Comments from Dan Ross re: discussion 3.14.08

Here’s some thoughts related to some of the things alluded to in today’s CPATH meeting.

Engineering emerged as a defined discipline sometime in the 1800’s. However, it took till the 1950’s and the events of WWII and its aftermath for this country to fortify and enhance the institutions related to the production of engineers and the related scientific research and development institutions. In part, this delay is because it takes time for disciplines to mature to the point where the institutions that support them can be replicated on a larger scale – mass produced, in effect. Another reason for the time lag is that the infrastructure – the electricity, gasoline, steel, etc - took time to become commonly available, and this infrastructure is the soil in which this generation of technologies grew.

Today, we benefit from the investments foreseen by the leaders of this “greatest generation”, but in unforeseen ways. The computers, the Internet , and all the other technologies we sometimes take for granted today were created using the basic scientific and engineering principles spurred by the space race and the cold war aerospace and defense industries. We don’t live in cities on the moon, but nobody told me in 1975 that I’d be typing this email instead.

Today we are in an analogous situation. We are on the verge of great advancements in technology in a huge variety of disciplines, both existing and as yet to be created. We need people to do this – to create the next age of technology. The soil is fertile – interconnected computers of increasing power are almost ubiquitous. But we need the seeds – the people with the required skills – to grow this next wave of technology.

However, the computing discipline does not have the benefit of age. It is more amorphous and undefined. It is only 60 years old, not 150 like engineering was in 1950. Consequently, the breadth and depth of the computing discipline is not commonly recognized by the general public, which tends to associate computing with programming (This is analogous to associating any discipline, like Business for example, with the writing of English sentences, paragraphs, and, if you are really good, maybe even entire pages!!)

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