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Home arrow Workshops arrow NSF/OAS Technical Meeting arrow Using Information Technology to Solve Western Hemisphere Problems
Using Information Technology to Solve Western Hemisphere Problems PDF Print E-mail

1. Vision

In his recent article entitled "Toward a Global Science" Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Science (NAS), states that:

"A major aim of NAS is to create a scientific network that becomes a central element in the interactions between nations, increasing the level of rationality in international discourse while enhancing the influence of scientists everywhere in the decision making processes of their own governments." He motivates this vision by noting that:

"The vitality of a nation’s science and technology enterprise is increasingly becoming the main driver of advancement around the world. Success requires a free exchange of ideas as well as universal access to the world’s great store of knowledge."


"Scientists everywhere share a powerful and common culture that respects honesty, generosity, and ideas independently of their source, while rewarding merit." [1].

The work described in this proposal seeks to realize the vision of a scientific network among Western Hemisphere nations. We propose to organize a technical meeting, jointly sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Organization of American States (OAS), to conceptualize, plan and outline steps to develop a program supporting international collaboration in computer science and engineering among that the 34 member nations of the OAS. The technical meeting will address the computing and communications infrastructure, education and knowledge base and technology advances needed to address regional and global problems in the Western Hemisphere. The expected outcomes of this program are:

  1. Identification of a set of test bed projects and Western hemisphere collaboration models, including identification of the necessary computing and communications infrastructure to support these projects;
  2. New programs for training researchers;
  3. Advances in scientific knowledge and information processing technology; and
  4. The application of these technologies to regional and global problems. We also expect that a successful program of sufficient magnitude will lead to healthier economies and improved quality of life throughout nations of the Western Hemisphere.

2. Background

There is a growing realization worldwide that international cooperation is a necessary paradigm to advance science and technology to solve global problems. In the United States, the Administration and Congress view international collaboration as a good way to leverage U.S. investment in science and technology, to position U.S. industry to capitalize on research breakthroughs, and to train U.S. researchers to collaborate with foreign colleagues to solve global problems. Further, the free exchange of ideas is viewed as a positive force for democratic change.

In a recent address to the United Nations, Vice President Gore announced a "Declaration of Interdependence" with five challenges:

  • improve access to technology so everyone on the planet is within walking distance of basic telecommunication services by the year 2005;
  • bridge language barriers by developing technologies with real-time digital translation so anyone on the planet can talk to anyone else;
  • create a global knowledge network of people working to improve the delivery of education, health care, agricultural resources, and sustainable development, and to ensure public safety; and
  • create networks that allow every micro-entrepreneur in the world to advertise, market, and sell products directly to the world market.


The Vice President’s challenges illustrate that advances in computer science and engineering (CSE), more than any other discipline, are responsible for the internationalization of science, and that future advances are just as important to realize a global scientific partnership. Advances in CSE have created a global information network that supports distributed computing and collaboration, the essential infrastructure necessary to conduct the business of science. Computing and communications are essential means to enable cooperation among diverse international workers. Future advances will reduce or eliminate remaining barriers to collaboration due to time, space and language, and support a global scientific enterprise. Quite simply, the disciplines of computer science and engineering are central to international collaboration. They are creating and advancing the essential infrastructure that is used to conduct the business of science [2].

In the United States, NSF’s Computer Information Science and Engineering Division (CISE) has taken a leadership role in promoting international collaboration in computer science by establishing new programs. In the past few years, joint research programs supporting collaboration in computer science have been established with Mexico and Brazil. A new multinational program established by the NSF and the European Union will support multilingual information access.

2.1 NSF Workshop on International Collaboration in Computer Science

In 1997, the NSF CISE division supported a Workshop on international collaboration in computer science. The goal of the workshop organizers and participants was to arrive at a deeper understanding of the benefits of international collaboration, the costs and risks associated with these activities, and to recommend ways to increase opportunities and optimize future benefits. The resulting workshop report [2] concludes that the benefits of international collaboration justify extraordinary efforts to promote and sustain it.

The main conclusion of the workshop report is that "international collaboration in computer science is vital to our national interest. This is so because international participation is required for solutions to global problems that threaten our welfare and security. Indeed some global problems could even impact the long-term survival of humanity." The report recommends that "the CISE community be challenged and given means to take leadership in promoting international collaboration in computer science and engineering. International CISE collaboration must include sufficient investigators to positively address those global problems whose solutions depend on advanced CISE technologies."

