new experiments, and help predict unobserved phenomena. More generally,
the expectation is that it would allow
researchers to see and understand the
organism, its development, and its behavior in ways not otherwise possible.
Of course, this idea might be far too
vast to be practical, but it seems worthy
of consideration, if only as a very distant holy grail of sorts, toward which it
would be beneficial to aspire.
Challenges for computer science.
The research directions described
in this article are intended, first and
foremost, to yield beneficial results in
biology and medicine, thus enhancing our ability to improve our lives.
The central challenges they raise are
also biological in nature, involving
the need for biology to become a more
formal, precise, and quantitative science, and the need for acquiring and
consolidating sufficient information
about the biology of interest to model
it as a reactive system. This is especially true of the WOP and the work that
is necessary to lead up to it. However,
most readers of this article are computer scientists, who will be primarily
interested in the new challenges this
area of work raises for computer science, and in the benefits it can yield
“at home.” The two are linked, of
course: once our field rises to the relevant challenges, the new ideas that are
found to work well in the modeling of
complex biological systems will benefit the development of human-made
computerized software and systems
as well. So, what are the main challenges for computer science? What
new ideas are needed, and what kinds
of extensions should be sought for the
methods used in the modeling efforts
Our feeling is that we need ways to
build models that seamlessly combine
qualitative and quantitative data, and
which come with appropriately pow-
erful analysis methods. And we need
to find ways to make our models more
robust and less sensitive to faults and
gaps in the available data. In other
words, not only biology needs to be-
come a more quantitative science, also
computer science needs to become
more quantitative. Formal methods
have excelled in structuring and han-
dling large, complex discrete systems,
but we have neglected the incorpora-
tion of quantitative data. Similarly,
we need to move our focus away from
Boolean properties of systems, such as
correctness (which really has no mean-
ing in biology), toward quantitative
properties such as fitness, robustness,
and resilience. We believe the study of
such quantitative properties will greatly
benefit computer science itself which,
as an engineering discipline, ought to
have ways of expressing and measur-
ing quantitative preferences between
different implementations of a system,
and estimating their reliability, cost,
and performance. Preliminary ideas
in this direction can be found in Cerny
13 Needless to say, by studying
biological systems in this way, we may
also learn a thing or two about building
more adaptive and robust software and
We would like to thank our past collaborators on these topics, for the
wisdom and ideas they have contributed to us over the years. They include
Luca Cardelli, Yaron Cohen, Sol Efroni, Walter Fontana, Alex Hajnal, Jane
Hubbard, Na’aman Kam, Maria Mateescu, Nir Piterman, Yaki Setty, Michael Stern, Verena Wolf, and the late
This research was supported in part
by the ERC Advanced Grant LIBPR
(Liberating Programming) awarded to
DH, by the John von Neumann Minerva
Center for the Development of Reactive Systems at the Weizmann Institute
of Science, and by the ERC Advanced
Grant QUAREM (Quantitative Reactive
Modeling), awarded to TAH.
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