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.