A recently announced new conference named “Innovations in Computer Science (ICS)” is drawing much attention and debate in the Theory of CS blogosphere (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here). The aspect that I found most interesting has not been discussed though: the new conference is in Beijing. I find the seriousness with which the community is discussing a non-North-American conference to be an interesting indication that the times are a changing. There has even been discussion whether the best “conceptual papers” will be sent to ICS or to the leading prestigious conferences FOCS and STOC. This is still just talk, but even such talk is quite an accomplishment for a conference that has not been born yet.
This seems to be another indication that China is starting to take its place in the innovative forefront of science, in this case theoretical computer science. Specifically, the ICS conference is being sponsored by the Institute of Theoretical Computer Science at Tsinghua University that has gained significant visibility in the last few years. Led by Turing award winner Andy Yao, supported by a distinguished international “chair professor team“, hosting an amazingly strong stream of visitors, recruiting top students, and, it seems, amply funded, the institute has certainly gained much attention very quickly. Their goals of scientific excellence seems quite clear from the slides of a talk on “Nurturing Talents in China” that Andy Yao gave last year.
Algorithmic game theory has already seen very significant fruit from this institute: the PPAD-completeness of Nash equilibria of two-player games due to Xi Chen and Xiaotie Deng — the celebrated final step in settling the complexity of the Nash problem! (And, many other publications as well)
I do not know whether China is investing similar effort in scientific areas other than Computer Science, nor whether they are making similar progress in other fields, but I certainly hope so. Clearly there remains a huge gap to close before China shoulders its fair share of the scientific progress of humanity. We can just hope that China does so with the same speed that it is moving on capturing its fair share of world GDP. (Yes, I know that China has a few other tiny problems like health, basic education, freedom, and other 3rd world problems, but let me worry about my own field first, and in any case, scientific progress will only help in advancing these as well.)