Q: What is the most important thing that's happened in computing in the past 10 years?
A: I think one of the most remarkable things is the rate of "computerization" of the sciences (hard and soft equally). That is the realization that most, if not all, disciplines can be, often more effectively, approached computationally. We have seen entire new fields emerge and flourish, such as network biology and computational medicine. This has been the result of the generation and accessibility of huge amounts of data (where, granted, cloud computing has played an important role), and of the ever-increasing computational power that's cheaply available. The understanding and control that complexity and computational sciences will give us will make promising ideas in areas such as synthetic biology and personalized medicine a reality.
Q: By the end of your career, where do you
think computer science will have taken us? What are you
working on that might contribute toward that?
A: Whole areas will be transformed, even if they continue to be called by the same names. Our practice of medicine today is not that different from the way medicine was practiced before. It is a purely empirical and about expert knowledge. In the not-too-distant future, I think medicine will be a matter of computational genetics and computational pharmacology, so it will have a very different character and will achieve things we have just imagined. I hope to at least witness the first steps in this direction, if not more, and to be around when MDs no longer have to make informed, but often incorrect guesses when it comes to diagnosis or to experiment with patients in order to decide on appropriate therapies.
I hope to contribute towards these goals with my research, which currently focuses on applying information theory and complexity science to genomics and network biology.
Q: Who is your favorite historical figure? Why?
A: If there is one figure who influenced me the most at the age when I had to decide on my discipline, I would say Évariste Galois, given the drama of his personal life and the unprecedented contribution he made to modern mathematics while still a teenager. I think Galois not only influenced my choice of discipline, but also my choice of a way of life and a home. Second to Galois would be Euclid, but we know next to nothing about him other than his "Elements." Given that after math I moved to computer science, the works of David Hilbert, Kurt Gödel, and later Alan Turing had a definitive influence on my career choice. If I had to go outside the sciences altogether, there are too many to single out just one, but it would likely be a writer, a painter, or a legendary warrior.
Q: If you weren't working in the computer science field, what would you be doing instead?
A: Over the course of my career, I have worn many hats. I started with a background in pure math and moved from logic and computer science to complexity science and computational biology, so I've had the opportunity to work in several areas that I've greatly enjoyed. If I had to choose a completely different career, however, I would probably choose to be a chef, but to be honest I don't enjoy tasks that require repetition, and to become a great chef means having to reproduce your signature dishes hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I can still be a cook at home though, so I don't believe one needs to label oneself with his professional job.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: I like many types, but I've been listening to electronic music for many years now—from Thom Yorke to Daft Punk to Armin van Buuren, to mention three examples.