CS 481 - Trends in Computer Science

Week 2: Some history, some attitudes, and some assignments


This week we begin with some history again, discuss some thoughts about valid research, and make some choices about the first major project for the class. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Technical journals
  2. Researching technology
  3. Project requirements
  4. First project research

This course requires you to do some research about ongoing developments in the field of computer science. That should be easy, right? We have had computers for a long time, haven't we? If we have pretty much nailed down everything that a computer can do, what is left for development?

Let's put some things in historical perspective for a minute:

  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." - Thomas Watson, who was the chairman of IBM
    Thomas J. Watson photo

  • "Computers in the future may weigh no more than one and a half tons." - Popular Mechanics article from 1947
    ENIAC image

  • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." - Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 (He may have been talking about a computer that would run the home.)
    Ken Olson photo

You can probably find more mistaken perceptions like these on the Internet, especially about technology. There is a legend that Bill Gates once said that no one would ever need more than 640 Kilobytes of RAM. He has denied ever saying it, but it makes a good story. For most of us working in the field, it is easy to believe Bill. Why would any of us think that any amount of RAM would be enough for all time? Technology changes, and the interactions between technologies change as well, but one thing seems to be a constant. No matter what we have, we want more, and we want it faster, bigger, and better.

So, if we never have enough, and always want something better, does it make sense that someone is always interested in finding a way to make the next version of any technology better? Someone, somewhere is interested in developing the next great thing, not just for the joy of creating it, but for the profit in selling it to the rest of us. That also means that there will be a selection of journals, blogs, web sites, and instances of other communication methods dedicated to reporting, popularizing, selling, and just publishing information about technical developments.Consider this page on Wikipedia that lists 169 (when I captured the link) different computer science journals. That might give you the idea that there are a lot of current developments under way. With that many choices, how can you tell which ones to consult for the research you need to do for the first project? Well, if a list of 169 journals isn't too many, try this search engine, SCImago Journal & Country Rank, which came back with 1445 hits for Computer Science Journals when I asked it for items in that category. You probably only want the ones in English, and you may want to specify a subject category to trim that number a bit. Go ahead, try it out. I can wait.

I was mildly disappointed that the SCImago site did not provide links to the various journals it ranks. It does, however, give us a rather long list of possible sources that should have acceptable academic standing. That's important when you are doing research. You don't want to just pull something from the Internet that has not been examined by an editor or two, a review committee, or a number of peers working in a relevant field. Not when you are doing academic research, and not when there is money on the line, which it always will be when you are doing research for your job.

There is another resource you should try using when you are looking for books, articles, videos, or images. Baker has a library on your campus. It's in that big building just to the east of the main building on the Flint campus. This may be news to some of you, but I hope most of you have used the library, either in person or online, sometime in the past. Whether you have or not, let's try it out. Baker's librarians are available to help you find the right resources to do research for classes like this one. You come to the campus for classes, so spend a little time on one of those trips learning what the library can do for you.

So, this week we are focusing on actual academic research. You need to figure out an answer to the first question for the mid-term project. What technology will you research? Remember this set of requirements I showed you last week?

Explore the evolution of a specific technology over time. Discuss the following questions:

  1. What was the intent of the original design, what problem was the technology created to solve?
  2. What human factors contributed to the evolution of the technology over time?
  3. Compare and contrast the technology's original and current state.
  4. Predict future changes based upon potential future uses and adaptations.

Report on the information you learned about the technology in a written paper. Be sure to follow APA format. Submit your paper through the View/Assignment link.

First, pick a technology, then do some research on it. If you can't find anything to fit the recipe above, pick another technology that interests you. This week you need to have your proposed technology approved, and start collecting material to answer the four numbered points.