Computing to Accelerate New Era of Scientific Discovery, Say Microsoft Research Cambridge and Top Scientists

LONDON — March 22, 2006 — Microsoft Research Cambridge, in association with 34 distinguished scientists, today published a set of new findings that indicate advances in computing are set to radically transform science and play a critical role in tackling key global challenges, from the environment and energy to medicine and health. The report, “Towards 2020 Science,” is the first to comprehensively analyze the potential of computer science to transform the way science is conducted to the year 2020 and beyond. “Towards 2020 Science” calls upon the science and computer science communities as well as policy-makers and education leaders to support this revolutionary shift.

Collectively known as the 2020 Science Group, the report’s contributors find that new software tools developed in computer science will have the potential to profoundly transform science, particularly the life sciences, over the next decade and beyond. These advances can accelerate the ability of scientists to address some of the greatest challenges facing the world, such as climate change and global epidemics. Software tools that enable far more accurate and powerful modeling of complex systems, the report asserts, will allow potential epidemics such as avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and malaria to be mapped more clearly, helping to avert disaster and improve response to real-time outbreaks.

“The weight of human existence on the planet has begun to break down the very systems on which we depend, and it is vital that we increase our knowledge of complex physical and biological systems through scientific advances,” said Prof. Stephen Emmott, director of Microsoft’s scientific research programs in Europe and chairman of the 2020 Science Group. “This report establishes the necessity of applying the cutting edge of computer science to more quickly find solutions to the challenges we are facing.”

In addition to presenting these and other findings, the report makes 10 recommendations, stressing these needs: to put science and science-based innovation at the top of society’s priorities; to reconsider how the scientists of tomorrow are inspired and educated at all age levels; and to find new ways to raise public awareness of the importance of scientific research and raise its profile on the political agenda. Microsoft Research Cambridge will be providing 2.5 million euro to the scientific community through a call for proposals to support new research that specifically addresses the areas outlined by the 2020 Science Group.

“Towards 2020 Science” observes how computer science is enabling new kinds of science through the development of “molecular machines,” for example, and the widespread encoding of scientific knowledge. The Human Genome Project offers an early glimpse of the swift pace of discovery that can result from the further codification of data.

Yesterday in London, international experts from the 2020 Science Group led a panel discussion to start what the group hopes will be an ongoing and productive public discussion on the issues they have raised. The report has also inspired the leading scientific journal Nature to dedicate a number of articles in its next issue to the future of computing in science.

“Computer science and the natural sciences have much to gain from each other,” said Dr. Philip Campbell, editor in chief of Nature. “The March 23 edition of Nature examines some of these key concepts and issues.” The group’s efforts began during a three-day workshop hosted by Microsoft Research Cambridge in July 2005 to consider the evolving role of computing in science. The “Towards 2020 Science” report and more information, including forthcoming details about the call for research proposals and further events where the group will be presenting, can be found at the group’s Web site,

About Microsoft Research

Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Its goals are to enhance the user experience on computing devices, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and invent novel computing technologies. Researchers focus on more than 55 areas of computing and collaborate with leading academic, government and industry researchers to advance the state of the art in such areas as graphics, speech recognition, user-interface research, natural language processing, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, and the mathematical sciences. Microsoft Research employs more than 700 people in five labs located in Redmond, Wash.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; Beijing; and Bangalore, India. The External Research and Programs group within Microsoft Research is dedicated to building world-class relationships with colleges and universities that enhance the teaching and learning experience, inspire technological innovation, and establish Microsoft as a valuable technology partner for higher education. More information can be found at

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