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Communications of the ACM


Competitions, Not Confrontation

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Credit: Andrei Sukhov

Unfortunately, in recent years, there has been a tendency for confrontation, between states and between ideologies, to increasingly manifest itself. The institution of sanctions, countersanctions, and the emergence of new hotspots occur with alarming regularity. In fact, the current situation is reminiscent of the worst years of the Cold War. The level of tension is constantly increasing, and the meeting of the preconditions for a decrease in the degree of confrontation is not generally within reaching distance. In addition to the traditional U.S.-led NATO rivalry against Russia, a new entrenchment of confrontation between China and the Anglo-Saxon countries has been added. All this has had a negative impact on international scientific projects, including in the field of computer science.

The number of international competitions supported by government research funds has been rapidly decreasing. New competitions which would involve collaborations between scientific teams of opposing 'sides' (countries, etc.) are no longer announced. All these factors have led to a gulf forming between researchers from different countries; this does not contribute either to the search for new knowledge or to the acquisition of communication and teamwork skills. Nevertheless, new collaborative research could be the bridge that would allow for the maintenance and development of communication between countries.

However, the question then arises as to which international institutions are in a position to act as organizers of new competitions involving the participation of teams from different countries. It is clear that traditional scientific foundations supported and funded by governments are often not well placed to take on this role. In contrast, international research communities, united by their professional interests, could be seen as ideally suited to it. Organizations such as the ACM and the IEEE now include in their ranks researchers from a great variety of very different countries; these researchers successfully interact within the framework of the statutory provisions of these organizations. The influence of politics on the activities of such communities is still minimal; this allows the ACM, for instance, to act as the organizer of new competitions involving joint research by scientists from countries which are otherwise at odds with each other.

Naturally, another question then arises: from where can the necessary funding be sourced? It seems to me that the ACM could act as a founder of a fund specifically for this purpose. It would then have to carry out the necessary preparatory work under its own auspices, but subsequently submit for wider discussion the regulations regarding the activities of the fund. To improve transparency, it would be necessary to form a board encompassing all stakeholders on an equal parity basis. Such a board would ideally include ACM members representative of countries in conflict with each other, on a parity basis — as well as independent members. That is, on the one hand, representatives from the United States and other Anglo-Saxon countries; the European Union; and Japan should be included. And, on the other hand, representatives from China and Russia should also be at the table. In addition, largely non-aligned countries such as India, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Indonesia, and those of the Middle East should also be represented.

The putative board members would also have to represent a range of organizations: universities, research institutions, and private companies. There should be restrictions regarding the representation of directly governmental organizations — the fewer of these involved, the better. The history of direct government involvement in research is not a happy one.

Additionally, it would be desirable to reduce the direct contribution of governments to zero (or near zero) in the financial sphere as well; thus, it might be necessary to refuse contributions to the fund made by governmental organizations. Contributions from private companies would be preferred, but undue influence by any such company would have to be avoided. To achieve this, it would be prudent to limit the total financial contribution made by any one company or organization to 10% of the total fund. Funding sources may also include contributions from private individuals (and not just ACM members).

It is becoming imperative that such a foundation be formed and start its activities as soon as possible. This is in order to prevent the further isolation from one another of researchers living in different countries and the emergence of alternative communities. I propose to conduct discussions so as to encourage comment and feedback, and when/if the idea is approved, to proceed with its practical implementation.


Andrei Sukhov is a Professor and Head of the Network Security Research and Study Group of HSE University, Moscow, Russia. In 2020, he was elected as a senior member of the ACM.


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