You purchase a book from an online seller. The government keeps records of your Social Security contributions. The University of Arizona tracks the courses a student takes.
These computer systems share a common feature: They capture information that changes over time. For example, the UA has an extensive system for course scheduling that goes back many years. But it has been quite difficult to ensure consistent information or to ask even simple questions of such information.
My research group has been developing some very practical solutions. First, we simplified how to add time to stored information. Then we simplified the computer language for asking questions.
Top information system companies, including IBM here in Tucson and Oracle - which supplies the UA system - have recently announced that their systems now incorporate innovative technology we developed. So does an international standard for databases released just a few months ago.
How will this affect you, the interested consumer?
Many online resources we have all come to depend on can now do a better job of capturing the "when" of life. How does my water bill as summer progresses compare with that of my neighbors? Has my spending each year on books from Amazon.com gone up or down?
Our technology lets us answer these questions more easily by better integrating information and time - two fundamental aspects of life.
About the scientist
Richard Snodgrass is a professor of computer science at the University of Arizona. He works with graduate and undergraduate students on fundamental research questions concerning information that varies over time. Answering such questions will also help improve the utility and performance of computer systems we use every day.
• Richard Snodgrass' webpage: cs.arizona.edu/~rts
• Protecting databases: cs.arizona.edu/projects/tau/dragoon/
• A fun video on information and time: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xeuhe6MOmGU
• UA department of computer science: cs.arizona.edu