Dawn or Doom 2 conference draws thousands


The Dawn or Doom conference has made waves across all colleges within Purdue. The annual event looks at emerging technologies and their societal impacts. Every angle is considered and presented. International experts as well as Purdue sources speak on matters like artificial intelligence, cyber security and space exploration.

The second edition of Dawn or Doom, held Sept. 24 and 25 in Stewart Center, brought in about 3,000 attendees – almost double of the conference’s 2014 debut

Dawn or Doom 2 featured several “tracks” or themes throughout the two days. The College of Science was represented in “Space Travel and Exploration” and “Data Science, Privacy and Surveillance.”

Briony Horgan, assistant professor in Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, is a member of the NASA science team for the camera to be installed on the Mars 2020 rover, scheduled to launch in, yes, 2020. Her presentation, “Roving Mars: NASA’s Search for Life on the Red Planet” was like a prequel for the hit film Matt Damon, “The Martian.” Horgan detailed how Mars rovers land and how they navigate the rocky, barren terrain. A scientist with expertise on planet surfaces, Horgan talked about Mars’ surface history and what it looks like today.

“Mars is currently our best bet in finding signs of life beyond Earth,” said Horgan during her presentation. “An elevation map shows that this doesn’t look like the moon. … There is a much more complicated geology going on -- feathery patterns turning into valleys and running into craters. These are river networks on Mars, ancient dried-up valley networks that we find all over Mars.”

Horgan included computer animation on how a rover unfolds from a transport and begins its work, something Matt Damon’s character in “The Martian” could appreciate.

Eugene Spafford, professor of Computer Science, director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security based at Purdue, and a world leader in cyber security, spoke on “Balancing Privacy and Surveillance.”

Computer security is a hot-button issue almost always. Spafford looked at the government’s role in keeping data safe. But when does security become surveillance? When does privacy factor in?

“Trying to find a balance between those two is an issue, fundamentally, of policy,” Spafford said. “Policy having to do with the rights and nature of the individual and the rights and nature of the collective – family, tribe, society, populations.”

Spafford said the idea of privacy vs. surveillance goes back much further than the beginning of the Internet age. Any sort of communication can be found out and broadcast to individuals that the communication was not meant for. Codes were created to make sure this doesn’t happen, whether it was between warring countries, competitors or even tax collectors.

The debate between security and unwanted surveillance will only increase. Thankfully, experts like Spafford and platforms like Dawn or Doom are there to help us breathe easier.

Spaf talks

Dr. Euguene Spafford, professor of Computer Science and leading cyber security expert, talks to a full room during Dawn or Doom 2.

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