Monday, November 5, 2007

Why study computer science?

Recently, an old high-school friend, back in Port-au-Prince, who contacted me after visiting my Web sites, asked me the following question.

> Why did you study computer science (I am just curious)? I am clueless about technology, but it does fascinate me.

Since I thought this was an interesting question, I told her I would blog my answer. So here it is, with some minor updates to elaborate some points.
It's hard to briefly answer why I chose this field of study (computer science) and have dedicated much of my life and energy to help advance it --- albeit with small success so far... However, if I was pressed for a concise and quick answer, I would simply say:

I chose computer science as my primary field of study because the computer (or computing machine) is maybe the most flexible, complex, useful, and potentially dangerous man-made invention. While the field (and associated sub-fields) have created many pragmatic and useful applications in the 60 (or so) years of existence, the computing fields have also opened many unanswered scientific questions ranging from a pure theoretical nature (e.g., P = NP? and the limits of computation and artificial intelligence), social (e.g., the impact of the Internet on freedom of speech and governments, gaps between have and have-nots, and so on), as well as deeply personal and human (e.g., entertainment, education, privacy, and self-expression) to list a few.

As a more elaborated example, the Internet and the Web (which arguably spawned from the sub-fields of networking and software and hardware engineering) have forever changed all aspects of the fabric of human civilization and while mostly beneficial, the resulting changes are not always positive---the Web can be a great tool to exchange family pictures as much it can be used for propaganda.

Being in Silicon Valley at what is really the beginning and forefront of this revolution is truly exciting and invigorating. Being part of the research community, tasked to help advance the field is an honor and privilege.

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