CS + X, for all X

1/18/12
Xconomist Report

The impact of information-based technologies will continue to grow—probably at an accelerating rate. In nearly every segment of society, we see both quality and productivity improvements because of increased use of automation and digital communication. The impact is obviously huge in some sectors such as finance and publishing. And it will only grow in the laggards, such as education and healthcare, despite the immense challenges due to inertia, privacy, and access.

There will be great change in smaller areas also. I was just reading a journal on digital archaeology, to which I hadn’t previously given much thought, and I was astounded by the role information technology can play. As another somewhat less common application of information technology, Google has sponsored significant Research in the Digital Humanities (using statistical data from our large Books corpus), with the promise of proving entirely new research paradigms. (See Culturomics 2.0 for more.) Finally, the mobile application stores are filled with a surprising variety of applications in a variety of domains, where we might not have thought information technology could play a role.

So, this leads to a natural implication for students: Make sure you deeply understand information technology. This doesn’t mean just understanding how to use a search engine or a word processor. It doesn’t mean that you have spent years playing computer games or using social networks. It means instead developing an understanding of the basics of computer science (which includes at least some programming in a programming language of your choice). It means also that, that no matter what your field of study, you should focus on learning where computer science will hybridize with it to produce great progress. For many years, I’ve argued that the action in most disciplines, X, will be at the front line where computer science meets that discipline: In short-hand CS + X, for all X.

For at least another 50 years, the greatest intellectual challenges and economic value will arise from the hybridization of disciplines. So, by all means follow your passions: study biology, philosophy, medicine, education, economics, music, etc. But combine that study with a healthy portion of computer science.

Xconomist Report

Alfred Spector is Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives at Google. Follow @

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