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Software Flight Plan

A retired Air Force general aims to bring military discipline to software

By Linda Rosencrance
August 23, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - On Aug. 1, Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul D. Nielsen became CEO and director of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute in Pittsburgh. Before assuming his new job, Nielsen talked to Computerworld's Linda Rosencrance about what his work in the military means for the future of IT and about his agenda for the SEI.


What are some leading-edge IT research areas in the military? How could they be applied to the commercial world in the future? The military leads in large-scale integration. In the past, we had communication networks that operated at different frequencies that made it hard for people to talk to someone who was on a different frequency or a different kind of receiver. So we're trying to integrate all those systems so people can do cross-banding—so a person who has a UHF radio ultimately can network into a trunk that's maybe at satellite frequency back to the States and then talk to someone and get information back.


I think that's an application the commercial world could benefit from. When you think that there is one satellite providing cable TV to the entire coast of the U.S., losing a satellite could be a terrible thing. But if you could do some of this cross-banding, cross-networking, you might have some ways to work around issues like that and lease services on some other satellite to start to provide services to people that you've lost.


Another project in the military is speech enhancement ... where we're doing some unique kind of work.


For example, when linguists listen in on people around the world, often the links that they listen to are rather noisy. So we've had to work over the years to take out the noise in the systems so the linguist has a better shot at understanding what's going on.












Paul D. Nielsen, CEO and director of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute
Paul D. Nielsen, CEO and director of Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute

Because some noise gets conducted through your body—through your bones, not just your eardrums—we're starting to look at whether we can do active cancellation of noise that couples into your body through your bones. In the three-to-five year range, [reducing that noise] will help airline pilots, because it's really based on [current technology], and it's just extending it to different frequencies and power levels.


What are the top research projects on the SEI's agenda for the next three to five years? The SEI is already involved in two of the most important pervasive areas in software engineering: process improvement for software and system development, and network security.


I'm convinced that increased efforts in software architectures could help in software quality, productivity and security. We need to boost our efforts in this area.



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