Each February, CRA organizes an annual summit of the presidents, executive directors and other senior policy leadership of CRA, its six affiliate societies—AAAI, ACM, CACS/AIC, IEEE-CS, SIAM, and USENIX—and the NRC’s Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) to discuss issues of common concern. Immediately following the summit, CRA’s winter board meeting begins. This year the major topics of both the summit and board meeting were computing’s image, research funding, the Computing Community Consortium (CCC), and education.
Computing Research News
In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, why do we get up each day and work? To pay for groceries and make mortgage payments? Practical and necessary reasons, for sure. To conduct important research, educate students and make disciplinary contributions? These are the quantitative and qualitative metrics of success in our field, without doubt. Yet I suspect neither practicality nor disciplinary metrics are the real reasons we climb out of bed each morning. Rather, I believe that when we are circumspect, we know we are each driven by the desire to make a difference, to make the world a better place today than it was yesterday.
Like many of you, I serve on a multiplicity of U.S. and international panels that offer advice and suggestions on science policy and computing. Indeed, there are times when it feels as if we are a proximate cause of deforestation, due to the number of voluminous reports we produce. The good ones are even read and have influence— sometimes! Recently, during the question-and-answer period for one of these panels, a U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) examiner noted that rarely do people come to Washington to plead, “I’m dumb, and I have too much federal money. Can you help me?” The comment generated a healthy laugh and knowing nods, but the OMB examiner was making a serious point.
In 1928, the British geneticist J.B.S. Haldane wrote a now famous essay entitled On Being the Right Size, where he noted, “The most obvious differences between different animals are differences of size … it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal, there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.” It was a cogent argument about surface area to volume ratios, structures, respiration and energy.
In response to a Congressional request and stimulated by a set of earlier studies (notably the National Innovation Initiative’s “Innovate America” report), the National Academies recently issued a report entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future.” This report was produced in response to growing concern that a weakening of U.S. leadership (and, by extension, North American leadership) in science and technology would jeopardize future prosperity. This concern was based on the fact that a major fraction of economic growth in recent decades has been a direct consequence of prior investment in basic research.
If one believes the popular press, computer science careers are going the way of the passenger pigeon and the woolly mammoth.Of course, we know better. First, we’ve “seen this movie before” as enrollments dipped in the 1980s, before skyrocketing again during the dot-com boom. Some degree of oscillation is inevitable in a field where the core technologies evolve so rapidly.