Managing Technological Change Through Our Technical Committees

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News and Resources for Members of the IEEE Signal Processing Society

Managing Technological Change Through Our Technical Committees

0912portrait_aceroby Alex Acero, SPS Vice President-Technical Directions


Tracking technological change

The operating system in the popular iPhone is based on the Mach operating system, developed by Prof. Rick Rashid and his students at Carnegie Mellon in the 1980s. Dr. Rashid, currently Sr. VP at Microsoft Research, told me that if anybody had asked him back then whether he had developed that system with cellphones in mind he would have said “what’s a cellphone?” Today mobile phones are commonplace, yet it was hard to predict their success. Such disruptions come from both technology breakthroughs and from societal and economic changes.

Signal Processing has created and is continuing to create tremendous impact in our society. Mobile phones use speech coding algorithms to convert the analog signal into a digital form to be transmitted on a digital network. Many years ago, I was very excited to get a Walkman so that I could listen to music when I was on the go. Yet now teenagers only know of MP3 players, made possible through the use of audio compression algorithms. It wasn’t that long ago that I watched TV on my analog TV set with an analog TV signal and a videocassette player. Yet today we get digital TV signals through satellites and cable networks, play videos on DVDs, and have high definition flat panel displays that look awesome, all made possible through advances in Signal Processing. I remember how excited I was by being able to work on my PhD thesis from my apartment with a 300 bps modem and later a “fast” 1200 bit modem. Yet today many people have broadband modems with speeds of several megabits per second, made possible through the use of signal processing algorithms. And the list goes on and on, demonstrating the many important contributions to society coming from Signal Processing and how those changes are coming at breakneck speed.

If you are reading this article, you are probably one of the experts in Signal Processing that will be shaping the future. Disciplines such as biotechnology or machine translation are benefiting from Signal Processing and are rapidly growing. The IEEE Signal Processing Society wants to be a key player in this transformation, not merely a spectator. To be agile, we must have mechanisms that connect our technical leaders with the society. This is where the Technical Directions Board comes in.

The Technical Directions Board

The Technical Directions Board is one of the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s four major boards together with the Publications Board, the Conference Board, and the Awards Board. This board is the newest board in the Signal Processing Society. A few years ago, the Board of Governors decided to set it up to increase communication between the Society’s Technical Committees and the Society’s Board of Governors, especially for the Society’s strategic and long-range planning. The goals of the Technical Directions Board include evaluating the Society’s technical goals, objectives, organization and operational plans in light of the scientific, technological, economic, and social climate for the purpose of identifying strategic issues for attention by appropriate entities of the Society.

The Technical Directions Board is chaired by the VP-Technical Directions, who is also a member of the Society’s Executive Committee and Board of Governors. A key mission of this board is to serve as a liaison between the technical committees and the Signal Processing Society’s governance. As a result, all the Technical Committee Chairs belong to the Technical Directions Board, and the VP-Technical Directions attends meetings of the Technical Committees. Another key mission of the board is to oversee the quality of the technical programs of the Society’s conferences and workshops, so the Technical Program Chairs of the next two ICASSP and ICIP conferences also belong to this board. The board meets once a year during ICASSP but does a lot of business on email during the year.

Reviews of Technical Committees

The Society’s Board of Governors has instituted reviews for all of our Technical Committees (TCs for short) once every three years. The goal of such reviews is to have a dialog between the Society’s leadership and each TC chair, as the representative of that technical area at IEEE. We have completed the first round of reviews and many of the TCs have already benefited from the suggestions provided by the TC Review Committee. Such suggestions often come from best practices from other TCs. The TC review reports are available in the Society’s website, providing valuable information to new TC chairs and thus improving historical memory and continuity.

What we have accomplished and new initiatives

The Technical Directions Board has been in existence for three years. It has gone from 0 to 60 mph quickly and has done a number of things. For example, all TCs now have a page in the society’s website where they list their members, subcommittees, upcoming conferences and workshops in their respective areas, and newsletters, etc. There is online material for new TC chairs, including orientation materials and TC review reports.

Two TCs were created in the last few years: the TC on Bio Imaging and Signal Processing, and the TC Information Forensics and Security. This has been done to reflect the fact that these growing application areas leverage many Signal Processing techniques. This brings up the total number of TCs in the Society to a total of 12 and a standing committee. Additional information on all the TCs can be found on the Society’s website.

Several TCs have implemented a number of changes that align better with the changes in the new environment. As an example, SPCOM, the TC on “Signal Processing for Communications”, changed their name to “Signal Processing for Communications and Networking” to reflect the fact that a lot of what their TC does involves networking too. IMDSP, the TC on “Image and Multidimensional Signal Processing”, has also changed their name to “Image, Video and Multidimensional Signal Processing” to reflect the fact that video is very much part of what they do. The TC on “Speech Processing” has also changed their name to “Speech and Language Processing” to reflect the fact that language processing is a rapidly growing area that has tight connections to speech processing. In all three cases we did more than just change the names; we changed the scope, EDICS, and even the name of one of our Journals from “IEEE Transactions on Speech and Audio Processing” to “IEEE Transactions on Audio, Speech, and Language Processing”.

New workshops are being created. For example, the Speech and Language TC set up a new workshop on Spoken Language Technology. The Information Forensics and Security also established  a Workshop on Information Forensics and Security, which will be held for the first time on 6-9 December 2009 in London, UK. These workshops address a need that arose in recent years.

Change is the only thing that stays the same. We want the Society to rapidly respond to changes in our field and we count on all of you as the participants. I encourage you to connect with the Technical Committee(s) that are close to your area(s) of interest and engage with them. We are currently in the process of changing some procedural processes to make this easier. You can also contact me directly (e.g., via email  <alexac AT>). We want and need your involvement!



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