PCAST Focuses on Computing at Meeting

The PCAST met yesterday for the September meeting and the morning was devoted to network and information technology. PCAST member David Shaw and CCC Chair Ed Lazowska are co-chairing a PCAST report on the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program.

Jeannette Wing, former acting director of NSF’s Computing and Information Sciences and Engineering directorate, gave a presentation on computer science. Dr. Wing spoke to the economic and social impacts of computer science and pointed out how far computing has come in such a short time.

Dr. Wing used three stories to illustrate her talk: Google, model checking, and machine learning. She pointed out that the Google story shows the immense importance of federal funding of basic research and its potential payoff. She cautioned that basic research can take decades to payoff but when it does it can do so exponentially, which was also a point in the model checking story. She also said it was important to remember that innovation cannot always be planned. Machine learning was used to illustrate the importance of computing in all of the science disciplines and in every day life. This is why agencies other than NSF and DARPA need to start investing in basic computing research to address their sciences’ needs going forward.

Dr. Wing also talked about potential areas in computing such as cloud computing, cyberphysical systems, molecular machines, and socially intelligent computing. When questioned, she stated that cybersecurity needs a great deal of attention because of the implications to national security and the societal impacts of failure in that space.

Education was also a big theme and the focus of many questions from PCAST members. Dr. Wing said that computer science is part of STEM and that all future generations need to know computational thinking. She pointed out that there are computer science standards available from the CSTA and ACM. She also mentioned that NSF is involved in the effort to overhaul the CS AP course.

A webcast of the meeting can be found here.

PCAST Focuses on Computing at Meeting