Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘human-centered computing’

The Difference between Theory and Practice

In computer science, discipline, empirical, research on February 24, 2010 at 3:04 pm

There’s a joke that goes like this

In theory there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

I was reminded of this saying, when I read this piece in the New York Times (OK, yes, sometimes I have a backlog of reading).

This is a very strongly worded piece, and I am sure that some people will disagree with it. I find myself resonating with parts of it. That’s not terribly surprising of course. Perhaps what really resonates with me is being careful about separating economic systems from the context that surrounds them. The author says

As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.

And I reasonate with that because I feel that sometimes this very same thing happens within Computer Science. Sometimes, the human-centered aspects of the discipline are articulated as not being a part of the discipline. I did say sometimes. The author is arguing that human-in-the-loop makes economics more complicated. The financial collapse is a story of humanness in all its forms… it doesn’t mean that understanding the mathematical underpinnings is not valuable, it just means its not enough.

And the same is true of a discipline of Computer Science. The Computer is a human-designed, human-built artifact. The principles upon which is it based, are human-generated (by Computer Scientists). Computers are also human-used, human-consumed. And we use these facts to talk about our solutions. Our visions of what is made possible through scientific and technological innovation in Computer Science are human-motivated. For example, people want to mine, search, and access data, stream video around their house, debug their code, connect their laptops securely to wireless networks, be supported by intelligent machines in office and house work, … the list goes on.

So, I vote for a Computer Science that pursues theory and practice, because they matter equally to our discipline.



In computer science, discipline, research on February 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

OOPSLA is changing it’s name to SPLASH.

Splash stands for Systems, Programming Languages, Applications: Sofware for Humanity. I was very excited when I saw the last two words, and curious.

Unfortunately the SPLASH website does not say much about the choice of name. Reading around I see that there are discussions about how much OO there was left in OOPSLA. But, I wish I knew what cased the last S and H.

I read though that OOPSLA attendance declining. And in another post, Ralph Johnson describes how other conferences will be co-located with OOPSLA (which will remain as a research track). I found the history of Onward! and it’s growth from within OOPSLA to then becoming a stand alone event interesting.

I participate in CHI. Sometimes we talk about the many different tracks as being confusing (for example, does a Work-in-Progress count as a publication, therefore preventing the authors from republishing the work later)? More generally what work do all the different tracks at CHI do? I know that they are hard to organize, so it had better be worth it.

I wish there was more on the OOPSLA change, I can’t help thinking that some of it makes the conference look more like CHI in terms of the variety of tracks. And I would love to know more about the conversations that led the community to decide that this name change was the right thing to do.

Growth of ICT4D research

In ICT4D, research on February 13, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Richard Heeks recently posted data showing the growth of ICT4D research.

I find this interesting.

I am sure that you can produce similar data about Biomedical Informatics research. Easily. That would not peek my interest as much.

Because there’s an important difference between Biomedical Informatics and ICT4D, a battle for legitimacy. From what I understand the history of Biomedical Informatics, in addition to being a history of growth is one of finding a name. Biomedical Informatics appears to supersede Health Informatics (although that’s still very much used). It’s also meant to imply more than Bioinformatics. And then there’s a history of different names being used in North America and Europe (I think that’s some of the difference between Health and Medical Informatics). But, things do largely seem to be converging on Biomedical Informatics as the right name for the discipline, with specialities in all sorts of things such as public health informatics, clinical informatics, bioinformatics, and so forth.

But, that’s the name… and the name has been changed and discussed to reflect what should be included in the field. (I have my own opinions of course, which turn on doing the thing that I find myself frequently doing, which is to inspect assumptions… that’s how the idea of Wellness Informatics started, as a means to organize that type of inspection… and I still don’t know where it stands, but I have and continue to enjoy the conversations and people that that process has facilitated).

By contrast, ICT4D has been growing while the people doing the research have been discussing what the research is in the field. That, at least to me, seems quite unusual. To have sustained growth and increased commitment to a field of research for which the case for the research in the field is not clear, even to some of those who do work in the field.

Now that’s interesting. There seems to be a collective “gut sense” that this is an area with rich possibility even though the nature of that possibility is hard to pin down. I wonder whether some of it can be explained by the low morale in CS, and what I see as some of the differences that this area supports… But I don’t know.

All I do know is that smart people, and increasing numbers of them, are putting their bets on ICT4D. And perhaps that’s as it should be. Some of my management are fond of the idea that high risk equals high reward. Well I’d say it’s pretty risky to take on things that the research reward is not clearly understood.