Daniel Lemire's blog

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Why is Computer Science Education Obselete?

I spent a great deal of time last time thinking about why Computer Science education fails to attract as many students as it once did. One of the most significant event as of late has been the launch of the Web Science Research Initiative. Basically, Tim Berners-Lee has concluded that a Computer Science education is not an ideal foundation to study the Web. Why is that? I think the answer is probably related as to why, if we discard Software Engineering, Computer Science is really the new Physics: attracting a few bright individuals, but failing to attract crowds.

Computer Science was founded by Mathematicians and Physicists as a Data Processing Science. And because Computers are Data Processing Devices, this new science would be the science of computers. What an attractive proposition!

Except that computers are not data processing devices: they evolved beyond this initial status. Modeling computers as Turing Machines is no longer useful in most cases. The Web is hardly a physical network of Turing Machines. Computers are very social and cultural devices. Building a new application like YouTube has very little to do with programming a data processing device. It would seem like Tim agrees with me:

Within computer science, Web-related research has largely focused on information-retrieval algorithms and on algorithms for the routing of information through the underlying Internet. Outside of computing, researchers grow ever more dependent on the Web; but they have no coherent agenda for exploring the emerging trends on the Web, nor are they fully engaged with the emerging Web research community to more specifically focus on providing for scientists’ needs. (Berners-Lee et al., Science, 2006)

Information Technology is more important than ever. Computers are more important than ever. But, alas, it does not follow that Computer Science is still relevant. I studied carefully many programs out there and it seems obvious to me that Computer Science education is not adapting to what computers really are used for in 2007. It is basically staying true to the vision of Computer Science as a data processing science.

See also my post More CS Ph.D.s than ever, what about research jobs?