BY JEANNETTE M. WING
FIVE DEEP QUESTIONS
Even if they seem unanswerable, just trying to answer them will advance the
field’s scientific foundations and help engineer the systems we can only imagine.
The field of computing is driven by boundless technological innovation and societal expecta-
tions. The field runs at such a maddening pace that we barely have time to pause and enjoy the
ride. The time between an ingenious idea springing from a research laboratory or coffeehouse
conversation and its emergence as a product or service is so short and the frequency of the com-
mercialization cycle of ideas so great that we rarely stop to savor even our own successes.
While it is easy to be swept away by the
cool things we do, we should not forget
that the field also contributes to fundamental scientific knowledge. So let’s take
a step back from the frenzy and think about the science computing pursues. To help, I pose five deep
questions [ 3]:
P = NP?
What is computable?
What is intelligence?
What is information? 1
(How) can we build complex systems simply?
There is nothing special about the number five; it is
just a way to get a list going. I call them deep
because they speak to the foundations of the field,
reflecting the kind of far-reaching issues that drive
day-to-day research and researchers toward understanding and expanding the frontiers of computing.
The question of whether P equals NP is undeniably the most well-known unsolved problem in the
field. A proof in the positive (P = NP) would have
profound practical consequences, shaking the founda-
1I thank Robert L. Constable, Dean of Faculty of Computing and Information Science at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, for suggesting this question.