Greetings from Marcel F. Neuts – In June 1997 I became Professor Emeritus of Systems and Industrial Engineering at the University of Arizona after 36 years of teaching probability and statistics at various universities.
My research deals with stochastic models that describe queues, data streams, and epidemics, with particular emphasis on their algorithmic analysis.
You will find a list of my books and journal articles in my professional information.
My personal biography includes a brief history of my life, information on my family and home, and a few photos.
Current Activities and Interests
Since retiring from the University of Arizona in 1997, I made visits to China, Denmark, France, Germany, Korea, and Spain as a visiting research professor.
I actively collaborate with several fellow probabilists in these countries.
Between mid-February and mid-August 2002, I was a guest of the University of Melbourne in Australia.
At CUBIN, the Centre for Ultra Broadband Information Networks,
I collaborated with Professor Moshe Zukerman and his associates on probability models for optical burst networks and other telecommunication models.
I am available for the following professional services:
· Technical consulting on probability models, algorithmic methods in probability,
and the design and analysis of computer experiments in applied probability
· Review of research proposals, book manuscripts, and academic programs related to my areas of expertise
· Short courses on queueing models and on algorithmic methods in probability
· Research collaborations
Persons or institutions who wish to avail themselves of these services are invited to correspond with me.
After a suitable match of competence and interest is established the terms and dates will be negotiated.
In addition to English, I can converse on a professional level in Dutch, French, German, and Spanish.
I have presented technical lectures in these languages and read them with ease.
Of Italian, Hebrew, and Portuguese, I have some rudimentary knowledge.
Professional Information of Marcel F. Neuts
Here, you can find Professional Biography, which contains my employment history and a list of my published books and technical articles.
That information is primarily for colleagues and research students.
PROBABILITY MODELLING IN THE COMPUTER AGE
SCIENCE:AN ENGINE OF SOCIAL CHANGE
REFLECTIONS ON APPLIED PROBABILITY at the 50th Anniversary of the “Operations Research”
contain opinions and ideas that may be of interest to a non-specialized reader.
On June 27, 2002, while at the University of Melbourne as a Miegunyah Fellow, I delivered a public lecture on the subject:
UNCERTAINTY QUANTIFYABLE: A MAJOR STEP IN THE EVOLUTION OF IDEAS
A Powerpoint file of the transparencies used for that lecture may be viewed here.
Between 1984 and 2001, I served as Editor-in-Chief of the probability journal Stochastic Models published by Marcel Dekker Inc.
Upon retiring as Editor-in-Chief, I was succeeded by Dr. Peter Taylor of the University of Melbourne.
The Stochastic Models Bulletin, which I sent out every few months for many years, will being edited by Professor Dae Choi Bong of Korea.
Would interested colleagues sent any announcements of professional interest to Professor Choi to firstname.lastname@example.org Persons who wish to receive that bulletin should keep their current, operational email address to Professor Choi.
Past issues of the bulletin may be found HERE.
Since many years, matrix-analytic methods in probability are my primary research area.
An occasional Matrix-Analytic Bulletin is e-mailed to interested persons.
Past issues of that bulletin are accessible HERE.
That web site, maintained by Dr. Jian-Min Li of Melbourne, Australia, contains links to all major websites of interest to probabilists.
Personal Biography of Marcel F. Neuts
I was born (yes!) in Belgium where I was educated in Mathematics.
After teaching in Africa during one year, I went to Stanford University for doctoral studies under Professor Samuel Karlin.
While at Stanford, I married Olga Topff, also a native of Belgium, and in the years between 1960 and 1964, we engendered four lovely children.
Following military service in Belgium, I immigrated to the United States in 1962 and joined the faculty in Mathematics and Statistics at Purdue University. We became US citizens in 1968.
After teaching for 14 years at Purdue, I held a Unidel Chair for 9 years at the University of Delaware.
Since 1985, I am on the faculty of the University of Arizona where I attained Emeritus status in 1997.
Olga, who is now an accomplished tapestry weaver, and I are very fond of the Sonora desert and we really enjoy living in Tucson.
Rather than explaining why, I will just show a few photos.
The Challenge of the Computer Age
The computer is a unique product of the human mind; a tool of almost limitless versatility, yet without a specific, well-defined purpose.
Like so many other fruits of our creativity, the electronic computer has its origin in a search for improved instruments of war,
for a faster machine to perform the ballistic calculations for the firing tables of the artillery.
One definition of the computer that still comes to mind, that of an electronic calculating machine, reflects the world view of the 1940s. It has long been bypassed.
