputers.

Why the user is not included. It is important to emphasize that in the previous conceptualization I did not include the user(s). The reason is that we are interested in clarifying what the CS can do itself, its strengths and limitations. Of course, the role of the user is vital in relation to HI. Only the user knows the real world, only for the user the manipulated language has meaning, and only the user is responsible in final analysis for the evaluation of the output of CSs,i.e. the comparison with the real world, and how to use this output in his/her activities. Once more, the supporting role of CSs is obvious in this perspective.

2. The functions of CSs.

My purpose here is to classify the different mental activities that the systems perform, not the various applications these functions have in many areas.

Communication. It is perceived as an exchange of information between CSs, not the user-system interface. This is one of the most vital function of the systems. The proliferation of networks in the 1980's depict its appearance. Also technologies such as electronic mail, voice mail, teleconfrences, show the existence of this function.

Computations. This was the first function of the systems and the main function used in sciences today (Mason et al 1990, prologue). Spreadsheet programs and a variety of mathematical models, and simulations used in Decision Support Systems, that perform mainly this function, was one cause for the widespread use of CSs in business organizations.

Storage-retrieval. This function was the second function, after computation, that the CSs performed. The creation of databases, is a result of this function. Data is human information with the simplest structure. The "operational information" of organizations consists of records of data, and this is another reason why the majority of today's uses of CSs are directed to support the operation of organizations.

Word processing. It includes all the activities used in text manipulations. It encompass simple tasks such as copy, and move text pieces to more complex functions such as spelling checkers and creation of abstracts by extracting sentences with key words.

Graphics. Graphics are one of the most rapidly evolving functions. They already play an essential role in many scientific applications (Brodlie 1990, 187). Visualization of a huge volume of numbers affords the user with the capability to quickly extract the information needed.

Advisory function. With the evolution in computer representation from data to knowledge (representation of a very specific domain) this function was made possible. The expert systems perform mainly this function.

Natural language processing. It is of the most resent functions. Systems that translate text and systems that accept commands in natural language perform this function. In 1987 about one million pages of text translated by machines, worldwide (Slocum 1989,14). The difference with the "word processing " function is that here the system incorporates syntax knowledge and some meanings.

Perception. Finally, visual and acoustic perception is another function that the systems perform in very limited domains.

3. User - system interface.

The nature of the CSs implies one more characteristic other than its functions and structure. The user-system interface. In the evolution of systems, as programmers and users continuously were separating the importance of this characteristic became apparent. There are two aspects in this interface: methods of operation (how the user drives, directs the system), and ways to interface (the means he uses to do it).

Methods of operation. First of all the interface may or may not be interactive (a continuity of requests and responses). The user must know the specific conventions (computer languages) of the application he runs. Another more recent technique is the pull down menus, where the user has to choose what he wants to do from a list of functions that the system can perform.

Ways to interface. The dominant mean to interface today is the keyboard (Smith 1990, 15). Another resent mean is the Optical Character Recognition, devices with which the user can insert printed material without the use of keyboard. Finally voice input devices have appeared in the market with a lot of limitations. In relation with the output the user can receive the output in a display or in hard copy by a printer.

IV. THE ROAD

The challenging goals, described in the section "the needs of science" is a necessary but not sufficient condition to foresee the future. The purpose of this section is to foresee the attainable objectives by the year 2000, through the expansion of today's capabilities of the systems.

1. Future structure.

The evolution of CSs shows that the main characteristic of the structure will be in one word, network. Powerful workstations will have access to databases, libraries of software, expert systems, and powerful mainframes.

Components. All the sciences do not have the same CSs needs (Info..., 12). But existing problems demand more powerful hardware (Markoff 1990a, D1). The history of CSs shows that the capabilities of CSs in terms of speed and memory capacity will continue, and will be another reason for more computer use in the sciences. In relation to big systems, Parallel processing seems to be a solution in terms of speed for the short term future. For example the Delta system will be installed next spring at the California Institute of Technology and is claimed to be the world's fastest computer (ibid, D1). Also a report prepared for the Department of Energy and the President's office of Science and Technology Policy, estimates that the sales of parallel computers will exceed conventional ones at 1996 (Markoff 1990b, 34). A significant role for more scientific uses of CSs will be the small systems. In the November 1990 Comdex exposition the first generation of desktop 486 systems were displayed. "Scientists who need every bit of performance they can get are expected to be among the early users of desktop 486 systems" (Lewis 1990a, C5). In terms of memory capacity, optical hard disks and diskettes with many times capacity than the present magnetic disks and diskettes will be widely used in ten years and will be another reason for further use of CSs in sciences which demand more storage capacity. Improvements are also expected in networking hardware. Fiber optics and wireless methods will play a role in this area, which is a major factor to improve the communication function of the systems. Finally in ten years the research in optical computers is expected to lead to the first practical systems that will be a revolution in CSs hardware.

