About the most important problem in computer science

This blog was founded to collect answers to one question. Richard Hamming asked it in his speech “You and your research”. His talk was more general, but it is a really good question and i applied it to my field.

What are most important problems in computer science?

I sent out lots of email to famous and not so famous people. You can read all replies on their own, but this is my try to summarize them all. I don’t think i’ll get much more responses to the emails, i sent for now.

The big problem is complexity. Computers are a bicycle for your mindA Computer is like a bicycle for our minds, so we can tackle more complex problems. The tools to these problems naturally are complex, so users get easily confused. The results are buggy programs, distressed users and wierd interfaces. “In spite of great advances, programming is still too difficult and machines are still too hard to use“, Kernighan wrote.

Prof. Tichy maps out the goal like this:

When everybody doesn’t just use a PC, but commands it [...]. Only then computer science has fullfilled its potential, which is to free humanity from tiresome, boring, error-prone and dangerous work.

There are some really annoying problems on the way to simplicity. Prof. Adleman mentioned the famous P=NP problem. Joe Armstrong remarked that we don’t really know how to store and how to find things. For Prof. McCarthy the tangible path is “getting interactive provers for showing that programs meet their specifications and formalizing common sense knowledge and reasoning in mathematical logic“, thus improving our mind tools.

It’s not easy to discover how the computer can work for us. If we have figured this out, we need to “make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler” (Einstein), because “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (da Vinci).

We’re still working on operating systems, compilers, languages and algorithms, because haven’t got them right so far.

As a student of computer science i want to find my personal attack vector to the big problem, but how to find that? Philip Greenspun presented a nice thought experiment: The Fantasy Research Lab

Do you miss anyones reply? Tell me! I’ll try to contact them. Also write me your own answer!

About these ads
Published in: on September 5, 2007 at 11:11 am  Comments (8)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: http://focs.wordpress.com/2007/09/05/the-most-important-problem-in-computer-science/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. P ?= NP is the biggest problem. (then again i’m a crypto guy so i may be biased)

    all of these other problems are optimization problems. if these were tractable by non-heuristic methods (researchers trying various things and seeing what got accepted), we could develop the ideal language/interface/etc

  2. It could help massively, mind, but what if P != NP? That doesn’t help at all.

  3. [...] Andi had a great idea. He asked some well-known computer scientists via email the following question: What are the most important problems in computer science? [...]

  4. [...] corrected my use of the quotes and then goes on to reply to my question “what are the most important problems in computer science?“, inspired by a talk of Richard Hamming. I admire Dick Hamming enormously, but i disagree [...]

  5. you proposed the key point in computer science, too complex for most people. Computers, in my opinion, should be a tool for everybody. How to make simplest UI, both PC and Web, will be the major work.

    On my homepage, i selected ca 140 websites, which in my opinion, can serve most people most of the time, I also set a search tool. I found this is very useful for me andh ope will be useful for many other people.

    please have a look, topwebsitesGuide.com your comments are greatly welcome.

  6. you proposed the key point in computer science, too complex for most people. Computers, in my opinion, should be a tool for everybody. How to make simplest UI, both PC and Web, will be the major work.

    But that, by my reckoning, is not computer science. That’s interface engineering. That’s applied psychology.

    Part of the problem is that CS, as a department in a university, is part hacking, part software engineering, and part mathematics put into the wrong building. This leads to associating things with computer science that are really just computing. P ?= NP is a computer science problem. Making computers into devices that change our life for the better is an engineering problem, a usability problem.

    For example, I’m going to the gym now, and while I probably won’t buy it, I’ve been looking at Nike+. There’s shoes with a pocket for a widget, a widget that tells your iPod how much you’ve run, and your iPod. Getting the shoe part and the iPod to communicate is a signals problem. Making a dingus that can translate shocks to distance and calorie burn is an engineering problem. Displaying the summary when you’re done is the computer science problem, and it’s essentially “Hello World”.

  7. Thank you for correct my misconcept. I am either a computer scientist or engineer by nature. But as a cancer research, i am interesting in the web and want to make it more usable to most of people.

  8. richard hamming asked it in his speech “you and your research”.
    About the most important problem in computer science « figuring out computer science
    this blog was founded to collect answers to one question


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: