Berger to Discuss Challenges of Finding Errors in Spreadsheets

Emery Berger
Emery Berger

Emery Berger, computer science, will give an invited talk Friday, Oct. 7 at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Workshop on Software Correctness and Reliability.

His talk will be “On the Correctness of Spreadsheets,” describing his work on automatically finding errors in spreadsheets, which he has been conducting with graduate students at the university, as well as at Microsoft Research. This work is supported by a new $350,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Spreadsheets are by far the most commonly used programming environment in the world; there are more than 750 million users of Microsoft Excel alone. They are widely used in government, scientific, and financial settings. At the same time, spreadsheet user interfaces make it easy to accidentally introduce both data and formula errors.

Nonetheless, the program languages community has largely ignored spreadsheets and there are few tools to help debug them. This is likely because spreadsheet errors are not clear-cut: it is generally not possible to distinguish correct from incorrect spreadsheets, beyond egregious errors.

In his talk, Berger will discuss these challenges and present work from his group on principled approaches for effectively identifying problems both in spreadsheet data and code.