The GYSS@one-north is a five-day multidisciplinary summit happening in Singapore from 15-20th January 2017 themed, “Advancing Science, Creating Technologies for a Better World”. The summit aims to excite and inspire bright young researchers to apply their minds to research that addresses serious global challenges and future needs of mankind. It also gives them an opportunity to engage and connect young researchers to like-minded peers as well as eminent scientific leaders through close and personal interaction sessions.
Speakers invited to the GYSS@one-north are globally recognised scientific leaders, who are recipients of the Nobel Prize, Fields Medal, Millennium Technology Prize, Turing Award and IEEE Medal of Honour. Here is a round-off of the Day 1 of GYSS@one-north summit!
Personal Control of Digital Data
Professor Butler Lampson, Turing Award (1992)
In the era of Big Data, Internet users should have more control over their personal data, Professor Butler Lampson said at the first GYSS2017 plenary lecture. While it could be unrealistic for all personal data to remain private in this information age, users should still have some control to prevent their data from getting into the wrong hands.
Each piece of data could be tagged, and each tag could have its own data policy, said Professor Lampson. Users can work within the policy to limit the use and access of data, and can set up different personas for their online identities to manage online anonymity. For example, users can increase privacy settings on social media channels.
Organisations also need to address the issue of privacy when it comes to collecting and storing data. Professor Lampson added that coming up with a firm data policy is important when it comes to balancing the needs of personal privacy as well as business requirements. “The whole policy mechanism has to be very simple,” he said, “it has to fit on one screen in reasonably big type. If it is too complicated, your policy will not be understood.”
The Revolution of Personalised Medicine – Are We Going to Cure All Diseases and at What Price?
Professor Aaron Ciechanover, Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2004)
Next up was Professor Aaron Ciechanover, who discussed a revolution in the medical field through the personalisation of medical treatment to patients’ individual needs. This is set to change the way medicine treats diseases, as medical treatment can be tweaked according to each patient’s physiological and disease make up.
“In other words, we are not treating the disease, but the disease of the patient,” he added. For example, different mutations in breast cancer require different types of drugs. “The type of mutation is discovered first, then the drugs are developed to treat the mutation,” he said. However, personalised medicine comes at a cost as one may take extreme pre-emptive measures if he discovers a gene that makes him more susceptible to certain diseases.
“The question is what should we do with such information, when we discover we are more susceptible to cancer or Alzheimer’s’ Disease? Do we tell our spouse, our children or our employers? Where does it end?” he questioned.
In 2004, Professor Aaron Ciechanover was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery that cells use ubiquitin to mark out old proteins for destruction and reuse.
A Computational Theory of Cortex
Professor Leslie Valiant, Turing Award (2010)
Professor Leslie Valiant believes that computer science is essentially made up of various mechanisms. With that, he believes that the concept of mechanisms in computational science can contribute to other fields of science, such as neuroscience and biology. He theorised that something as logical and as straightforward as an algorithm could apply to biological organisms.
Computational theorists have long drawn inspiration for their work through comparing the capabilities between the human brain and the computer, said Professor Valiant. The complexities of the human brain are vast and mysterious, and computational theories, supported by the concept of mechanisms and algorithms, could be used to explore neuroscience to further depths.
The Power of Abstraction
Professor Barbara Liskov, Turing Award (2008)
Computer scientist Professor Barbara Liskov, who received the Turing Award in 2008 for her significant contributions to programming methodology, said many programmers are still facing challenges in writing software. That is because programming involves millions of lines of code, which can be overwhelming even to the most experienced programmer.
One key feature of current programming languages is abstraction, where only the essential features are shown to the user. Modular programming is an example of abstraction, and each module contains specific lines of code that perform a certain function. “It breaks up the work to allow different people to work on different modules, and with its specifications the whole thing can come together as well,” she said.
Reconstruction of the Past
Professor Sydney Brenner, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2002)
Professor Sydney Brenner gave an overview of the history of life, since life began on earth 2 billion years ago, of which humans are a product through evolution.Professor Brenner commented that there is a limit to what can be achieved by living in a contained unit, so to invent, sociality developed. “Animals learn, have memories, complicated social traits, as do insects like bees, wasps and plants, but the human is something different. Humans have ideas, can see a future.”
He said the difference between humans and animals is that no animal can plan its future. It merely hopes to hold its place in its environment, yet today, many animals are quickly going extinct.His suggestion to the GYSS 2017 participants was to study the brain and what it can do, as it could become the most important biological study of the future. He asked them to consider all the changes that are happening around them, such as technology, which is changing the capacity of the human brain to create.
Essentially, he said, humans are still the products of invention and urged participants to have their own ideas and then try to get a chance to prove them. “You are the future, so take responsibility for it,” he said.
Panel Discussion – What Inspires You?
Dr Vinton Gray Cerf (Turing Award, 2004), Sir Timothy Hunt (Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2001), Professor Barbara Liskov (Turing Award, 2008), Professor Leslie Valiant (Turing Award, 2010)
At the panel discussion yesterday, the panellists – Dr Vinton Gray Cerf, Sir Timothy Hunt, Professor Barbara Liskov and Professor Leslie Valiant – shared compelling stories about their scientific journeys.
They discussed what inspire them, their path in research and what approach they took when things did not work out. They urged young scientists to remain curious, grow old but do not grow up; to be obsessed with discovering and solving problems; and look out for opportunities in everyday life.Although the paths they took could have been different, none expressed any regrets. As Dr Cerf said, students should demonstrate a lot of curiosity and he urged them just to “do science”.
During Q&A with the participants, most of the panellists agreed that the most challenging time in their careers was around the period where they were writing their PhD theses. They encouraged young scientists to persevere and to be honest about what they did not know, because it would make them better researchers. From failure, comes a moment of learning and the discovery of ideas.