While computers are exponentially more powerful and increasingly important in both society and in every area of scholastic inquiry, modern computers appear to be incapable of solving certain problems. In recent decades, computer scientists have begun to develop an understanding of what makes some computational tasks “intractable” not just for current computers but for all foreseeable computers, even if they were joined together.
Princeton is the lead institution for a new $10 million National Science Foundation grant for the study of computational intractability. At the Dec 10 Lunch ‘n Learn seminar, Sanjeev Arora, the principal investigator on the new grant, Professor of Computer Science, the Director of the Center for Theoretical Computer Science, and the Director of the Center for Intractability gave an overview of both the field and what the new center is trying to accomplish.
For the past eight years, Dr. Kernighan has taught a Computer Science course on advanced programming techniques that is meant to reflect how programming is used in the real world. Over time, the course has become more and more stretched between important old material and new unproven material that might be important. With more and more material to cover within a fixed time period, Dr. Kernighan acknowledged that he wrestles continually with the issue of what matters, what old information to preserve, and what new techniques and approaches to cover. In his February 13 Lunch ‘n Learn talk, he illustrated some of the challenges and discussed ways in which we might use complexity and rapid change to our advantage.
The good news, he notes, is that we have available more memory, processor power, disk space, and bandwidth. The bad news is that these advances don’t encourage good programming practices and, on top of that, expectations are changing. Programmers expect more elaborate features and environments that facilitate quick delivery. Kernighan quotes a New York Times article that a web site cobbled together in just a week is now pulling in a million dollars a year for its programmer. “How to prepare students when the creation of such a simple application can have such a profound effect upon the world?” he asked.
In a special March 1 Lunch ‘n Learn presentation, Dr. Maria Klawe, dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, presented Gender, Lies and Video Games: The Truth about Females and Computing. The event was simulcast via Internet2 to other NJ K-20 institutions including Montclair State University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Passaic Valley High School.
Dr. Klawe’s March 1 talk explored how girls and women differ from boys and men in their uses of and attitudes toward computers and computing. For example, why do fewer young women play computer and video games, take computer science courses, major in computer science, go into computing careers, and end up in senior positions?
Dr. Klawe began by exploring and exploding some of the myths (lies?) about computing. For example, are computers a boy toy? In fact, teenage girls spend more time on the internet than boys. However, many of the myths persist in influencing students, teachers, parents, and the media. And such myths can play a pernicious role in influencing women away from computing professions.