"The Workshop recommends that international collaboration become a high priority within CISE. Making international cooperation a high priority within CISE through substantial and highly visible programs would remove the most serious barriers to international collaboration. We recommend new highly visible and ambitious programs with resources totaling as much as 5% or 10% of the CISE budget… International programs within CISE will serve the national interest by advancing scientific knowledge in computer science and engineering. The goals of such programs might be to support: training of U.S. researchers through participation in international projects; establishing global computing and communications infrastructure; and development of new technologies for solving global problems through international collaboration."

In addition to these general recommendations, the Workshop recommended establishing new and much-expanded programs for collaborative research in Latin American countries. Such programs are necessary to strengthen the vitality and security of the Western Hemisphere, and to address problems that effect all Western Hemisphere nations.

To establish substantial and highly visible programs in Latin America, it is necessary to develop new collaboration models that go beyond the bilateral agreements between the U.S. and its partner countries. "A model for supporting international collaboration among different countries or funding agencies that is reasonable, consistent and understandable by researchers and program managers worldwide is highly desirable. Ideally, it would support training international research teams on the basis of scientific goals and complementary expertise. It would enable groups to seek funding for their work by submitting research proposals to a single agency with the ability to review and fund the proposal. The details of what agencies in different countries should be involved, their deadlines, requirements and other idiosyncrasies should be hidden from the researchers by the agency that receives the proposal."

2.2 NSF / OAS Workshop on Western Hemisphere Collaboration

Recent events have presented an historic opportunity to establish a program for Western Hemisphere Collaboration in computer science. In October 1998, Gary Strong of the NSF and David Beall of the Organization of American States (OAS) met in Tegucigalpa, Honduras at a meeting of the OAS’s Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD). They discussed the possible benefits of the NSF and the OAS working together to promote and sustain international collaboration in the Western Hemisphere. As these discussions occurred during the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, the potential benefits of using information technology to prepare and respond to the disaster were apparent. In subsequent meetings in the United States, representatives of the NSF and OAS concluded that the time was right to work together to explore ways to use information technology to benefit OAS member countries.

As the oldest international organization of countries in the world, the Organization of American States has the stature, tradition, expertise, infrastructure and access to develop and implement programs that can engage and benefit all countries in the Western Hemisphere. The OAS has an organizational structure that could permit the immediate implementation of a multinational program to foster multilateral computer science collaboration. On its side, the National Science Foundation supports pioneering research in all areas related to computer science and provides access to a network of top researchers. A partnership between the National Science Foundation and the Organization of American States (OAS) to promote international collaboration in the Western Hemisphere seems obvious and inevitable.

On February 22, 1999 the NSF and OAS jointly sponsored a Workshop on "Western Hemisphere Collaboration: Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems." The meeting brought together 16 distinguished computer scientists from Latin America, Canada and the United States, and specialists from the OAS’ CICAD. The main activities and recommendation of the Workshop are summarized in the Workshop report [3].

Workshop participants identified four key areas in which development of information technologies are essential to solve global and regional problems in the Western Hemisphere. These were:

  1. Computing and networking infrastructure to support communication, collaboration, and development and delivery of timely and relevant information;
  2. Developing content relevant to the people and problems of the Western Hemisphere;
  3. Universal access and design so people from diverse cultures with diverse skills may participate in the emerging information society; and
  4. Education and training so people in all countries can benefit from and contribute to solutions to regional and global problems.

Four Workshop Breakout Groups examined the challenges in each of these areas and suggested possible lines of action for test bed research projects that would apply the latest information technologies to benefit residents of OAS nations. Topics included: point-to-point low cost international connectivity; universal access for populations of diverse language, education and social class; vertical and horizontal content generation within and across national borders; and education and training needs to stimulate understanding and use of electronic information products and technology.

The primary recommendation of the Workshop, strongly endorsed by all participants, was to pursue aggressively the current opportunity for multilateral international cooperation in information technology in the Western Hemisphere by leveraging existing activities using the strengths of the OAS and the NSF. The participants recommended holding a technical meeting in the summer of 1999 to discuss further the issues raised and to elaborate specific proposals for multilateral execution. The focus of this proposed meeting would be to identify projects in which development of information technologies will provide both immediate and long-term benefits to Western Hemisphere residents. Participants would identify specific test bed projects and collaboration models for carrying out these projects.

The participants at this meeting should represent a balanced mix of technical experts from North, Central and South America, and delegates with expertise in planning and implementing national and international programs. The Workshop also agreed that the four focus areas—infrastructure, content, universal access/design and education/training—together provide the essential foundation for studying and establishing the procedures, knowledge and technologies needed to solve problems of importance to the Western Hemisphere through international collaboration.

