Tuesday, November 06, 2018

What do you know that deserves more publicity?

I was talking with a journalist yesterday - not an interview, just an informal conversation - and he asked me the question: What stories in Computer Science are not getting enough attention? And my immediate reaction was: great question! although I suppose for journalists, asking great questions is what they’re supposed to do. And, unaccustomed to being pestered by members of the fourth estate, I did not have a slick and ready answer, but feel like I should have done. It’s reasonable enough to expect a university professor may have insider information on some topic that s/he reckons should be more publicised. Maybe CS theory is not such a rich source of such professors as most other fields.

In coming up with an answer, I would impose the following rules. One’s own research should be off-limits, due to personal bias. Also, you should not argue that some area of CS (presumably AI/big data) is getting too much attention, and other unspecified stories are getting overlooked in consequence. The challenge is to make a positive claim in favour of some specific research sub-field. I thought briefly of exposing the manifold failings of the research funding system, but decided that the story should be CS-specific, not one that many researchers could have come up with.

With hindsight, I would point to the topic of fairness in AI, which has received some mass-media coverage (example) but most people outside of CS/AI still don’t know that it is increasingly viewed as important. It has attracted a fair (?) amount of interest from the TCS community, i.e. among computer scientists who have good taste. Crucially, it is easy to motivate to someone who is a complete outsider. (I have been taking an interest but it’s not currently my own research field, just a related one.) To conclude, I mentioned above that CS theory is maybe not such a rich source of topics that deserve more publicity, but let me know if there are any I should have thought of.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

STOC child care

I received a request to call attention to the following, but will refrain from sharing it with the Theory of Computing blog aggregator since others have already done so (for example here).

In a challenge to my long-standing view of academic life as a hybrid of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game and Paul Erdős’ itinerant-scholar lifestyle, STOC 2018 will be the first STOC to provide subsidised, pooled childcare. (OK, this is not completely new. Dagstuhl has had this facility for some years, and the earliest example I can recall is the year 2000 British Colloquium on Theoretical Computer Science, although I don’t recall it being subsidised.)

On a related note, I was separately circulated an email advertising a TCS women event at STOC. Features include a panel of senior female researchers, a women’s lunch, and a research rump session. They have also secured funding to sponsor travel scholarships for women to attend STOC (see the web site); the organizers would like to see increase in women participation from outside of USA.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

SAGT and WINE 2018

New web sites for conferences later this year in Algorithmic Game Theory:
Note that the paper submission deadline for SAGT is getting close.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

thinking algebraically or geometrically

I was recently talking with an historian who mentioned to me that when Stephen Hawking lost the use of his hands (so could no longer write on a whiteboard), he had to switch from thinking algebraically to thinking geometrically. The historian asked me about this distinction, and I attempted to explain these alternative modes of mathematical thinking. We discovered an analogy that is so cute that I have to write it up: the historian, who specialises in shipping in the Mediterranean, often visualises the scenery, and life on board the ships, but does not end up illustrating his books with his imagined scenes. Visualising the past environment presumably helps to understand the narrative of what was going on at the time, and of course, that corresponds to the geometrical thinking.