There is much interest in attracting new students, especially female, to computer science and it has not gone unnoticed by some in that discipline that there is a real image problem. The Computer Research Association, a grouping of some 200 academic departments in computer science and engineering, is doing its best to put the sex appeal back in CS (you mean it was once there?) by inviting anthropologists to give keynotes at their conference (the wonderful Genevieve Bell of INTEL (http://www.intel.com/technology/techresearch/people/bios/bell_g.htm) who spoke here at the iSchool two years ago) and trying to sell the message that not only can CS give you a high paying job but it really does deal with exciting ideas. Check out the reports from this year’s CRA gathering at: http://www.cra.org/govaffairs/blog/, particularly the accounts of Rick Rashid, head of Microsoft Research’s address where he argued that there was much excitement still awaiting the CS profession.
I don’t dispute any of this but I would note that the three projects listed as exemplars of wonder are:
–Using any surface as a computing interface
–Human scale storage, where all one’s actions and conversations can be recorded
–Terra scale applications such as mapping the sky and giving multiple attributes to each object
These have real potential for excitement but how much of that stems from the computational aspects that must be solved or from the human and social factors that such innovations might invoke. Unless CS incorporates the necessary methods and theories to handle those aspects then it’s hard for me to get terribly excited. And if CS did incorporate these, then would it still be computer science (and no jokes please about any discipline with ‘science’ in its name not being a real science)?
The serious point here (other than growing the recruitment of more and better balanced student cohorts) is what type of knowledge does it take to deliver successful outcomes for such projects? In my view there is no single discipline that could really tackle one of these three wonder projects successfully, only a multi-disciplinary approach could work. Since we tend to divide up universities into discrete disciplines and put buildings around them to keep outsiders from infiltrating their ranks, there seems to be a problem here. What would it take to create a truly new intellectual space to end the isolation at universities? I think the answer to that is far more important to think about than any specific wonder project and the information school movement might be the appropriate vehicle for trying out potential solutions.