2. Future functions.

The purpose hear is to describe the current impediments in the functions, to show concrete trends to surpass them, and how the enhanced functions will give the possibility for further uses of CSs in sciences.

Communication. Impediments: Incompatibility is the word that expresses the substance of today's impediments (Info..., 21). It is related with a lack of standards in network protocols and standards in the other functions. These standards are necessary to systems in order to perform functions that other systems perform. Another obstacle is the limited spread of existing networks.
Trends: In relation to existing networks, a significant expansion is expected. For example, the National Science Foundation has announced its intention to serve as a lead agency in the development of a "truly national research network" (Info..., 21). In relation to standards, text formats for example which are a necessity to communicate text between scientists, it is expected to be resolved the next few years (Info..., 21). Another example is the Britelite machine which demonstrated the previous month at the Comdex exposition that represents "the first major step toward [small] computers that can run software from a variety of operation systems" (Lewis 1990b, F1). The enhanced communication function will be the main reason for wide spread use of CSs in sciences. The report on the uses of information technology in research had emphasized this function and D.N. Langenberg the chair of the panel of the report "strongly believes" that the power of science, derives from communication (Info..., ix).

Computations. Impediments: The only obstacles in this function are hardware capabilities of the systems.
Trends: The evolution in complexity of computations, numerical and symbolic (computations of functions rather than numbers), will continue. An integration with the graphics function is also expected and this will enhance the interpretation of calculations.

Storage-retrieval. Impediments: Except the storage capacity the main obstacle is searches. "Most information searches at present are incomplete, cumbersome, inefficient, expensive, and executable only by specialists" (Info..., 2).
Trends: In ten years we will have a significant improvement in this function. It is expected integration with expert systems and natural language processing techniques. For example the Q&A database system of Symantec Corp. that was marketing in 1989 "can do searches in natural language" and works in desktop systems (Arora 1990, 74). The enhanced capabilities of document and reference databases will be a very important reason for further use of CSs in sciences and an important step to improve the acquisition of knowledge.

Word processing. Impediments: This function in relation to other functions, is of the most powerless. "Spelling checkers typically look at words in isolation" (Smith 1990, 199). All automatic abstracting just extract sentences and not create new sentences as a human (ibid, 248).
Trends: Integration with natural languages processing techniques will improve this function. For example systems like the CRITIQUE, a text processing system that detects syntax errors like number disagreement, wrong pronoun case, wrong verb form, and punctuation (Ravin 1990, 108) will be in wide spread by 2000. Also input hand-drawn or camera images with scanners technology, so important in scientific texts, will improve this function.

Graphics. Impediments: Creation of standards and demand for powerful workstations are some of the existing obstacles.
Trends: Improvements in this function are expected. For example K.W. Brodlie predicts another trend in graphics. Visualization of the problem solving during the process of solving thus allowing the scientist both insight and control over the problem (Brodlie 1990, 200). Also in relation to standards, the ISO began an effort since 1985 which continues to be improved on and to gain acceptability (Brodlie 1990, 189). Another trend is the integration of graphics, sound, text, full-motion video (so called multimedia). In November 28, 1990, ten computer makers announced to offer multimedia PC's. "The technology could be used to create educational or presentation material" (Fisher 1990, D6). This will be another step to improve acquisition of knowledge and another technological cause for more computer use in the sciences. Also, because computer graphics allows new possibilities in research, "computer `see' the unseen" (Kolata 1990, C1), this function is an example how CSs will be, from another point, a necessity for the sciences.

Advisory function. Impediments: The "very limited domain" that can be represented in CSs (Brooks 1987, 367) is the most significant obstacle.
Trends: Improvements in knowledge representation techniques are surely expected. According to an optimistic opinion "during the next ten years, expert systems can be expected to supplement and transform the functions of professionals in every knowledge industry" (Davidson et al 1990, 80). Eventhough I can not predict the exact strength of this function, it will be another important reason for more computer uses in sciences.

Natural language processing. Impediments: Until now by this function scientists have only managed to represent the symbol portion of HI and the rules used to create symbol (word) structures, or the syntax of HI. However, this is the limit of the function. In reality ambiguities and conflicts in the symbol subsystem are resolved by the sound subsystem (eg with different accent for the same word), or by meaning (same word, different meanings). Not mentioning the most important of all, conflicts in HI, which only the reality resolves, either the comparison with it or the practice ("really works") as we say.
Trends: An example of future trends is the START system published in the last publication of the AI laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The "objective is to buillp a practical system that reads sentences, indexes the facts they convey, and retrieves those facts when asked" (Winston et al 1990, 134). The validity of the system was tested many times and one example was from members of the press in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who asked questions about the Voyager's Neptune encounter in 1989. "The experiment was a success" (Katz 1990, 158). Another trend that will improve this function is the Machine translation techniques (Smith 1990, 273). An example here is the EUROTRA project of the European Communities which began in 1982. In February 1987 the first small-scale translation system was completed, and worked for translation between German, English, and Danish (Maegaard 1989, 47). In general, improvements in this function will obviously be a cause for further use of CSs in sciences.

