Global Concerns Global Concerns - XX

Regular readers of this column will recall that conferences and publications are a frequent theme of Global Concerns. Indeed we communicate globally mostly through conferences and publications, even though minor correspondence and frequent short messages are handled electronically these days. A very important issue world-wide is how control experts in industry and government can more effectively communicate with their colleagues in academia - both within national boundaries and outside. Recent trips to France for the IFAC Council meeting in Nantes and to Greece for the IFAC Large Scale Systems Symposium in Patras have stimulated new thinking on this topic. As usual, it is useful to return to basics.

With whom would we like to communicate and meet? I believe that we seek professional interaction with the most productive people in our profession (and maybe in other professions as well). Thus we are led to ask who is most productive and how do we entice them to a meeting or to a publication. First let us understand that for many, productivity does not mean quantity of publications. Moreover, for some, publications not only are irrelevant but may also be viewed as detrimental to one's career. If the goal of conference organizers is to attract the most productive people, we need to define productivity.

For academics, the measure of productivity is relatively simple. Publications have formed the basis of communication and productivity measure for much of the century. But this has not been and will not be true for many of those employed by industry. Productivity of people in industry is measured by patents, products improved or designed and sold, contributions to team efforts consistent with corporate goals, direct contributions to corporate profits, and other measures quite distinct from publications.

Technical professional meetings are often organized by academics and academic measures of productivity have tended to determine who attends meetings. Since publications are the medium of academic communication (not to mention evidence for promotions in academia), papers are usually required as justification for support to attend conferences. Since many productive industrial colleagues do not put publication high on their priority list, they tend not to attend scientific conferences. Indeed they tend not to be invited as active participants in scientific meetings.

It may be time to focus on the history of productivity as the criterion for encouragement to attend a conference and to create opportunities for such productive people to communicate at the conference. How often have you sat through sessions of mostly boring, poor quality paper presentations, followed by an interesting question from the audience, only to learn that there is no time for in-depth discussion of the question and its answer? Maybe there should be several criteria for selecting conference attendees but all based on the likelihood that the applicant has a record which suggests that she can make meaningful contributions to knowledge of the conference subject in many settings such as panel discussions, mini-plenaries, demonstrations, poster papers, and other communication vehicles not now commonly found at our meetings. In fact, on the surface, it does not seem more likely that a person who has been able to prepare a paper will have more to contribute than an person who has a productive employment history dealing with numerous products in the field of the conference.

We need to rethink how we organize conferences and ensure that they attract the most productive members of our profession. Lotfi Zadeh has suggested that machines should be ranked by their intelligence (Machine Intelligence). Maybe professional workers need some sort of ranking by personal productivity much as chess experts have rankings which determine which tournaments are most suitable for them or golfers have handicaps which are public knowledge and determine their initial standing in golf tournaments. Even dogs are ranked to determine which dog shows are most suitable for them. There is no point for a dog to compete in a show where she can not be a serious competitor! No, I am not suggesting that the control profession is going to the dogs! I guess the Dog Days of Summer are upon us.

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