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Computer science—a vicious circle

By Abraham Kandel

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 15 No. 6, Pages 470-471

In many computer science departments throughout the country, including some interdisciplinary departments, the curriculum has placed increasing emphasis upon applied mathematics and the fundamental nature of computational systems. A set of core courses which usually are fitted into such a program can be found in the report of the ACM curriculum committee on computer science, Curriculum 68 [1]. Some computer science departments have done such a magnificent job of de-emphasizing the importance of the experimental laboratory in their program that their graduates emerge thoroughly unprepared to tackle the intricacies associated with design work in the real-life world—both in software and hardware. This is basically because most computer science departments do not emphasize sufficiently the practical aspects of computational system design and implementation. For example, some students have serious difficulty in designing even a shift register of an 8-4-2-1 counter with ripple carry, not to mention more complicated computer systems. Perhaps even more important, computer science in the academic sense has implemented the “modus ponens” (rule of detachment) from the real-life world and has very little to do with real computers. The relationship between the abstract side of computer science and questions of cost and marketing are hardly ever mentioned in courses.

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