CEDI: Spanish computer scientists catch up with special effects and quantum computing | Chronicles of the intangible | Technology


Image of the VI Spanish Congress of Informatics held in Malaga.
Image of the VI Spanish Congress of Informatics held in Malaga.

Spanish scientists from the different computer science areas —as it happens in the rest of the scientific disciplines— usually present their work in international conferences and magazines, but this does not prevent them from also holding national conferences, which have more the character of meeting between the different research groups, to communicate and establish possible collaborations. These congresses are usually annual, but, for some time, their organizers decided to converge all in the same week every few years. In this spirit, the 6th Spanish Congress of Informatics (CEDI), an event that is held every three or four years and brings together most of the national conferences specialized in computing.

The apex of this macro-event is the Spanish Scientific Information Technology Society (SCIE), which brings together all the specialized computer companies responsible for the aforementioned annual congresses. On this occasion, 17 specialized conferences in areas as diverse as artificial intelligence, computer engineering, software and databases, computer graphics, computer architecture and technology, programming languages, natural language processing, video game creation, and some others.

Due to the uncertainty due to the pandemic, the congress was conceived as an innovative mix of face-to-face and online events: of the 1,120 participants, 640 did so online and the latter was applied to both the public and the speakers. In the same room, for example, a presenter could present and receive questions via a videoconferencing system, and then an online presenter could present their work and receive questions from those present. That forced the organizers to make a great deployment of technology and to maintain a technical assistance team to solve possible setbacks. In this case, there was no wooden spoon in the blacksmith’s house, and everything worked smoothly.

The event was sponsored by 14 companies – one of them, Google – and 9 institutions, including the aforementioned SCIE, as the organizing institution, and the City Council and the University of Malaga. Thanks to these sponsorships, the congress was able to finance some researchers to give invited lectures. Each specialized congress had its own lecturers but, in addition, two general conferences were organized which were able to attend the participants of all the congresses. I’m going to dwell on both, because both were very relevant.

The first was carried out by Marcos Fajardo, a former student computer engineer at the University of Malaga and founder of a company specializing in computer graphics algorithms. That company is now part of a large American company — California-based Autodesk Inc. with more than 8,000 employees — and Marcos is a senior manager of it. Its algorithms have been used in numerous films – some as famous as Gravity, Blade Runner 2049 and Spiderman– to create fictional scenes and special effects. The conference was precisely about the evolution of these special effects in film and video games throughout their history. Many readers may not be aware that behind many impressive movie scenes, computer engineers are devising algorithms to simulate fire, fog, or spaceships.

The second was given by Sergio Boixo, Computer Engineer from the Complutense University of Madrid, with a doctorate in Physics and with additional studies in Mathematics and Philosophy. Currently, Sergio is the chief scientist of Google’s Quantum Computing group and has already appeared on these pages in 2019 on the occasion of the announcement in which Google claimed to have achieved “quantum supremacy”. The conference was an update of the current state of this type of computing in one of the few groups that are world leaders in the field. He called today’s quantum computers “noisy” because they are highly sensitive to ambient energy and their memory collapses within a few microseconds of computation. He told us that the research is currently focused on achieving stable qubits —the elementary unit of memory— over time, although this will require many auxiliary qubits for each real qubit, which are in charge of “repairing” the errors of the latter. He charted a route in which stable computers on the order of 1,000 qubits – currently barely reaching 100 and unstable – are expected by 2030.

All in all, an exciting experience and an unbeatable update for Spanish computer science researchers.

Ricardo Peña Marí He is Emeritus Professor of Computer Languages ​​and Systems at the Complutense University of Madrid

Chronicles of the Intangible is a space for the dissemination of computer science, coordinated by the academic society SISTEDES (Society for Software Engineering and Software Development Technologies). The intangible is the non-material part of computer systems (that is, software), and its history and its evolution are related here. The authors are professors from Spanish universities, coordinated by Ricardo Peña Marí (professor at the Complutense University of Madrid) and Macario Polo Usaola (professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha).

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