3. Technical Meeting: Organization, Venue, Participants and Agenda

3.1 Organization. The OAS has agreed to co-sponsor and help organize the proposed technical meeting. Ms. Ruth Connolly of OAS/CICAD will serve as the main liaison to Dr. Gary Strong at the NSF and to the authors of this report. These individuals will work together to organize the meeting. The authors of this report take full responsibility for assuring a productive meeting that serves the needs of the computer science research community and the sponsoring agencies, and for delivering a final report that summarizes the outcomes of the technical meeting.

3.2 Venue. Following a series of meetings and discussions, the meeting organizers (Principal Investigator (PI) and Co Principal Investigators (Co-PI’s) of this proposal and representatives of OAS have agreed to hold the meeting between the dates of August 9-13 in Manzanillo, Colima, Mexico. Mexico was selected as the best location for several reasons, including the ability of the participants to get visas and its central location. Manzanillo was selected because of low off-season rates (about $75 per night), because the OAS has an established relationship with the University of Colima (near Manzanillo), which has agreed to provide administrative support and personnel to help run the meeting, and because several resorts at Manzanillo have excellent meeting facilities.

3.3 Participants. Discussions with the OAS resulted in agreement to invite 34 participants, in addition to representatives of the NSF and OAS. The (approximate) distribution of participants will be 10 members of the U.S. computer science and engineering research community and 24 participants from other OAS countries (Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean). Of these 24 participants, 6 will be selected by OAS (to assure enthusiastic participation by key organizations and countries) and 18 by the organizing committee. These 18 will be selected to achieve a good balance of researchers from different CSE (computer science and engineering) sub-disciplines, and to reflect the size and quality of computer science and engineering programs in Western Hemisphere countries. It is likely that we will invite some members of federal funding agencies in addition to members of the research community. The selection of participants is critical to the success of the technical meeting and the program we hope to establish, so much effort will be devoted to identifying and inviting distinguished, motivated, industrious and influential participants.

3.4 Agenda. Discussions with OAS revealed an important need for interpreters for both plenary sessions and working groups for English, Spanish and Portuguese. While this increases the costs, we believe the potential importance of the meeting, and the importance of excellent communication and perception of a "level playing field" in assuring its success, justify the expense. In addition, given the ambitious agenda of identifying at least four test bed projects, new collaboration models and strategies for establishing a multinational program, a three-day meeting is required.

The organizers in consultation with the NSF and OAS will develop the final agenda. A preliminary agenda is presented here consistent with the recommendations of the Orlando Workshop:

  • Initial plenary session to welcome and motivate delegates. This session will include presentations by Gary Strong, and Ron Cole from the National Science Foundation and one or more representatives of the Organization of American States.
  • Second plenary session to review goals of the technical meeting, and to establish procedures and goals for working groups. This session is intended to engage the delegates in discussions about possible barriers to Western Hemisphere collaboration, collaboration models that could overcome these barriers, etc., and motivate their active participation in working groups;
  • Participants form working groups to brainstorm on test bed projects;
  • Plenary session in which each working group summarizes the results of its deliberations and receive feedback from all participants;
  • Working groups reconvene to conclude deliberations and outline recommendations for the technical meeting report;
  • Final plenary sessions to summarize the conclusions of the technical meeting, outline plans for future work, and determine action items for implementing these plans.

4. Deliverables

The authors of this proposal will take primary responsibility to work with technical meeting participants and colleagues at OAS to generate a technical meeting report. The report will summarize the main activities and insights of the technical meeting, and present a set of recommendations for further action. The report is expected to identify and describe specific test bed projects that address Western Hemisphere problems through collaboration in computer science and its related disciplines; collaboration models and infrastructure needed to enable these projects; and programs to support education and training of researchers. In addition, it is expected that the technical meeting will produce a strong recommendation to establish a multinational program for Western Hemisphere collaboration in computer science and to identify desirable features of a program to develop multinational test bed projects in digital government.

5. Budget

The budget reflects actual costs of organizing and running the meeting. There is only 1.5 months of time allocated to Ms. Terri Durham to organize and run the technical meeting. The technical meeting organizers and the OAS are donating their services to this project.


  • Alberts, Bruce M. "Toward a Global Science." Issues in Science and Technology Online.
  • Summer 1998. .
  • Cole, R., Fortes, J. & Klinger, A. "International Collaboration in Computer Science and Engineering."
  • .
  • Connolly, R., Rauch, H., & Cole, R. "Western Hemisphere Collaboration: Information Technology Research to Solve Global Problems."
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