The University of Arizona

SISTA Colloquium Details

Date: Monday, September 27, 2010

Time: 12:00 p.m.

Location: Gould-Simpson Bldg., Room 906
Light refreshments: 9th floor atrium area - 11:50 a.m.

Speaker:  Paul R. Cohen

Director of School of Information: Science, Technology, and Arts

Professor and Head of the Department of Computer Science

The University of Arizona

Title: Welcome to SISTA!

Abstract:  With iSchools and informatics programs springing up everywhere, it is worth asking what they are for.  I will talk about some practical benefits of having a school of information, and in the process introduce our own SISTA.  Most of my talk, though, will be about how computation enhances research and other creative work.  Clearly, some computational tools are useful, even transformative.  Beyond tools, computational thinking is associated with powerful and general abstractions, such as heuristic search, complexity, data models, and stochastic processes.  The abstractions associated with computational thinking do not all come from Computer Science.  Even if they did, I wouldn't agree with the popular idea that computational thinking is "thinking like a computer scientist"; any more than reductionism and materialism are thinking like a physicist, or incorporating principles of natural selection into one's work is thinking like a biologist.  Whether "computationalism" becomes, like materialism, a philosophical stance -- a preferred way to understand natural, social, and artificial things and processes -- will depend on whether it can provide convincing, effective accounts of some stubborn concepts, particularly shared meaning and autonomy. These accounts could take a while to develop, which is a good reason for iSchools, SISTA in particular, to be training students now to think broadly about computation as a philosophical foundation, a suite of abstractions, and a toolbox for many disciplines.