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6 minutes reading time (1166 words)

Two Women Advancing the Field of Information and Communication Technology

I strongly support the participation of women in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). My IAE-pedia article, Women in ICT, was initially written in 2009 and has recently been completely updated. Since 2009, the document has had about 90,000 hits, which makes it #12 in the list of most popular IAE-pedia entries (Moursund, 2016).

I have been a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) for about 50 years. and regularly read the Communications of the ACM (CACM) publication. For the most part, many of the technical details in the CACM are now “over my head.” However, a number of the articles provide excellent background information on how computer technology is changing the world and the problems that ICT is addressing. The ACM and CACM are very supportive of the field of computers in education.

I now receive the CACM online. A number of the online articles include a short video by one of the authors, summarizing the content. I want to bring to your attention two of these videos from recent issues of the CACM (Berger, et al., August, 2016; Gurevich, et al., July, 2016). Both videos are presentations by women who co-authored their respective articles and who have made and continue to make outstanding contributions to their areas of research.

Bonnie Berger (https://people.csail.mit.edu/bab/) is the Simons Professor of Mathematics at MIT, holds a joint appointment in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and serves as head of the Computation and Biology group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology 's Computer Science and AI Lab. Quoting from the article by Bonnie Berger, Noah M. Daniels, and William Yu:

Computational biologists answer biological and biomedical questions by using computation in support of—or in place of—laboratory procedures, hoping to obtain more accurate answers at a greatly reduced cost. The past two decades have seen unprecedented technological progress with regard to generating biological data; next-generation sequencing, mass spectrometry, microarrays, cryo-electron microscopy, and other high-throughput approaches have led to an explosion of data. However, this explosion is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the scale and scope of data should allow new insights into genetic and infectious diseases, cancer, basic biology, and even human migration patterns. On the other hand, researchers are generating datasets so massive that it has become difficult to analyze them to discover patterns that give clues to the underlying biological processes.

Jeannette M. Wing (https://idss2016.mit.edu/speaker/jeannette-wing/) is Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research, with oversight of the organization’s core research laboratories around the world and Microsoft Outreach. Quoting from the article by Yuri Gurevich, Efim Hudis, and Jeannette M. Wing:

Call an item of your personal information inversely private if some party has access to it but you do not. The provenance of your inversely private information can be totally legitimate. Your interactions with various institutions—employers, municipalities, financial institutions, health providers, police, toll roads operators, grocery chains, and so forth—create numerous items of personal information, for example, shopping receipts and refilled prescriptions. Due to progress in technology, institutions have become much better than you in recording data. As a result, shared data decays into inversely private. More inversely private information is produced when institutions analyze your private data.

Your inversely private information, whether collected or derived, allows institutions to serve you better. But access to that information—especially if it were presented to you in a convenient form—would do you much good. It would allow you to correct possible errors in the data, to have a better idea of your health status and your credit rating, and to identify ways to improve your productivity and quality of life.

Jeannette Wing has long been a world leader in Computational Thinking (Wing, July, 2016). Quoting from her recent CACM Blog entry:

“Not in my lifetime.”

That is what I said when I was asked whether we would ever see computer science taught in K–12. It was 2009, and I was addressing a gathering of attendees to a workshop on computational thinking (http://bit.ly/1NjmcRJ) convened by the National Academies.

I am happy to say that I was wrong.

It has been 10 years since I published my three-page "Computational Thinking" Viewpoint (http://bit.ly/1W73ekv) in the March 2006 issue ofCommunications. To celebrate its anniversary, let us consider how far we've come.

Think back to 2005. Since the dotcom bust, there had been a steep and steady decline in undergraduate enrollments in computer science, with no end in sight. The computer science community was wringing its hands, worried about the survival of its departments on campuses. Unlike many of my colleagues, I saw a different, much rosier future for computer science. I saw computing was going to be everywhere.

I argued the use of computational concepts, methods, and tools would transform the very conduct of every discipline, profession, and sector. Someone with the ability to use computation effectively would have an edge over someone without. So, I saw a great opportunity for the computer science community to teach future generations how computer scientists think. Hence, "computational thinking."

I must admit, I am surprised and gratified by how much progress we have made in achieving this vision: Computational thinking will be a fundamental skill used by everyone in the world by the middle of the 21st century. By fundamental, I mean as fundamental as reading, writing, and arithmetic. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Jeannette Wing strongly supports computational thinking as a needed fundamental component of education. I strongly endorse her endeavors.

Final Remarks

The two ideas covered in the quoted sections given above summarize two of the most important current challenges to the world’s educational systems. Genetic engineering is based on our growing understanding of the genome and our abilities to change genomes of humans and other life. Still more broadly, computer technology is changing our abilities to represent and solve problems in all areas of human intellectual endeavor. Effective use of ICT in our schools is an on-going challenge to all educators and parents.

Remember, “Skill knows no gender” (Moursund, 3/10/2016).

What You Can Do

When things change, many of us think about “the gold old days” and are bothered by the changes. However, the world’s youth are not burdened by the good old days. They need and should expect an education that prepares them for today’s and tomorrow’s world. I hope that you are participating in bringing such an education to yourself and others.

References and Resources

Berger, B., et al. (August, 2016). Computational biology in the 21st century. Communications of the ACM. (Video, 4:00.) Available at http://bit.ly/2a4gql4. ). Retrieved 7/27/2016 from cacm.acm.org/magazines/2016/8/205052).

Gurevich, Y., et al. (July, 2016). Inverse privacy. Communications of the ACM. (Video, 3:24.) Available at https://vimeo.com/168969350. ). Retrieved 7/27/2016 from cacm.acm.org/magazines/2016/7/204020.

Moursund, D. (2016). Women in ICT. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/27/2016 from http://iae-pedia.org/Women_and_ICT.

Moursund, D. (5/5/2016). Virtual reality in the science lab. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/28/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/skill-knows-no-gender.html.

Moursund, D. (3/10/2016). Skill knows no gender. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/28/2016 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/skill-knows-no-gender.html.

Wing, J. (July, 2016). Progress in computational thinking, and expanding the High Performance Computing community. Retrieved 7/27/2016 from http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2016/7/204017-progress-in-computational-thinking-and-expanding-the-hpc-community/fulltext.

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