Computing as a Discipline

Over the course of history science has fractured into a taxonomy of disciplines and subdisciplines.

Computing emerged in the 1960s as “the study of phenomena related to computers” [Newell, Perlis and Simon, 1967]

What do we mean when we say we study computing?

But is that all? What is computing? How do we define it as a discipline?

  • Computer Science is the study and management of complexity [Dijkstra, 1976]
  • The discipline of Computing is the systematic study of algorithmic processes that describe and transform information: their theory, analysis, design, efficiency, implementation, and application [Denning, 1985]
  • Computer Science is the mechanization of abstraction [Aho and Ullman, 1992]
  • Computer Science is a field of study that is concerned with theoretical and applied disciplines in the development and use of computers for information storage and processing, mathematics, logic, science, and many other areas [Mahoney, 2001]

“Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

“Biology is not about microscopes, and computer science is not about computers.”

“Computer science” is a terrible name. Astronomy is not called “telescope science”, and biology is not called “microscope science”.

(mostly attributed to Djikstra)

Computer science is in part a scientific discipline concerned with the empirical study of a class of phenomena, in part a mathematical discipline concerned with the formal properties of certain classes of abstract structures, and in part a technological discipline concerned with the cost-effective design and construction of commercially and socially valuable products [Wegner, 1971]

Since its beginnings in the late 1930s, computer science has been a unique combination of math, engineering, and science. It is not one, but all three. [Denning]

Where does the study of computing occur?

  • University
  • Business
  • Computing Societies
  • Basements and Garages


What is a university? Why does it exists?

  • Church
  • Morrill Land Grant Act

Let’s talk about University organization, faculty, staff, administration, students

Who pays for Research and Why?

US Government (why?)

  • DoD, DARPA
  • NSF
  • DoJ
  • DoE (AI Institutes)
  • DHS



Professional Organizations

  • ACM (SIGs)
  • IEEE
  • SIAM
  • AAAI
  • ACL