Remarks by Douglas C. Schmidt at the October 2000 Dedication Ceremony for the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at the University of California, Irvine
As I was traveling from DARPA to UCI yesterday I had an opportunity to read an article by another leading Internet visionary, John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. In John's view, a key trend arising from the growing ubiquity of the Internet and the increased commoditization of information technology is the fact that ``everything gets cheaper forever.'' In the context of today's ceremony, two aspects of ``Chamber's law'' are particularly revealing:
Unfortunately, there are important domains--particularly mission-critical distributed and embedded software-intensive communication systems in aerospace, telecommunications, health care, and online financial services--that are not improving at the same rate as Moore's Law or Metcalf's Law, due to a variety of accidental and inherent complexities. Thus, whereas computer and network hardware seems to get smaller, faster, cheaper, and better at a predictable pace, complex distributed software systems seem to get bigger, slower, more expensive, and buggier, and the innovation cycles are hard to schedule and predict.
After working on distributed and embedded communication software systems during the past two decades--first as a graduate student in the ICS department at UCI starting in the mid '80s and now as a Associate Professor in the ECE department at UCI--I'm increasingly convinced that the ``everything gets cheaper forever'' metaphor has become an impediment to our future progress since it fails to capture the level of effort required to address the vexing R&D challenges we now face.
A more appropriate metaphor was suggested to me by a movie I saw recently: Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks. If you've seen the movie, I'm sure you'll recall the classic scene where the carbon dioxide levels have grown dangerously high in the Lunar module due to a broken air scrubber. At this crucial moment, a manager walks into a room full of engineers and scientists sitting around a table and dumps out a bag containing common components--such as a toothpaste, tang, and duct tape--found on the lunar module. He tells the group ``you've got eight hours to take these component and assemble an air scrubber that will fit into an opening like this, and if you don't get it right the first time, everyone is going to die!''
Increasingly, those of us conducting advanced R&D on complex software-intensive communication systems--especially large-scale mission-critical ``systems of systems''--are facing challenges analogous to those of the Apollo 13 engineers and scientists. In particular, time-to-market pressures and competition for consumers and personnel have created a situation where mission-critical systems must be developed using an ever larger number of commodity-off-the-shelf (COTS) components that we often do not develop ourselves and whose quality we can rarely control. Yet, just like the Apollo 13 engineers and scientists, we must quickly and carefully master the principles, patterns, and protocols necessary to thrive in this environment because our livelihood--and sometimes even our lives--depend upon our success.
While the road ahead in R&D is exciting, we must also learn to navigate many potential traps and pitfalls, not the least of which is the fact that our stunning successes in some information technology domains may limit our ability to repeat this success in the future. I'm particularly concerned about the widespread perception that ``everything gets cheaper forever,'' which is leading some to conclude that advanced R&D itself has become a commodity and no longer requires a significant investment to keep the technology transition pipeline full. While this perception may apply to certain mainstream domains, such as e-commerce, consumer electronics, and desktop productivity tools, I fear that without sustained investment in core science and technology R&D we're in danger of ``eating our seed corn'' and reaching a complexity cap that will make it hard for the US and California to maintain our information technology prowess in the face of global competition and disruptive technologies.
In a highly commoditized information technology economy, human resources are an increasingly strategic asset. In the future, therefore, I believe that premium value and competitive advantage will accrue to individuals, universities, companies, and countries that continue to invest in advanced R&D and who master the principles, patterns, and protocols necessary to integrate COTS hardware and software to develop complex systems that can't be bought off-the-shelf yet. To succeed in this endeavor requires close collaboration between academia, industry, and government, which is why I'm delighted to participate in today's ceremony honoring the contributions of Dr. Henry Samueli, whose donations to UCI are helping to fuel R&D and education for the next-generation of information technologies.
Douglas C. Schmidt
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Last modified 16:14:08 CST 16 December 2012