Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ed Lazowska's defense of Computer Science research

Scott Aaronson writes the Shtetl-Optimized blog. Scott is a post-doctoral researcher in computational complexity and quantum computing, and a soon-to-be Assistant Professor of Computer Science at at MIT. I don't know Scott at all, but I enjoy reading his blog. His recent blog post is a report from FCRC (Federated Computing Research Conference). The most interesting part of this post was his summary of Ed Lazowska's plenary talk on "Computer Science: Past, Present, and Future". Lazowska is at the University of Washington (where he used to be the Chair), and as Aaronson puts it: this is the guy we want in charge of our field. Lazowska's talk was a rousing defense of Computer Science research.

I was able to locate the slides of Lazowska's talk. I won't summarize the talk; for that just read Aaronson's post for the highlights. But I must draw attention to the next to last slide entitled "Dispel these Myths". In that slide Lazowska highlights a whole series of myths about Computer Science research including:
  • Programming is a solitary activity
  • Eventually, all the programming jobs will be overseas
  • Computer science lacks opportunities to make a positive impact on society
  • Computer Science lacks compelling research visions
  • ... and many more
Presumably in the talk itself, he proceeds to dispel all these myths. The slides were good, but I wish I could have seen the talk.

Which brings me to my final point. My friend Alon (who was, until recently, a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Washington with Lazowska) had a recent blog post on SigTube. The idea is to have a short 5 minute video presentation to accompany each paper presented at a conference. The idea is that:

A 5-minute presentation (done well) can give quite a bit of information and insight about a publication, certainly more than the 100-word abstract or the paper's introduction.

I think this is a great idea. The only difficulty might be the logistics of getting all these video presentations done. If this is too hard to do, I hope conferences will at least do the following: videotape all the plenary sessions and publish them on some video sharing site. These talks are often excellent overviews of a field, where it's been and where it's going. I know I'd love to watch such talks. And I would start by watching Lazowska's talk!

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