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Juris Hartmanis, Cornell University, Chairman
Ruzena Bajcsy, University of Pennsylvania
Ashok K. Chandra, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Andries Van Dam, Brown University
Jeff Dozier, University of California at Santa Barbara
James Gray, Digital Equipment Corporation
David Gries, Cornell University
A. Nico Habermann, Carnegie Mellon University
Robert R. Johnson, University of Utah
Leonard Kleinrock, University of California at Los Angeles
M. Douglas McIlroy, AT&T Bell Laboratories
David A. Patterson, University of California at Berkeley
Raj Reddy, Carnegie Mellon University
Klaus Schulten, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Charles Seitz, California Institute of Technology
Victor Vyssotsky, Digital Equipment Corporation


Marjory S. Blumenthal, Director
Herbert S. Lin, Senior Staff Officer
Donna F. Allen, Admninistrative Assistant


In April 1990, the Computer Science and Technology Board (now the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB)) of the National Research Council formed the Committee to Assess the Scope and Direction of Computer Science and Technology. Composed of 16 individuals from industry and academia, the committee was charged with assessing how best to organize the conduct of research and teaching in computer science and engineering (CS&E) in the future. The committee took a broad outlook on its charge but chose to focus its efforts primarily on academic CS&E, which is both a major source of trained personnel at all levels (for itself and for industry and commerce) and a very important performer of research in the field. This dual role suggests that positive changes in academic CS&E will have high leverage throughout industry and academia.

The committee addressed four questions in its deliberations:

1. What is CS&E? What characterizes the intellectual content of the field? How is it different from other fields? What are the implications of rapid technological change for the field? What is the science that underpins hardware and software computer technology?

2. How is the field doing? What are the accomplishments of the field? What is the impact of the field on society? What is the demographic profile of the field?

3. What should the field be doing? To what extent and in what directions should the field change its educational and research agenda? How can the academic and industrial sectors work together more effectively?

4. What does the field need in order to prosper? Are current funding emphases appropriate? What structural or institutional changes (if any) are necessary to support academic CS&E as it evolves into the next century?

These questions are particularly appropriate given the circumstances of today. From its beginnings as an organized and independent academic discipline in the 1960s, academic CS&E has been quite successful. It has witnessed rapid growth in demand for computer scientists and engineers, and it has worked hand in hand with the computer industry, demonstrating the remarkably rich interaction possible between academic and industrial CS&E research. Indeed, together academic and industrial CS&E research have in a few short decades laid the intellectual foundation and created the scientific base for one of the most important technologies of the future.

But today, both the intellectual focus of academic CS&E and the environment in which academic CS&E is embedded are in the midst of significant change. The traditional intellectual boundaries of academic CS&E are blurring with the rise of in-depth programs and activities in computational science. Universities themselves are retrenching; the computer industry is undergoing substantial and rapid restructuring; and the increasingly apparent utility of computing in all aspects of society is creating demands for computing technology that is more powerful and easier to use. Such changes motivate the forward-looking assessment of the field that this report attempts to provide.

Given the increasing pervasiveness of computer-related technologies in all aspects of society, the committee believes that several key groups will benefit from an assessment of the state of academic CS&E:

tex2html_wrap_inline77 Federal policy makers, who have considerable influence in determining intellectual directions of the field through their control of research budgets and funding levels;

tex2html_wrap_inline77 Academic computer scientists and engineers, who are the ``troops on the ground'' that do research and teach students;

tex2html_wrap_inline77 University administrators, who play key roles in setting the intellectual tone of the academic environment; and

tex2html_wrap_inline77 Industry, which is by far the major employer of CS&E baccalaureate holders, one of the major employers of CS&E Ph.D. recipients, and (in the computer industry) a key player in CS&E research.

Each of these groups has a different perspective on the intellectual, fiscal, institutional, and cultural influences on the field, and the committee devoted considerable effort to forging a consensus on what should be done in the face of the different intellectual traditions that characterize various subfields of CS&E and of different views on the nature of the problems that the field faces.

This report does not address international dimensions of CS&E in any detail or depth, other than to note that the importance of CS&E as an area of research is recognized all over the world. Although the committee believes strongly that international aspects of the field are worth considering, it had neither the expertise nor the resources to focus on such aspects. Appropriate sponsoring agencies and the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board may wish to consider a study that addresses international dimensions of the field.

The report is divided into two parts. Part I addresses in broad strokes the fundamental challenges facing the field and what the committee believes is an appropriate response to these challenges. Part II elaborates on certain issues in greater detail. In particular, the reader unfamiliar with CS&E as an intellectual discipline will find the necessary background in Chapter 6. Readers unfamiliar with the institutional infrastructure of academic CS&E or the demographics of the field will find additional detail in Chapters 7 and 8, respectively.

