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Issue No.10 - October (2010 vol.43)
pp: 6
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
The failures on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the blowout of the Macondo Well were deeply human events. The imposition of complicated software as proposed in the August AI Redux column (S.S. Iyengar et al., "Preventing Future Oil Spills with Software-Based Event Detection," pp. 95-97) could possibly perform as outlined. However, its functions could be disabled just as easily as the warning sirens that were turned off because they kept sounding at inopportune times.
It remains a fact that the best complex event processing (CEP) entity is exemplified in the cognitive information management shell (CIM shell) that is the brain contained within the skull of a well-trained human being. Those of us with professional histories in the upstream oil industry (drilling and production) are horrified that the engineers in charge did not act upon well-known and well-understood events in the days and hours before the disastrous explosion to bring the Macondo Well under control using appropriate techniques and technology.
Frankly, this catastrophe should raise anew the ethical responsibilities of engineering professionals and how engineers should respond to managerial and financial pressures in the course of the professional exercise of their required duties.
Larry L. Gadeken
The column editor and article author respond:
Indeed, there is a very human aspect to it, and the article acknowledges the dangers of not acting upon warnings that were originally set up. Listening to domain experts should probably be the first line of preparedness against such tragedies. Note that it is possible for a CEP engine to amplify the prospective dangers associated with a warning, making it more likely to be taken seriously.
Naren Ramakrishnan
S. Sitharama Iyengar
Thanks for the "Mental Discipline" article in Computer's August 2010 issue (D.A. Grier, The Known World, pp. 6-8).
Mathematics is not a dead art or language such as Latin or Greek. I'm not sure about the latest and greatest in math, but there are certainly significant developments in other fields that employ math. And, like math, those fields must continue to evolve. Math for the general population is hardly finished. On the contrary, the greatest achievements of mathematics are yet to be realized.
So here's my concern. Given that we have black-boxed mathematical knowledge such as calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations, who do we get to work on math at the bleeding edge? Nerds with quantitative 800 SAT scores? Do these kids all attend MIT? Is math just for especially gifted students who demonstrate their proficiency in something like algebra?
I think there's a real problem here. We are going to need kids who can understand how these black boxes function, inside and out. Hopefully this endeavor is not limited to a few super math whizzes. It's just too much fun working a math problem and verifying that you have the correct answer by looking it up in the back of the book. And even better, you might just stumble upon a new formulation in the process of visiting some archaic, well-understood mathematical derivation.
It happens!
Richard Brodine
The author responds:
I share your concerns on two levels. First, I wonder who is going to do the work not only for the difficult problems with massively complex proofs but also for the new fields that support technology, fields that would be similar to the development of symbolic logic in the 1930s and formal language theory in the late 1950s. Second, I am not sure that we see the appropriate place for mathematics in technical education. We cling to traditional calculus as the starting point, even though our needs for mathematical skills seem to have shifted substantially, and we justify it with phrases such as "mental discipline." I don't have any good prescriptions, but I do suspect that the role of mathematics will shift in the next decade.
David Alan Grier
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