PERHAPS YOU REMEMBER the iconic theme of the globally popular Kung Fu Panda movies, “You are the secret ingredient!” This meant that
self-belief is important and with it
great things can be achieved—Po, for
example, became the Dragon Warrior.
My meaning here is that computer science is both a powerful enabler of rapid advances in all intellectual fields
and a disruptor driving furious revolutions in commerce and society worldwide. Computer science is more important and potent than ever!
Computing is driving unprecedent-ed rapid change. One cluster of revolutions is around artificial intelligence
(AI) and machine learning. Every day
brings evidence of the rapidly growing
capabilities in AI, driven by a host of algorithmic advances, but notably machine learning, to perform tasks heretofore exclusively the province of
humankind. With high-profile applications such as speech, question and answer systems, image and face recognition, robotics with growing autonomy
and flexibility—including self-driving
cars, deep ocean exploration, and
space exploration—society is broadly
aware of AI’s growing capabilities. And
worldwide, industry is ablaze in virtually every sector with the specter of disruptive, radical new opportunities.
Further, as AI capabilities push
computing into new domains, there is
growing concern2 in economic, policy,
and computing communities about
the potential impact on employment,
types of work, and global competition.
A second cluster of revolution is
around blockchain and decentralized
trust. The advent of Bitcoin has produced
a cascade of academic research, startup
experimentation, industrial innovation,
tial burst of innovation around electronic
currencies that improve Bitcoin to create
currencies with different properties con-
tinues to make waves, sparking new ac-
tivity, government regulation, and in
some cases outright bans. Over time, in-
novation has matured and broadened
into a staggering breadth of applications
based on the core disruptions that de-
centralized trust represents. Reformu-
lated business and government activities
around a distributed, trusted ledger
abound, including new approaches to
provenance, decentralized markets, and
a host of financial applications, but few
examples of the structural disruptions
from centralized to distributed trust that
blockchain is driving.
Equally exciting are efforts to recast
foundational Internet services such as
DNS on blockchain ideas. The Internet
was conceived as the decentralized network of peers, but the design of core services, such as DNS, have always depended
on trusted services—and organizations.
Reinventing these services’ decentralized
trust presents a radical new future for
these and perhaps many types of Internet
services and distributed systems.
While these two clusters of revolutions are enabled by generations of
Moore’s Law and large-scale distributed
systems, its notable that the essence of
each is algorithmic advances and breakthroughs. Algorithms are in the essential core of the field of computer science.
A third revolution is the growing recognition that computer science is a
fundamental element of secondary education. Recent signs include formal
adoption of computer science education guidelines for primary and secondary education in the U.K., 3 an ACM-Industry vision, 1 and a $200M U.S.
Department of Education program1 to
promote high-quality STEM and com-
puter science education curriculum
and programs in high schools.
While these are just three, there are
doubtless many more, and I would love
to hear about them!
Computing is more important than
ever and driving disruptive change. But
it’s also moving faster than ever because
of so many creative and innovative computing professionals, huge capabilities
in chips and massive clouds, and companies with extraordinary scope and
ability to drive innovation. One of the
giants of our field, the late Jim Gray,
said in his 1999 Turing lecture, “Boy,
we thought computing was moving
fast in the 70’s and 80’s, but it’s really
moving fast now.” I believe the rate of
change that computer science is advancing more rapidly and driving
more change in society today … and
with dramatically broader scope.
So, sit back for a moment these holidays as a computing professional and
revel in where we are, and think about
the exciting opportunities—and responsibilities—we have before us!
Andrew A. Chien, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Andrew A. Chien is the William Eckhardt Distinguished
Service Professor in the Department of Computer Science
at the University of Chicago, Director of the CERES Center
for Unstoppable Computing, and a Senior Scientist at
Argonne National Laboratory.
1. ACM and Partners Release Framework for Computer
Science Education in U.S. K– 12 Schools, Oct. 18, 2016.
2. De Lange Conference on Humans, Machines, and the
Future of Work, Dec. 5, 2016
3. United Kingdom Department of Education. Statutory
Guidance: National Curriculum in England: Computing
Programmes of Study, Sept. 11, 2013
4. U.S.A. Presidential Memorandum on Creating
Pathways to Jobs by Increasing Access to
High-Quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and
Mathematics and Computer Science Education.
Sept. 25, 2017.
Copyright held by author.
Computing Is the Secret Ingredient
(well, not so secret)
DOI: 10.1145/3156284 Andrew A. Chien