In this discussion the word “computer” is shorthand for the integrated, global network of fast electronic devices for information processes which came about since the 1970s, and also for its components that are commonly called computers, such as mainframes, workstations, personal computers, and laptops.
The PC on one?s desk, the LAN of an office building or a university campus,
the Information Super Highway under construction in the United States, or global communication networks, all are information processing devices.
While differing in size, speed, cost, and in the scope of their functions, their purpose can only be expressed by the broad term “information processing.”
On your workstation or PC, you can play games, write poetry or a novel, study languages, and, yes, even do numerical computations.
With a link to the Internet, you can rapidly communicate with computer users everywhere to exchange ideas, pictures, music,
and if your karma is regrettably so burdened, also words of hate and other trash.
The uniqueness of that great technological innovation is that you, the user, must choose the specific purposes, made feasible by its myriad capabilities, for which you will use the computer in your professional, personal, and social life.
Where a large market or a significant need exist, others will, fortunately for us, write the software needed to support our computer use.
Software, the collection of programs that are an essential part of the computer,
is more focused on specific applications than is the hardware, yet again, every user has to adapt these programs to his or her specific purposes.
Therein lies the challenge that, eventually, distinguishes creative from passive computer users.
That is also where, for university educators as for research scientists, a special challenge lies.
How did that challenge arise?
What is its nature and how can a technological innovation affect our lives so pervasively and so profoundly?
The recent history of computer technology provides some answers to these questions.
Before 1980, computers were not yet really a part of everyday life.
They were huge machines kept in restricted areas of university campuses, industrial plants, or military installations.
Their use was cumbersome.
Submitting a job required punching cards, using tapes, or working for hours at primitive, noisy terminals.
Most people knew that computers existed and vaguely what they could do, but only a select minority actually got to use them.
As late as the 1970s, my visitors and friends would appreciate an informal tour of the computing center where many of them were impressed, even awed, by the large room full of mysterious processors with hundreds of blinking lights, tape drives that became active upon unheard commands, and rows of students bent over terminals which clattered out reams of computer paper.
In the early 1980s, all that changed abruptly.
Computers were made smaller, access to them became easier,
users could avoid having to deal with the nitty gritty details of software and therefore their numbers grew, and the monetary cost of computing tumbled.
In the industrialized countries, PCs, personal computers, became commonplace in offices and homes.
Through such devices as ATMs – automatic teller machines, – ticket vending machines,
and robotic telephone information operators, the average citizen began to deal with and to use computers on a daily basis.
The computer revolution, although it had just started,
became a major subject of conversation and, by necessity or by choice, everyone had to come to terms with a new reality.
Let me relate some experiences that illustrate that impact upon our world of mathematics.
In 1983, a friend I had not seen in years, approached me at a conference.
After mutually cordial greetings, he explained to me his apparent mild state of shock.
He had just left a session where software for symbolic calculation – it is by now long antiquated – had been demonstrated.
He told me that “everything, but absolutely everything, that we learned to do in the first three years of our university education” could now be done with a few key strokes.
We could have argued a little over the inclusiveness of “everything” but, obviously,
he meant all the methods for calculating derivatives and integrals, for matrix algebra,
and for solving differential equations that our teachers had drilled into us for hours on end.
For a while we discussed the implications of the existence of such packages for mathematical education.
Clearly, to prepare students for a changing world, it would become essential to integrate these creatively into our teaching.
Software for symbolic and numerical calculation, and also for statistical analysis,
requires a much deeper understanding of the student than was, perhaps, needed for the routine work of the past.
Where students? verifiable competence is concerned, the emphasis would radically shift, we felt,
from imitating the mechanics of calculation to a genuine understanding of the meaning of the mathematical operations involved.
Legitimate, but harder, examination questions would now ask for, say,
physical interpretations of analytic solutions as the credit for the correctness of those solutions now entirely belongs to the computer or,
more equitably, to the computer scientists and mathematicians whose work went into the software packages.
For the able students, these tools would enhance calculational efficiency and also the fun of doing mathematics; after all, who among them truly enjoys lengthy, dull, and fallible calculations?
For many others, the academic and, particularly, the job environment would become more difficult.
Routine mathematical work that once kept thousands honorably and somewhat gainfully employed is neither valuable, nor valued anymore.
Most of it has been reduced to clicking a mouse button.
The competent user knows, qualitatively at least, what the computer does in carrying out the corresponding instructions.
Such a user can follow the general logic of the calculation, if not its grinding details.
That understanding and knowledge provide the reality checks on whether or not the solution makes sense.
