[Computational Complexity] The New Research Labs
I am just finishing the last of three west coast trips this summer. I went to the Complexity conference, two universities (U. Wash and Caltech), three ballparks, a Bat Mitzvah and a film shoot. I also visited the Holy Trinity of internet companies: Microsoft Research (both in Silicon Valley and Redmond), Yahoo! Research (Pasadena) and a Google (Mountain View), the last of which seemed more like a summer camp than a corporation.
Microsoft, Yahoo and Google all deal with large amounts of data and need to look at a number of CS related issues often requiring good theoretical techniques in areas like search, auctions on search words, recommender systems, spam filtering and much more. While the research labs of the 80's and 90's (AT&T, Bell Labs, IBM, Bellcore/Telcordia, NEC and others) have pared down their research groups, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google are currently hiring many computer scientists from programming positions to pure theory researchers. For example take the two IBM theorists who organized the last Complexity conference: Sivakumar just joined Google and Ravi Kumar went to Yahoo Research which by the way is now headed by theorist Prabhakar Raghavan. You can see how important researchers are to these companies in the recent fight between Microsoft and Google over Kai-Fu Lee (whom I best know because his Othello program beat my Othello program in a 1989 tournament).
Corporate research labs go in cycles from where they need new ideas in a developing field and build up strong research groups to the point where they have have basic commodities (think long-distance phone calls) and need to cut back research groups to remain competitive. Hartmanis and Stearns developed complexity at the GE Research Labs in Schenectady and soon after both left for academic positions and a few years after that IBM and AT&T built up their theory groups. Will Microsoft, Yahoo and Google eventually find less need for theoretical research? Probably but for now, we once again see theoretical computer scientists needed by companies setting the future of computing.
Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 8/07/2005 01:31:00 PM