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Prof. Yao: Interaction among Disciplines Is the Key to Information Technology De

November 13,2008


Prof. Yao: Turing Award Recipient in 2000 for his contributions to the theory of computation, including communication com­plexity, pseudorandom number generation, and quantum communica­tion.


Everyone knows that information technology has changed our life. However, people often think of hardware when talking about information technology, for example, cells, computers, GPS and so on. These equipments are miracles brought by technology. Hardware is not enough, and behind all the marvelous hardware on computing and communication is modern information technology, which helps us to design operational rules to operate these equipments and develop conceptions that can be applicable.


“During the past 50 years, these scientific theories have showed us the guidance. Then, will scientific theories have important impact in the future?” On November 11, Prof. Yao posed these questions during Beijing Forum for 2008 Nobel Laureates.


Prof. Yao claimed that information technology in the 21st century faces many major issues, such as Internet security, processing data of huge amount, great impact of information technology on physITCS, medical treatment, biology and economITCS and so on. The solution of these problems is urgently needed in the way of breakthrough in theory and creativity in technology. He said breakthrough in theory and creativity in technology happen when different disciplines and different theories combine and cross mutually and meanwhile when a new kind of technology could be used and become applicable.


“Many technical innovations have such characteristITCS: they are based on application, and the potential scientific principles are formed by interactions among different scientific theories or even different disciplines.” Prof. Yao set several examples to prove his statement.


The first example is about information security. “We all know that it is very important to keep national, personal and commercial secrets.” Prof. Yao said that imagine you want to build a code via telephone that only two persons (who are in separate cities) know in order to draw cash through ATM. Coding theory cannot make it possible because if their talks are overheard, the code will not be a secret any more.


“However, if we use Shannon’s theory to think out of the box and make a larger box, it will be possible. We find that any computation that is related to numbers could be in a secure condition to let everyone know the results at last without knowing any details. This secure computing technology had only been applicable during the past 10 to 20 years.” Prof. Yao said.


The second example is about quantum computing. At present, computer design has been close to quantum limit, and in the following 50 to 100 years, it is difficult to speed computer system but quantum computing could make computing much faster.

“Why is quantum computing so exciting? Why it is involved physITCS?” Prof. Yao mentioned that quantum computing principles are different from traditional computing principles. They have two characteristITCS: First, it is the interaction between physITCS and computer science, which makes people go back to original pursue of computer design----how to build faster and better computers; Secondly, as quantum computing technology becomes applicable, people are able to control atom structures at the molecular level. Therefore, quantum computer should be built to simulate such natural process.


As for the development of future information science, Prof. Yao thinks that information science has a large basic science database, and it interacts and is used by other disciplines. It is possible to form basic and technical innovations in the 21st century. He said: “Information science is a young science. In the past 40 years, information technology has always been the frontier of information science. In these 20 years, integrated circuit and development of Internet pose many challenging questions, such as facing complexity and reliability of technology, reducing power greatly.” He prospected that in the future there might be a new information science revolution with the characteristITCS of high performance computing and digital simulation.


“Facing with innovation on information technology, it is difficult for us to predict what will happen in the future.” Prof. Yao said, “We could predict now that we will soon learn about the future development orientation such as application of Internet security, or design a new Internet to enhance convenient interaction online and high security. Will Moore law have sustaining development in information technology? Are we able to find better ways to solve huge amount of data? Will information technology help people to achieve goals in the field of physITCS, medical science, biology and economic science? We will wait and see the solutions of these problems.”