On Thursday night, in the cheese room, we had an informal discussion on the future of scheduling. A list of open-ended questions had been prepared, several people had been told in advance to think about it, and I moderated the discussion in the same way as I do in the classroom when I teach. Much of the discussion was about the relation between theory and applications. Some directions that were proposed: robust scheduling, stochastic scheduling, scheduling a sequence of similar instances, behavioral scheduling, inapproximability, etc. Many other things were brought up. Miraculously, someone - Alexander Souza - came to me afterwards and, without being prompted, volunteered to write up a report of the discussion! He instantaneously became my hero of the day.
Talking about applications of theoretical work, several people said they had heard that Niv Buchbinder had designed some algorithm that had had practical impact while he was a postdoc at MSR; but Niv adamantly refused to acknowledge the possibility that he might have done something actually useful. He's funny! It's a measure of how informal the atmosphere was that people, instead of trying to show how important their work was, may have downplayed its importance.
The last question was: what drives you to work on scheduling problems? Baruch Schieber talked eloquently about the gratification that comes from doing work that is useful for others. David Johnson mentioned the pleasure of working on problems that one can explain to Beotians. Fritz mentioned the value of our results, as measured by society's feedback. Kirk, down to earth as always, said that it's good to work on topics for which you can get funding. I brought up the importance of beauty, but Neal Young said, essentially, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
But doesn't our work have intrinsic value? If I found a solution to, say, the k-server problem, it would make me very happy and I would think that the solution has value even if no one else cared or knew about it.