Julian Lombardi will speak at BOSC

As has been announced recently on the home page of this year’s BOSC (the Bioinformatics Open Source Conference) and as I just posted on the O|B|F News, Julian Lombardi will be giving the keynote address this year at the conference.

I am serving on the Organizing Committee of BOSC this year (though obviously through my serving on the O|B|F’s Board I have been involved with the conference for years, but in rather minor roles), and for a number of reasons I am extremely excited (and in fact humbled) that we were able to recruit Julian. Julian is one of the principal architects of the Croquet Project, an open-source peer-to-peer software platform for creating deeply collaborative multi-user on-line virtual world applications. (He has a number of other claims to fame, which the Wikipedia entry on him lays out nicely and I therefore won’t repeat those here.) 

Why should this matter to people developing (or using) software that solves bioinformatics problems, who supposedly constitute most if not all of the BOSC attendees? The overall theme of this year’s conference are emerging technologies and how they might be used to tackle hard problems in our field. Most of us have probably heard about things like grid computing, Web 2.0, mash-ups, or even the semantic web and how they might impact our ability to advance science.

Personally, however, I think that at least as much if not more than any of those over the next couple of years 3D immersive virtual worlds (also called ‘metaverses‘) will fundamentally alter how we explore data, models, or even algorithms and code, and how we collaborate with each other to form teams and communities — or even “virtual organizations” — when and as we need them, to educate, innovate, and synthesize.

In fact, a number of early adopters ranging for example from an Open Notebook chemistry lab to Nature Publishing Group is setting foot in Second Life to examine its utility for teaching, communicating, and creating science. Virtual worlds have even become a research subject themselves; the peer-reviewed Journal of Virtual Worlds Research has just been launched, as has been a similarly aimed mailing list

What is particularly intriguing about Croquet in this regard as a platform, compared to, for example, Second Life, is that to me it fits so well into how we do science and its value system. Not only is it fully open-source, and hence other than skill poses no limit to the ability to tinker and to scrutinize, its architecture is peer-to-peer, rather than client and (centralized) server. The idea that the only server to run a BLAST search against would be at NCBI, and that they could only run against sequence databases at NCBI, sounds silly, if not inane — why should this be any different for our ability to collaborate?

Aside from all this, Julian gives great talks. He spoke at NESCent in November last year, and I found his talk both entertaining and inspiring. In fact, this let us to explore ideas on collaborating with Julian and others to virtualize the hackathons that we have run, but I’ll say more about that in a separate post.

And if that’s still not enough reason, consider the fact that he is actually a biologist (evo-devo or evolutionary biology, to be precise), though (I think) he no longer works in that capacity.

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