Computer Science Revolution
Posted on February 21, 2006 Comments (2)
At the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Bernard Chazelle, professor of computer science at Princeton University, plans to issue a call to arms for his profession, challenging his colleagues to grab society by the lapels and evangelize the importance of studying computer science. According to the most recent data available, the top 36 computer science departments in the United States saw enrollments drop nearly 20 percent between 2000 and 2004.
“The big paradox is that the computer science revolution is just unfolding,” Chazelle said. “Why, then, are students are running away from it; why is there this decline when the field has never been more exciting?”
First, computer science is integral to all of the sciences. Biology, for example, is very quantitatively driven, so a computer science background is imperative.
At Princeton I am part of a pioneering course developed by the eminent geneticist David Botstein and others. The course simultaneously incorporates physics, molecular biology, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science. Mathematics has long been the lingua franca, the Esperanto, of science. But I would argue that science now has two Esperantos: math and computer science. Science magazine recently ran an article listing all of the interesting scientific problems of the 21st century. Not once did the article use the term “computer science”; yet many of the problems listed were fundamentally about computer science.
Second, for those of an entrepreneurial bent, the Internet is paramount; if you don’t understand computer science you are lost. I don’t think it is just coincidence that two of the biggest Internet visionaries — Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Eric Schmidt of Google — are products of the computer science and electrical engineering departments at Princeton.
Third, and (since I am a theorist) most important, are careers in the field of theoretical computer science. Theoretical computer science would exist even if there were no computers. Computer science is not bound by the laws of physics; it is inspired by them but, like mathematics, it is something that is completely invented by man.
What exactly is an algorithm?
An algorithm is not a simple mathematical formula. It is a set of rules that govern a complex operation. You can look at Google as a giant algorithm. Or you can think of an economy or an ecological system as an algorithm in action. Physics, astronomy, and chemistry are all sciences of mathematical formulae. The quantitative sciences of the 21st century such as proteomics and neurobiology, I predict, will place algorithms rather than formulas at their core. In a few decades we will have algorithms that will be considered as fundamental as, say, calculus is today.
For more see the Princeton University press release