A variety of previous studies have addressed important aspects of the field. The Taulbee surveys gif of the past several years have reported on human resource issues in CS&E, CSTB's report The National Challenge in Computer Science and Technologygif discussed research opportunities in the field, and the Hopcroft-Kennedy reportgif described in the scientific contributions of CS&E. The 1989 ACM-CRA conference, published as Strategic Directions in Computer Research,gif discussed structural and long-range issues for the field. These studies provided a strong foundation on which the committee built its comprehensive and integrated assessment.

In addition, the CSTB, in cooperation with the Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel at the National Research Council, conducted a companion project on human resources concurrently with this project. The key activity of this project, a workshop on human resources in computer science and technology held on October 28-29, 1991, addressed the utility of current and proposed new taxonomies for classifying computing professionals and considered present and future supply-and-demand issues for the labor market for computer specialists. Participants in the workshop included experts in computer science and technology, labor market analysis, and the administration of human resources. While certain insights of this workshop have been incorporated into this report, a full report based on this workshop is expected to be released in the summer of 1992.

The Committee to Assess the Scope and Direction of Computer Science and Technology met in June and September of 1990 and in February, June, and September of 1991. It received input through briefings and interviews with a variety of federal government officials and representatives from the computer industry, from several major commercial users of computer and information technology, and, through the Computing Research Association, from heads of departments granting Ph.D's in CS&E.

The committee appreciates the time and thoughtful attention provided by numerous individuals, who are listed in the appendix; in particular the comments and criticisms of reviewers of early drafts of this report are gratefully acknowledged. Of course, the findings, conclusions, and judgments of this report are solely the responsibility of the committee.

A variety of government agencies that sponsor computer research and professional organizations in the computer field were interested in conducting a broad-ranging assessment of the health of the field. Some of them generously provided funding for this project; they include the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.

As an academic discipline, computer science and engineering (CS&E) has been remarkably successful in its first decades of existence. But both the intellectual focus of academic CS&E and the environment in which the field is embedded are today in the midst of significant change. Accordingly, a proactive look forward will better prepare the field to evolve into the 21st century. The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board's Committee to Assess the Scope and Direction of Computer Science and Technology was asked to take such a look, examining how best to organize the conduct of research and teaching in CS&E for the future.


Computers and computing are ubiquitous in modern society. In nearly every part of modern life, the hardware and software of computer technology enable the delivery of services and products of higher quality to more people in less time than would otherwise be possible. Indeed, computing and increasingly powerful computers are the driving force behind the movement of society into the information age, affecting transportation, finance, health care, and most other aspects of modern life; computing technology and related services account for about 5 percent of the gross national product.

What has led to the unprecedented expansion of computational power? The contributions of those who have made successive generations of electronic components smaller, faster, lighter, and cheaper are undeniable. But the organization of these components into useful computer hardware (e.g., processors, storage devices, displays) and the ability to write the software required to exploit this hardware are primarily the fruits of CS&E. Further advances in computer power and usability will also depend in large part on pushing back the frontiers of CS&E and will be motivated by a myriad of applications that can take advantage of these advances.

CS&E research, in which the academic CS&E community has played a major role, has made enormous contributions to computing practice, and insights derived from such research inform the approach of programmers and machine designers at all levels, from those designing a still-faster supercomputer to those programming a small personal computer. Techniques and architectural themes developed or codified by CS&E are familiar to every developer of software and hardware, concepts like programming languages, compilers, relational databases, reduced-instruction-set computing, and so on. Moreover, as the complexity of computing has grown, so also has the need for well-understood concepts and theories with which to manage this complexity. Indeed, entirely new CS&E research problems and opportunities today are created by rapid technological advances in computing. Whereas intuitively grounded insight was often sufficient to lead to substantial progress in the earliest days of the field, a systematic approach has become increasingly important. Thus the importance of CS&E research to computing practice can only be expected to increase in the future.

Federal support for CS&E research has been critical. From its initial support of CS&E research for strictly military purposes, the federal government now invests considerable amounts ($680 million in FY 1991) in basic and applied CS&E research for both military and civilian purposes; about 46 percent of this $680 million went to academic research. Such support is a strong indication that the federal government recognizes the importance of CS&E research to the missions of many government agencies as well as to the welfare of the nation. However, growth in funding, substantial though it has been in recent years, has not kept pace with the growing need for a science base to create, control, and exploit the potential of ever more powerful computer systems. Nor has funding kept pace with the growth in the number of academic CS&E researchers; in the academic community, the ratio of funding per researcher has dropped by over 20 percent since 1985. Such trends have led to substantial concern within this community that resources are inadequate to support a research agenda vigorous enough to exploit advances and address problems as they arise.