Using the computer without such competence amounts to laboring in utter darkness, with only a vastly increased potential for damage.
We concluded our chat by expressing the hope that, in the years to come, universities would have the financial, and particularly the human resources to teach the proper use of such powerful tools.
Twenty-five years and great efforts and achievements later, that hope needs still be voiced, with even greater fervor and sense of urgency.
Already in the early 1970s another friend, who is gifted with a visionary understanding of modern technology,
told me that the real challenge to mathematically talented persons of the future would be to keep the emerging computers properly and profitably occupied.
A major task of mathematicians would become the formulation of problems in terms suitable for computer processing.
That task would become equal in importance to the more familiar mathematical behavior whereby humanity? most ancient computer solves problems unaided,
with minimal networking only, and sustained by occasional tea and cookies.
I estimate that by the mid-1980s this friend?s prediction became true, at least in technologically better equipped environments.
By then, many mathematicians had accepted the computer as an able assistant whose capabilities must be integrated into the solution process from the start,
and not only be used as an afterthought when, annoyingly, the editors of a manuscript insist on numerical examples.
Since the early 1970s already, I emphasize algorithmic thinking in my research on probability models and I integrate exercises requiring computer solutions into my courses.
With full appreciation of the changes of the past decades,
I still tend to be impatient with the rate at which the “algorithmization” of applied mathematics proceeds.
Possibly because of my limited experience with other fields,
I sometimes see the grass as greener on the other side of the fence.
For example, I was truly impressed when, about two years ago, a molecular biologist,
who spoke in my seminar, downloaded some three-dimensional graphical models of viral DNA,
directly, on line, and as they arose in our discussions, from computers at the National Institute of Health into the PC that he had brought along.
Nothing of a comparable nature is publicly and cost-free available to illustrate,
say, the behavior of interesting queueing networks or of percolation processes, important subjects in applied probability.
Only now do I realize that, in our past conversations, my friends and I foresaw essential elements of what today appears to be a worldwide “crisis” in education.
If the word “crisis” is not meant to induce panic, but evokes a period during which rapid adaptation to a changing reality is crucial,
then indeed the computer is provoking a crisis – one that goes far beyond education.
Why is that so?
The computer is not merely a technological innovation, a splendid amalgamation of electronic machinery.
Its profound impact, the social, cultural changes of unprecedented magnitude and depth being wrought by it,
stem from that fact that it is our first creation that is able to duplicate many of our own routine intellectual capabilities.
Moreover, these it always implements faster and, nearly always, more reliably than we can.
To the individual and to humanity, the computer is – in the truest sense – an extension of our intelligence.
Were computers living beings, the relationship our species and the one we created would, correctly, be called symbiotic.
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of that fact.
The basis for the computer?s civilizational impact is not, in the first place, its rapid technological evolution.
In describing how computers have changed over the past fifty years, even the experts emphasize increased processing speed, vastly larger memory storage, and miniaturization.
These changes are the most evident and can easily be measured.
Increases in speed and in storage capacity of the hardware devices can be measured and expressed in familiar units.
The importance of miniaturization is also clear.
The gigantic mainframe computers of the early 1960s are totally outperformed by their pocket-sized descendants of the 1990s.
Impressive though that is, I consider the degree of sophistication of software, the “intelligence” that is now built into computers to be far more significant.
Although it is difficult to quantify, the evolution in software and in the networking of information systems is even more rapid and its cultural and social significance also lies much deeper.
Just consider how greatly individual cognition is enhanced by shared information.
What units serve to measure the relative differences in social impact between word-of-mouth,
handwritten manuscripts, printed books, films, television, and the global computer network?
Can we appreciate the “powers of ten” needed to measure the differences in these, the principal modes of information sharing of our species?
To me, that was vividly brought home when, in 1982 or thereabouts,
my physician told me that an electrocardiogram recorded at a dispensary in the small town where I lived, was instantaneously transmitted by modem to Chicago.
There, a computer-based expert system analyzes the tracings and within a few minutes returns a report.
A typical report, he told me, is comparable to one that might represent a consensus of fifteen expert cardiologists.
He, an experienced and reputed specialist, acknowledged that occasionally the expert system picks out some obscure feature of the EKG that would have escaped his attention.
He further mused over how such innovations are profoundly affecting the role, the self-image, and the educational needs of medical practitioners.
That was fifteen years ago, a very long time in a field where innovations are commonplace.
Now, even from some remote regions of the United States,
surgeons can consult computer-based expert systems, a few thousand kilometers away, about the pathology of biopsies while the surgical operation is going on.