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<< Back to May 2005 CRN Table of Contents

[Published originally in the May 2005 edition of Computing Research News, Vol. 17/No. 3]

Computing, We Have a Problem…

By Jim Foley, CRA Board Chair

The computing community—including the computing research community—suffers from one major problem: the public does not fully understand, and hence does not appreciate, what computing is and why computing and computing research are important. The bottom line is:  We have an “image” problem, and it extends to our elected and appointed government officials, prospective students and their parents, some colleagues in other disciplines who use computing in their research, and the general public.

Two of the most obvious consequences of this image problem are:

    1. Decreased funding for basic computing research (NSF funding is flat and DARPA’s is decreasing), which leads to decreases in the proposal success rates.

    2. Decreased enrollments in many undergraduate computing programs. 

For these two reasons, the flow of people and ideas coming from our universities is threatened by what many observers (including me) believe will be disastrous impacts on our innovation, economic growth, international competitiveness, national security, and quality of life. Coupled with the decreasing attractiveness of the United States to international students for graduate studies and for work after graduate school, the future does not look as bright as it did five or ten years ago.

What is CRA doing about this? We convened an ad-hoc leadership summit meeting at Snowbird last July to start coordinating the ongoing activities of our member societies (see: /CRN/articles/sept04/foley.html). We continued with an all-day leadership summit this February that brought together computing community leaders from AAAI, ACM, ASIST, CACS/AIC, CASC, CNRI, CRA, CSTB, ECEDHA, Google, HP, IBM, IEEE-CS, Lucent/Bell Labs, Microsoft, NAE, NCWIT, NSF, PITAC, SIAM, Sun, TechNet, and USENIX to develop strategies for addressing the problem. An outline of the strategies and other meeting information is available at: /Activities/summit/home.html.

Working with the leadership summit attendees, CRA is forming two task forces to refine and execute the strategies we developed, to coordinate the activities of the many groups that are tackling pieces of the problem, and to take new initiatives that “fill in the gaps” between ongoing activities.

The Computing Research Funding Task Force, led by CRA, will develop a coalition of societies and companies to be the source of computing research information and advocacy to the government and to coalitions such as ASTRA, the Council on Competitiveness, the National Association of Manufacturers, TechNet, the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, as well as to our member societies. The CRA task force will aggressively present the case for computing research to the administration and the legislature, drawing on the human and financial resources of our corporate and society members for personal visits, print media, behind-the-scenes lobbying, events, letters to the editors, and any other effective means it can develop.

The Image of Computing Task Force will work to increase the public’s understanding of computing, thereby increasing the number of computing students at all levels—K-12, undergraduate, and graduate. The challenges are to:

  • Convey positive images of career opportunities in computing.
  • Counter concerns about job security created by the dot-com crash and the outsourcing scare.
  • Help high school students and others know there is more to computing than AP programming.
  • Help publicize the highly successful ways of introducing computing to college students that do NOT scare the students away—such as those of Mark Guzdial at Georgia Tech and Randy Pausch at CMU.
  • Encourage the very brightest college students to study computing.
  • Encourage more CS undergrads to go on to grad school.
  • This is much more than a CRA-centric undertaking: we are working with CRA member societies to set up a leadership team that will move the effort forward.

    Jim Foley, CRA’s board chair, is Professor and Stephen Fleming Chair in Telecommunications at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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