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22 Mar 06. Advances in computing are going to transform science over the next 15 years in ways that few researchers have begun to appreciate, according to a report drawn up for Microsoft Research by a panel of 34 senior scientists from around the world. The report, released in London yesterday, says the life sciences will experience the biggest impact, as new computing techniques make it possible for the first time to model biological systems as complex as the human brain and immune system, or to predict accurately the spread of epidemics. Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, said a hint of what would be possible emerged at a World Health Organisation technical meeting in Geneva earlier this month, when experts used computer modelling to plan ways of containing a flu pandemic at source, before it could spread around the world. At present, computer modelling of disease is impracticable beyond the national scale, Prof Ferguson said. Future developments would lead to “a truly global simulator that would capture population movements and contacts at all scales, from within each household to intercontinental travel, and could revolutionise our ability to understand, visualise and potentially predict patterns of spread of both novel and emerging pathogens and the impact of possible control measures”. As well as advanced computers, a global disease simulator would need ways of feeding in reliable information in real time – for example using transport system and mobile phone tracking data. But, once completed, it would enable the world to respond quickly to epidemics. Alexander Szalay, professor of astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, said the sciences could learn a lot from the way businesses use computers, particularly for online analysis. For example, the financial community is a more sophisticated user of the “data cube”, a type of multidimensional matrix that lets users explore a collection of data from many different perspectives, while considering several factors (dimensions) at a time. But Andrew Parker, professor of high energy physics at Cambridge University, said there would have to be big changes in science education to achieve the vision in the report. “Scientists will need not only to be completely mathematically and computationally literate,” he said, “but also to know how to handle huge amounts of data. That sort of education does not exist today.” (Source: FT)

28 Mar 06. The US has regained top position in the 2005 information technology rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum after slipping to fifth place in 2004. Releasing its latest Global Information Technology Report, Geneva-based WEF said the US lead reflected its excellent physical infrastructure, a supportive market environment and high levels of business and government usage of the latest technologies. Singapore, first in 2004, came second and Denmark third. Four Nordic countries – the others being Iceland, Finland and Sweden – are in the top 10 alongside Canada, Taiwan and Switzerland. The UK, in 10th place, is the top-ranked of the European Union’s large economies, followed some way behind by Germany (17), France (22) and Italy (42). WEF, which for 2005 ranked 115 economies worldwide, said information and communications technologies were clearly emerging as one of the key drivers of economic growth and competitiveness. WEF produces a separate league table on global competitiveness each year. The “networked readiness index” rates each economy for its broad ICT environment, such as regulation and infrastructure, the readiness of individuals, businesses and governments to use ICT, such as education quality and spending on research and development, and use of ICT in practice. All ranking exercises of this type have an element of arbitrariness, depending on how the indexes are compiled. However, the leaders tend to be roughly the s

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