up with these realities. From 2001 to
2009, college enrollments in CS majors dropped 50% (and are now recovering). From early analyses, we could
see that students were losing interest
in computing in high schools, half
of which had no computer course at
all, and many of the others relegated
their one computer course to literacy
in keyboarding and word processing.
Very few had courses in the principles
of computing. Around 1998, the U.S.
Educational Testing Service wanted to
help by focusing the Computer Science
Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum
on object-oriented programming. Unfortunately, the new AP curriculum did
not help. Fewer than one-third of high
schools actually used the CS AP curriculum and many teachers did not understand enough about object-oriented programming to teach it effectively.
Leaders in most of the STEM fields
reported enrollment declines in the
same period. Stimulating more student interest in STEM fields has become an international concern.
The science renaissance in computing has led to an explosion of new content on the principles of computing that
is beginning to reach into high schools.
With support from the U. S. National Science Foundation, a coalition of universities has defined a computer science
principles introductory course and created prototypes (see http://csprinciples.
org). The Educational Testing Service
has embarked on a closely related
project to redefine the AP curriculum
around computing principles. Over
the past two decades, Tim Bell of the
University of Canterbury, New Zealand,
has designed exercises and games for
children 12–15 years old, allowing them
to experience computing principles
without using computers (see http://
csunplugged.org). With my colleagues
I have put together a presentation of all
computer science principles (see http://
greatprinciples.org). 2, 5
The dream articulated by Newell,
Perlis, and Simon 50 years ago has
come true. It endured many skeptical antagonists and weathered many
storms along the way. Computing is
now accepted as science. Some of us
even believe computing is so pervasive that it qualifies as a new domain
of science alongside the traditional
domains of physical, life, and social
We can now say
computing is the
study of information
sciences. 7 Educators are finding innovative ways to teach computing science
to young people, who are now being infected with the magic, joy, and beauty
of the field.
Let us Discuss
I am editor-in-chief of ACM’s Ubiquity,
an online peer-reviewed magazine
about the future of computing and the
people who are creating it. The
Ubiquity editors put together a symposium
of essays from 14 authors discussing
various aspects of the question “Is
computing science?” The authors include an ACM president, an ACM past
president, two ACM A.M. Turing Award
recipients, an NSF program manager,
a journalist, six educators, and four
interdisciplinary researchers. We drew
five conclusions from the symposium.
First, the question of whether computing is science is as old as the field.
It arose because traditional scientists
did not recognize computational processes as natural processes. Even during the engineering years, when much
of the energy of the field was devoted to
building systems and understanding
their theoretical limits, the field developed two important scientific theories.
The theory of locality studied memory
usage patterns of computations, and
the theory of performance evaluation
validated queueing network models
for reliable performance predictions of
Second, there is a growing consensus today that many of the issues we
are studying are so complex that only
an experimental approach will lead to
understanding. The symposium documents advances in algorithmics, biology, social networking, software engineering, and cognitive science that use
empirical methods to answer important questions.
Third, scientists in many fields now
recognize the existence of natural in-
formation processes. This dismisses
an early perception that CS deals solely
with artificial information processes.
Computing is not constrained to be a
“science of the artificial.” Computing
is indeed a full science.
1. Denning, P. computing is a natural science. Commun.
ACM 50, 7 (july 2007), 13–18.
2. Denning, P. great principles of computing. Commun.
ACM 46, 11 (nov. 2003), 16–20.
3. Denning, P. Is computer science science? Commun.
ACM 48, 4 (apr. 2005), 27–31.
4. Denning, P. Performance analysis: experimental computer
science at its best. Commun. ACM 24, 11 (nov. 1981),
5. Denning, P. the great principles of computing.
American Scientist 98 (sept.–oct. 2010), 369–372.
6. Denning, P. What is experimental computer science?
Commun. ACM 23, 10 (oct. 1980), 543–544; http://doi.
7. Denning, P. and rosenbloom, P. computing: the fourth
great domain of science. Commun. ACM 52, 9 (sept.
8. gonzalo. g. Is computer science truly scientific?
Commun. ACM 53, 7 (july 2010), 37-39. http://doi.
9. kari, l. and rozenberg, g. the many facets of natural
computing. Commun. ACM 51, 10 (oct. 2008), 72–83;
10. lukowicz, P., tichy, W., Pechelt, l., and heinz, e.
experimental evaluation in computer science: a
quantitative study. Journal of Systems and Software 28, 1
(jan. 1995), 9–18.
11. morrison, c. and snodgrass, r.t. computer science can
use more science. Commun. ACM 54, 6 (june 2011),
12. newell, a., Perlis, a., and simon, h. computer science.
Science 157 (1967), 1373–1374.
13. Wolfram, s. A New Kind of Science. Wolfram media, 2002.
Peter J. Denning ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is Distinguished
Professor of computer science and Director of the
cebrowski Institute for information innovation at the
naval Postgraduate school in monterey, ca, is editor of
acm Ubiquity, and is a past president of acm.