Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Externally useful computer science results

John Regehr asks what results in computer science would be directly useful outside the field. I particularly like his description of his motivation:
An idea I wanted to explore is that a piece of research is useless precisely when it has no transitive bearing on any externally relevant open problem.
A corollary of this rule is that the likelihood of a research program ever being externally useful is exponentially decreased by the number of fundamental challenges to the approach. Whenever I hear about a project relying on synchronous RPC, my mental estimate of likely external usability goes down tremendously. As well, there is the familiar case of literary deconstruction.

Regehr proceeds from here to speculate on what results in computer science would truly be useful. I like most of Regehr's list--go read it! I would quibble about artificial intelligence being directly useful; it would be better to be more specific. Is Watson an AI? It's not all that much like human intelligence, so perhaps it's not really AI, but it is a real tour de force of externally useful computer science.

One thing not on the list is better productivity for software developers, including tools, programming languages, and operating systems. When software developers get more done, more quickly, more reliably, anything that includes a computer can be built more quickly and cheaply.


Duncan said...

Could you add a link to his list? I don't see it on his blog.

Lex Spoon said...

Oops! Fixed.