Featured in Five is a monthly section where we pose five questions to a Computing Reviews featured reviewer. Here are the responses from our February featured reviewer, Sara Kalvala (University of Warwick, UK).
Q: What is the most important thing that's happened in computing in the past 10 years?
A: Important doesn't necessarily mean good... I think the implications of data analysis and information sharing are radically changing society in ways that we won't really grasp until the “digital natives” become older and have to cope with a lifetime of this shared data. This month saw the 10th anniversary of Facebook, with many people sharing videos of their lives, with shades of The Truman Show. Journalists are showing us how easy it is to monitor our digital presence.
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: Computer science will be impacting many aspects of our lives. In particular, it will have a marked effect on health and medicine. The insights into biology that are made possible with computing technology and clever algorithms are amazing, and biologists are slowly realizing the benefits. I was recently at a workshop on microbiology and infection, and almost every talk had a bioinformatics component. Right now, the computational work is done by post-docs and the investigators just present the results, but in a few years the expertise will be much more pervasive.
I am working in the area of synthetic biology--an area where the computational paradigm is being used to more effectively make use of the amazing technologies for manipulating genes and cells. It is becoming easier and cheaper to send off a long genomic sequence (made of the four letters a, t, c, and g) and have the corresponding DNA sent back to us by post, but more difficult to make sure that the synthetic molecule will have the desired effect. Many of us are trying to use principles from computer science to improve biological design.
Q: Who is your favorite historical figure?
A: I really admire the imagination and strength that some people have to look beyond currently accepted and acceptable viewpoints and revolutionize intellectual life. The story of Galileo is an example: he defended heliocentrism in the face of such opposition and, despite the threat of going against religious truths, maintained his strong convictions, leading him to expand on his scientific investigations to present a whole new viewpoint about the world around us.
Q: If you weren't working in the computer science field, what would you be doing instead?
A: I have an undergraduate degree in biology, so if I hadn't fallen in love with Fortran (!), I would still be doing research--but maybe in a lab surrounded by Petri dishes and test tubes.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: I can't carry a tune in a bucket, as they say, so I am a big fan of vocalists who can use their voices with amazing control and beauty. There are so many, but in my recent playlist I see: Kumar Gandharva, Michael Chance, Anonymous 4, Dewa Che, Kishori Amonkar, Oumou Sangare, Lata Mangeshkar, and many others.