Tuesday, November 18, 2003

An Open Letter to Rodney Brooks and Victor Zue

With the possible exception of "political science," I think that perhaps we could all agree that "computer science" is one of the most misleading, inaccurate, and misinforming names of a field of academic endeavor. Besides not being particularly a science, it doesn't even necessarily deal with computers. Computer scientists must deal on an almost daily basis with being confused with programmers, and when teaching undergraduates, must patiently explain the difference between using a computer or even creating one, and the science (if it is that) of understanding the role of algorithms and information processing. And if there's any runner up to this misbegotten moniker, it must surely be "artificial intelligence," that mess of a term with no agreed-upon definition, that bends to the breaking point the already-contentious term "intelligence."

I offer no specific suggestion for a replacement, but one is clearly needed. While the European usage of "informatics" is certainly not far off, it is not quite right either, as it misses the fundamental idea of computation and algorithms. Others have suggested "algorithmics," more accurate but perhaps less melodious.

With the combination of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science and the Aritificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT has a historic opportunity to frame these fields as they ought to be framed, with a new name. Perhaps only MIT, of all the universities in the world, has the leadership to rechristen this field (for certainly they are truly one field), and thus it has a singular responsibility to do so.