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Why Computer Science is Fundamental to Everything

Ian Foster
Argonne National Laboratory & University of Chicago

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A growing fraction of human knowledge, in fields as diverse as climate and genomics, would not exist in its current form if it were not for computers. The reason is not simply the computer's power as a calculator: it is also because science is increasingly about information: its collection, organization and transformation. And if we view computer science as the systematic study of algorithmic processes that describe and transform information, then computing underpins knowledge in a fundamental way. One can argue, as has George Djorgovski, that "applied computer science is now playing the role that mathematics did from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries: providing an orderly, formal framework and exploratory apparatus for other sciences." This expansive view of computer science is empowering for us computer scientists; it also poses hard questions about what problems we should work on, how we should engage with other disciplines, and the sociology of collaboration.

Bio: Ian Foster is Director of the Computation Institute at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago, where he is also the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Computer Science. His research deals with distributed, parallel, and data-intensive computing technologies; the applications of those technologies to scientific problems; and the mechanisms and policies needed to create and operate scalable scientific "cyberinfrastructures," or Grids as he likes to call them. Dr. Foster is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the British Computer Society. His awards include the British Computer Society's award for technical innovation, the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) Next Generation award, the British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, R&D Magazine's Innovator of the Year, and DSc Honoris Causa from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

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