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The Informatics of Time and Events

Gérard Berry


Serge Haroche
Traduction de Liz Libbrecht

Texte intégral

1It is hardly original to point out that informatics has revolutionized everyday life. Computers, whose power continues to grow exponentially, following Moore’s famous law, are now performing computations that seemed unimaginably complex just a few years ago. Increasingly powerful software programs perform sophisticated algorithms with ever more instruction lines. These software programs are omnipresent in everyday objects (mobile phones, GPS navigators, smart cards, embedded devices in cars and aeroplanes).

2The software programs in all these familiar objects constantly exchange information with one another through the computer networks that form an increasingly dense web around our planet. This phenomenal proliferation of digital data provided by software programs for other programs to use is vertiginous: think of the quantity of information created in the world at every moment, and of the need to ensure the reliable processing of all these data, which are often crucial to secure economic exchanges and even to protect the safety of our own lives (consider the consequences, for example, of a communication dysfunction between software programs assisting the piloting of an aeroplane). Informatics has thus become a multiform science that must control and ensure the proper functioning of the growing number of interconnected systems underpinning our daily lives.

3Apart from these practical aspects, informatics has another dimension, less visible to the public though equally crucial, which is to serve fundamental research in order to solve increasingly complex problems in mathematics, mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology and astrophysics. Digital simulations have become essential tools in all these disciplines. More and more powerful resources are also needed to manage the gigantic bodies of data accumulated in certain physics experiments (at the CERN for instance), in increasingly complex astronomic observations, and in biological research (genome decoding).

4The ubiquitous presence of informatics and its close ties with the other sciences have of course not gone unnoticed at the Collège de France, whose motto, as you know, is to teach everything. How, in that case, could we not teach this science which in a way irrigates all the others?

5As a first step, in association with the INRIA, we decided to create an Annual Chair, to which we invited a specialist each year to present an aspect of this vast domain. These annual courses were a great success, and showed the need to go further, by creating a permanent Chair devoted to informatics. Thus, today we are inaugurating the Chair of Algorithms, Machines and Languages. Gérard Berry, you are ideally suited to hold the first Chair devoted to this discipline in the history of our institution.

6After graduating from the École polytechnique, you were a researcher and then Research Director at the École des mines de Paris, while leading research projects at INRIA from 1970 to 2001. From 2001 to 2008, you were Scientific Director of the company Esterel Technologies, created to exploit the industrial applications of the Esterel programming language that you and your collaborators had developed. You have received many awards, including that of the EADS foundation awarded by the Académie des sciences and the Médaille d’or CNRS 2014. In fact, you have become a member of the Académie, and are the second informatics specialist to do so.

7I will not talk about your research now, as it would rapidly become very technical. I will simply mention your work on lambda calculus and the formal semantics of programming languages, real-time parallel programming and the computer-assisted design of integrated circuits. Finally, I will again mention the revolutionary synchronous programming language Esterel, inspired by control theory and designed for control applications. This language has earned you your renown and the success of the company Esterel Technologies, evidenced in the number of clients it has acquired worldwide in the fields of aeronautics, land transport and nuclear and space programmes.

8It was actually as the creator of this company that you were chosen to hold the 2007/2008 Liliane Bettencourt Annual Chair of Technological Innovation. You then returned to the Collège de France in 2009/2010 for another Annual Chair, that of Information Technology and Digital Sciences. This will therefore be your third inaugural lecture, which we will now have the pleasure of hearing, this time to inaugurate a permanent Chair.

9I do not know whether Ernest Renan delivered a second inaugural lecture when he was reinstated at the Collège de France after being revoked at the end of the Second Empire. I do however know that Bergson delivered two, to inaugurate the Chair of Greek and Latin Philosophy and then that of Modern Philosophy, which he held successively. In any event, today’s lecture is the opportunity for you to beat our illustrious predecessors hands down when it comes to the number of inaugural lectures! More importantly of course, I am sure you will once again get us thinking and musing about informatics and the challenges that it raises for our societies and that it allows us to overcome.

© Collège de France, 2016

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