The Excitement of Computer Science

The discipline of computing continues to push the boundaries of what is possible by discovering new ideas, building new kinds of systems, and bring new tools into the home, school, and office. Computer science pushes back not only the boundaries of computing but also the boundaries of other disciplines, nearly all of which now use computation as a fundamental tool of inquiry and medium of expression.

The World Wide Web stands as perhaps the most visible example of how computers have changed the world for everyone. When laypeople want to learn about something, they "google" it, and advertising campaigns these days are far more likely to give a URL than a phone number or "snail mail" address. The technology affects how we live and work, and it permeates our vocabulary. Remember: the web of today is built on thirty-plus years of research and development in computer science, from Arpanet and TCP/IP to Amazon, Google, and FaceBook. Many of the pioneers of this new world were students who had ideas bigger than the tools they had at the time. So they wrote new kinds of programs and developed new kinds of systems. They created new programming languages and generated advances in operating systems, databases, and machine learning.

supercomputer simulates black hole collision

Much of the advance of computer science has created the underlying technology. But computer science has long been changing how other people work and think. Consider the state of modern science. Astrophysicists don't have many opportunities to observe blackholes colliding, but they can simulate a black hole collision using a computer -- and then use what they learn from the simulation to understand black holes better. Biologists use the computer to help us understand biology better. The same issue of the journal Nature that contains the article biology highlights several other ways in which the future of science is bound inextricably to the future of computer science.

Indeed, some people argue that now all science is computer science.

Ultimately, computer science is at the heart of the future, both our technology and our lives:

Computer science, the disciplines based on it, and the students and results that flow from your efforts are at the heart of everything from economic development to national defense to better human communication. Yet the future will see developments that even we cannot imagine. We are exceedingly fortunate to spend our time on something that is so important and also so much fun. However, with that comes great responsibility to utilize our resources strategically for the benefit of all and to lead, not only technologically, but also in helping to guide the productive use of the wonders that come from our efforts.

-- Peter A. Freeman, Computing Research News, 17(4)

If you want to be in the thick of the intellectual excitement that is changing every other discipline, then computer science is "where the action is" -- from wireless networks to collaborative web sites, from terabyte databases to cheminformatics, from robotics to adaptive interfaces to social networks to intelligent game-playing agents to data security.


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Paul Gray

With distributed computing, the devil is in the details. That's because a programmer is dealing with all sorts of different hardware and networks. Meshing all of these elements presents a significant challenge that Paul Gray, associate professor of computer science, is leading the charge to solve... [more]

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