Perception. Impediments: A major obstacle for practical applications of these systems is their speed in both processing and accessing data. Perceptual systems involve manipulating fantastically large quantities of data and most potential areas of application of these systems demand that their tasks must be done in a timely fashion.
Trends: Based on current levels of activity, the situation is expected to improve dramatically over the next ten years. Raw computer processing power has been increasing and will continue to do so at unprecedented rates. This has been accompanied by new types of data and knowledge representation structures together with corresponding processing algorithms that are designed to exploit the new hardware architectures. For example, this field has been one of the major consumers of new types of parallel processing hardware and algorithmic techniques. Particularly important applications for sciences will be in the area of visual based man-machine communication. Visual based communication requires that a machine must be able to understand images as well as be able to generate them. The problem of how to generate images is being solved by computer graphics researchers. The problem of how to interpret input images is being be solved by the application of machine vision techniques. So, the enhanced perception function will be another reason for more computer use in sciences.

3. Future user-system interface

In general, it is certain that in ten years a significant improvement in user-system interface will be done. This will result in an improvement on all CSs functions and further computer uses in sciences.

Methods of operation. Impediments: "User-unfredliness" is the word we use to express current obstacles. The cause for this is the quantity and complexity of conventions the user needs to know to operate the system. "Powerful query languages are rather difficult to learn for nonprogrammers" (Thorpe et al 1989, 152).
Trends: The future in this area are natural languages interfaces that "are becoming reasonable option and not a source of endless frustration" (Katz 1990, 158). Especially in databases the assistant role of expert systems will play a major role to make the systems more easy to be operated.

Ways to interface. Impediments: The major obstacle is the "keyboard bottleneck" (Sanders 1988, 216). Also voice input is in its infancy (Smith 1990, 15).
Trends: The new optical character recognition and scanners technology will reach a mature stage in ten years. This will be a very important cause for further scientific uses of CSs because scientists mainly deal with texts. The use of optical character recognition is for example forty times faster than a typist (Smith 1990, 7). Understanding handwriting is another technology that will play a role. This year, eg Tandy corporation introduced its 4.5 pound pen-based system that accept handwriting commands (Shapiro 1990, D5). E.G. Glass, a consultant, estimates that sales of pen-based systems could reach $3 billion by the year 2000 (Shapiro 1990, D5). Finally improvements in voice recognition are expected to result in a more easy and quick way to interface with the system.

V. CONCLUSION

Ten years in relation with the evolution of our society is extremely short time. But, in relation with the evolution of CSs, ten years (1990-2000), is not quite so short a time. What I emphasized in this paper is that today the majority of uses of CSs support the operation of organizations because of the relatively simple nature of "operational information" and the capabilities of CSs. Also the reason for the relatively small computer use in science is that the nature of scientific information demands enhanced capabilities. My vision is that by the year 2000 the use of CSs in sciences will be apparent, because the enhanced capabilities of the systems will give this possibility. In relation to my title, what I want to say is that the enhanced capabilities of the systems will create a new quality of systems that I call "Science Support Systems".

Further trends in the future. I strongly believe that revolutionary changes in the evolution of CSs are ahead, in the 21th century. As in every evolutionary process, the results are becoming causes for further development. The use of CSs in sciences will continue and this use will become a necessity, as for example the use of CSs in high energy physics is essential (Info..., 12). Also expansion of the frontiers of our knowledge because of computer use is expected. Understanding very complex systems of the real world as a society in concrete terms where huge amounts of information is needed to be manipulated, only through the use of future powerful CSs can this be done. Finally, research in knowledge representation techniques will help us to better understand the nature of human information.

The cost factor. Eventhough my position is that technological advantages will be the predominant factor for more computer uses in sciences, the cost factor is not underestimated. For example in the Comdex exposition of the previous month the prices "have fallen sharply since last year (Lewis 1990a, C5).

Truth of the position. The methodology used in the paper was that of extrapolation of current trends. But, the validity of my assertions is in final analysis a matter of time. In other terms, a comparison with what will happen in reality.

The ultimate goal. Finally, I want to emphasize that the ultimate goal to improve the power of CSs is not the knowledge itself but through improvements of our knowledge about our social system and its environment to improve our society.-

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