There are few sensations better than travelling in a motorcade, so I am very glad to have attended ICT2013, the EU’s big event (it closes today) at Vilnius in Lithuania. From a standing start in London, Vilnius is one of the EU’s less accessible capitals. But once there, advantages start to become apparent. For one thing, the airport, which looks like a medium-size railway station, is in town. The number 1 bus
got me to my hotel in minutes. Also, the Old Town is fascinating, although I didn’t make it to the museum of KGB misdeeds. And as a small capital that has not had heavy investment, it still has factories and power stations in the city centre. Oh, and the people really are the most helpful I’ve met just about
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anywhere. Special applause to a total stranger who called me a cab on her phone because it’s cheaper than hailing one.
My role there was to chair a 45-minute session on science and big data. Yes, a
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perfectly adequate subject for a three-day conference. So thanks to the speakers and to Catherine Gater of EGI.eu, the organiser, for their efforts at this feat of compression.
Oh yes, the motorcade. The conference was in Vilnius because Lithuania has the EU presidency and they are doing it in style. Hotels are full, cabs are on the move, and the place is looking prosperous. On the Wednesday night, thousands of us were shipped to the national stadium for a huge dinner. As we sped along at a pace not normally associated with coach travel, it became obvious that we were following a police car with flashing lights, that all the side roads had been blocked off by more cop cars, and that the other traffic had been pulled off the road. And we went through traffic lights regardless of colour. Nor was the dinner a disappointment. The speech by the foreign minister was perfect – well under two minutes. There was even a memorable performance by Baltic Ballet. Forget Tchaikovsky, these folk go for Depeche Mode as house composer.
But I did learn a lot about IT and European science as well. One thing I found is that there is a baffling ecosystem of bodies whose aim is in some way to
provide computing for European research. Do I talk to PRACE? Or to Helix Nebula? Maybe the current delays to the EU Horizon 2020 research scheme will prune this jungle. Another issue is that for some computing resources, projects that have already got funding by peer review have to be per-reviewed again and may not succeed, which seems insane.
Another good learning is that although big IT for science started with particle physics and has since spread to astronomy (eg the terabytes that SKA will produce), it is now transforming the life sciences. Some of the stuff going on is very practical (a project
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on old people falling over) and others more grandiose, eg the Human Brain Project, a big EU showcase. As someone who’s not in the first flush of youth, I hope they get on with it in time to let me live for ever. If I do, a further visit to Lithuania is on the agenda.