I’ve read two articles this week that make the case for treating Computer Science as something other than Computer Science. The one, titled, Why Computing Belongs With The Social Sciences, argues that we will not gain more ethical computing from college curricula that have “Computing Ethics” classes but only by moving Computing in to the Social Sciences. The author points to the increasing relationship between algorithms and power.
Recommendation algorithms, automated sanctioning systems, reactive violation detection and prediction systems, and nudge architectures are replacing the human agency built into our legal and political systems with an architecture of unknowable black boxes allowing the one-way surveil and control of people without any corresponding contestation
In an essay titled Hackers and Painters, Paul Graham notes that while he graduated with a Computer Science degree, he self identifies as a hacker, which is the likely image most people have of one who holds a CompSci degree. Graham says that hackers are like painters and writers because they make things. The following is for me the most important quote in the essay.
Empathy is probably the single most important difference between a good hacker and a great one. Some hackers are quite smart, but when it comes to empathy are practically solipsists. It’s hard for such people to design great software , because they can’t see things from the user’s point of view
Both articles resonate strongly with me. I graduated in 1989 with a Computer Science degree and have been working in the Information Technology industry for more than thirty years and I can say that I have never used any of the specifics of my computer science classes save for one, one Software Engineering. I also got a minor in secondary education and what gained from that part of my college learning I applied frequently throughout my career.
In my experience computing is more art than a science and more about humans than machines and yet neither of these realities were part of my formal computer science education. Granted, much time has passed since I graced the college classrooms so I know curricula has changed, but yet given the “market” pressures on colleges I suspect the most focus on producing employable graduates, with life long skills a secondary benefit rather than primary focus.