New Center Aims for ‘Unstoppable’ Computing

“The idea behind CERES is that collaboration with industry is an important part of collaborative problem formulation.”

By Jaehoon Ahn

Center for Unstoppable Computing (CERES), a new computer science research center at the University of Chicago, was launched last month with the aim of fostering closer collaboration between the University and the computer science industry.

Professor and CERES director Andrew Chien, who joined the computer science faculty four years ago, spearheaded the center’s launch. Chien said that efforts to strengthen the bridge between the industry and the University, though necessary since the time of his arrival, only began about 18 months ago.

“The idea behind CERES is that collaboration with industry is an important part of collaborative problem formulation. What we would like to do is to find the research problems that have the biggest possible impact and have the ability to translate the new ideas into the industry who can deploy them at scale,” Chien said.

According to Chien, collaboration within the industry could help University researchers understand the most important areas and problems in the computer science industry. Examples include different directions that computer systems and security could take as well as how the big shift to online data analytics could impact the rest of the industry and the traditional uses of computers in the cloud. Further, collaboration could bring exciting University research to the attention of leading companies.

Another important vision for CERES is the idea of “unstoppable” computing. According to the homepage of CERES, the center seeks to reduce the fragility and complexity of computing systems such as failures without warnings and intermittent outages, while increasing its efficiency and lifetime. Research activities will touch on diverse aspects of the field from cloud software, storage and networking, to computer architecture, and security.

Chien emphasized students as the critical elements of the CERES center. He expects students to constitute the main connection between the University and the industry through research positions at the University during the academic year and internships at companies over the summer.

“Primarily it’s graduate students…[that are] in the research programs and doing internships at these companies, but there is an interest in involving undergraduates in these projects. So there will also be opportunities for undergraduates…and we would like to have undergraduates to be involved,” Chien said.

When asked how CERES could impact undergraduate students, Shan Lu, a professor of computer science and CERES faculty member, pointed to positive career prospects.

“More research [opportunities]; more opportunity to interact with industry; potential internship and other career opportunities,” Lu said in an email.

The center also anticipates collaborating with various other University departments.

“We already have some faculty from biological and life sciences. So the center is definitely focused on what you would call computer science and computer sciences, but data science is something that touches on this in an important way and many of us have collaborations that could touch on law and policy and even media research to all kinds of things across the university,” Chien said.