Ithaca, N.Y. Here I am at the first conference on computational sustainability being held at Cornell University. About 185 attendees are here today with more expected during the next three days. They range from computer scientists to wildlife and energy conservationists to economists. Carla Gomes, Director of the Institute for Computational Sustainability, opened the conference remarking on seminal reports, like the Brundtland report published by the United Nations 30 years ago, that raised serious concerns about the state of the planet. In the intervening years we’ve seen the advent of Google, eBay, and just-in-time manufacturing, but the impact of IT has been uneven, she said. The recommendations of these reports were that we need policies of sustainable development, many of which translate into decision optimization problems, statistical learning problems within computer fields like combinatorial decisions, dynamic modeling, and uncertainty. “Unfortunately not that many computer scientists are aware of these challenging problems,” she said.
The goal of the conference is to bring together the communities of sustainability researchers, computer scientists, and policy makers to establish a “two-way street.” First they have to find a common language and educate computer scientists about the challenges in sustainability research. Similarly these scientists need to learn about the models and techniques that computer science and related fields can offer. “This is new intellectual territory with great potential,” Gomes said, “and unique societal benefits.”
Karen A. Frenkel reports on science and technology and lives in New York City.