Beki Grinter

From Science of the Machine to Science of the Web

In computer science, discipline, research on April 2, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Ed CHI’s ACM blog post recounts an interesting sequence of events that occurred recently.

To recap, the British Government announced an Institute for Web Science

The Government today announced the creation of the new Institute for Web Science. It is designed to make the UK the hub of international research into the next generation of web and internet technologies and their commercialisation, and was announced by the Prime Minister alongside plans for a radical opening up of information and data to put more power in people’s hands.

The Institute will conduct research, collaborate with businesses, identify opportunities for social and economic benefit, assist in commercialising research and help Government stimulate demand through procurement.

And Tim O’Reilly posted a case about the State of the Internet Operating System (a way out of Pike’s assertion?)

Ask yourself for a moment, what is the operating system of a Google or Bing search? What is the operating system of a mobile phone call? What is the operating system of maps and directions on your phone? What is the operating system of a tweet?

And now Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has announced a degree in Web Science.

The new academic major expands the current Information Technology degree program to create both a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s concentration, in “Information Technology and Web Science.” The students in the interdisciplinary degree program will investigate issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future.

Ed’s suggestion is that it’s time to rethink Computing education. I’m not sure I agree, I think we’re going to have to actually decide that Computer Science is too big to be taught, and we’re going to have to make tracks through it. At Georgia Tech we call that Threads.

My first thought is disciplinary. Is this another angle on the disciplinary devolution of Computer Science?

My second thought is how this discipline will potentially struggle with its identity. I don’t think Computer Science has yet fully come to grips with a science of a human-made machine. And now, we’re starting up another science, this one of a collection of parts of the machine, and its surrounding infrastructure. I am excited, for I am sure that it will continue to help expose the assumptions in our disciplinary business. (Now, I suppose, disciplinary businesses). And, that’s a learning opportunity.

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