Is the discipline of computer science on its last legs? Neil McBride, a lecturer in the School of Computing at De Montfort University, advocates for great change in The death of computing. Citing greatly reduced CS enrollment figures in the UK, US, and Australia, and the growing disconnect between industry and academia, McBride argues that computer scientists need to reform the field from within or risk further marginalization and ultimate irrelevance. Though I can sympathize with his desire to revitalize the discipline, and I understand how perception of computer science might have suffered from the dot-com bust, his message amounts to more than mere doomsaying and pointless nostalgia.
If it is true that computer scientists “look to games programming for [their] salvation,” there is a great opportunity being missed. There are other options – exciting, pragmatic, and revolutionary options – computer scientists might investigate if they believe a wholesale rededication of their skills is needed for the betterment of their field. (To be sure, some already have begun this great work.) As a former student of information science and computational linguistics, I’m here as an interested observer to say that your skills are needed if we are to accomplish some of our loftiest goals. I humbly submit the following areas that could use your help:
- Information retrieval: Build smarter, faster algorithms for finding and organizing information. Instead of building a better bubble sort, figure out better ways to access and relate disparate bits of information. The Google guys made a couple bucks at this; why not cite their success, and point at the meteoric rise of Google, as evidence of the continuing and growing sexiness of computer science?
- Semantic web: Bring your knowledge to bear upon the growing semantic web discussion. If you could think up distributed computing, perhaps the challenge of distributed networks of semantically encoded data is ready for your insight.
- Natural language processing: Be the Google-killer by being the first to market with a usable natural language search tool. There is much research in NLP, but very little of it seems ready for end-users. Help make the keyword a thing of the past. Computational linguists would love to cultivate interdisciplinary connections with you folks.
Although McBride’s article may fade into the background of the very frequent, if strident, cries that CS is dead, I am hopeful that interdisciplinary ties between computer science, information science, library studies, and linguistics will bring about practical innovation, not to mention a renewed sense of relevance and excitement for computer scientists.