Decreasing per capita amounts of federal research funding are only one aspect of a new environment for academic CS&E. Assumptions of the 1940s and 1950s regarding the positive social utility of basic research (i.e., research without foreseeable application) are being questioned increasingly by the federal government, and justifications for research may well in the future require concrete demonstrations of positive benefit to the nation. An illustration of this possible trend is that the High Performance Computing and Communications Program, a program initiated in FY 1992, calls for CS&E research specifically in the context of solving ``fundamental problem[s] in science and engineering, with potentially broad economic, political, and/ or scientific impact, that could be advanced by applying high performance computing resources.'' gif

In addition, another major influence on academic CS&E, the computer industry, is undergoing massive change as it shifts from sales based on large mainframe computers affordable by only a few institutions to ``computers for the masses,'' i.e., smaller computer systems that are increasingly portable and interconnectable to each other or to information service providers, and most probably embodying new computing styles such as pen-based computing. Such a trend will increase the importance, already considerable, of being able to introduce new products on a much shorter time scale. At the same time, customers are demanding greater degrees of functionality from their computer systems. New computing technology will have to be fitted to customer needs much more precisely, thus placing a premium on knowledge of the customer's application. New applications of computing will also lead to new CS&E research problems.

Finally, computing has resulted in costs to society as well as benefits. Amidst growing concern in some sectors of society with respect to issues such as unemployment, invasions of privacy, and reliance on fallible computer systems, the computer is no longer seen as an unalloyed positive force in society.

These changes in the environment for academic CS&E mark a critical juncture for the discipline. It is rapidly becoming clear that, although academic CS&E has enjoyed remarkable success in the last several decades, the ways of the past will not necessarily lead to success in the future.


In considering appropriate responses of CS&E for the future, the committee examined the current state of the field and made several important judgments that guided its work.

The first and foremost judgment was that CS&E is coming of age. Although as an organized and independent intellectual discipline the field is less than 30 years old, it has established a unique paradigm of scientific inquiry that is applicable to a wide variety of problems. Indeed, the committee believes that this history and resulting strength should enable academic CS&E to recognize that intellectually substantive and challenging CS&E problems can and do arise in the context of problem domains outside CS&E per se. CS&E research can be framed within the discipline's own intellectual traditions but also in a manner that is directly applicable to other problem domains, as illustrated in Table ES.1. CS&E can thus be an engine of progress


NOTE: The core subfields listed above constitute a future research agenda for CS&E. As significantly, they are important to, and can derive inspiration and challenging problems from, these selected application domains. The core subfields correspond to areas in which major qualitative and quantitative changes of scale are expected. These areas are processor capabilities and multiple-processor systems, available bandwidth and connectivity for data communications and networking, program size and complexity, management of large volumes of data of diverse types and from diverse sources, and the number of people using computers and networks. Understanding and managing these changes of scale will pose many fundamental problems in CS&E, and using these changes of scale properly will result in more powerful computer systems that will have profound effects on all areas of human endeavor.

and conceptual change in other problem domains, even as these domains contribute to the identification of new areas of inquiry within CS&E.

Second, the strong connections between CS&E research and computing practice led the committee to conclude that at least within CS&E, the traditional separation of basic research, applied research, and development is dubious. Given the way research in CS&E is practiced, distinctions between basic and applied research are especially artificial, since both call for the exercise of the same scientific and engineering judgment, creativity, skill, and talent.

Finally, the committee concluded that the growing ubiquity of computing within society places a premium on the largest possible diffusion of CS&E expertise to all endeavors in society whose computing applications stress the existing state of the art. However, the primary vehicle for such diffusion-undergraduate CS&E programs-is highly variable in content and quality, largely due to rapid advancements in the field. It is imperative that undergraduate CS&E education reflect the best knowledge and insight that the field has to offer if computing is to reach its full potential within society.

These judgments led to the committee's formulation of a set of corresponding overall priorities.

tex2html_wrap_inline77 The first priority is to sustain the core effort in CS&E, i.e., the effort that creates the theoretical and experimental science base on which computing applications build. This core effort has been deep, rich, and intellectually productive and has been indispensable for its impact on practice in the last couple of decades.

tex2html_wrap_inline77 The second priority is to broaden the field. Given the many intellectual opportunities available at the intersection of CS&E and other problem domains and a solid and vigorous core effort in CS&E, the committee believes that academic CS&E is well positioned to broaden its self-concept. Such broadening will also result in new insights with wide applicability, thereby enriching the core. Furthermore, given the pressing economic and social needs of the nation and the changing environment for industry and academia, the committee believes that academic CS&E must broaden its self-concept or risk becoming increasingly irrelevant to computing practice.

tex2html_wrap_inline77 The third priority is to improve undergraduate education in CS&E. The quality of undergraduate CS&E education is inextricably tied to the state of computing practice in all sectors of society. Moreover, better undergraduate education is necessary for better research, since it is necessary for transmitting recently developed core knowledge to the next generation and for providing the intellectual basis in CS&E for individuals pursuing a broader research agenda.


In the interests of brevity, this summary of recommendations omits many substantive details. Readers are urged to read the full text of the recommendations in Chapter 5.

Recommendation 1. The High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program should be fully supported throughout the planned five-year program.

The HPCC Program is of utmost importance for three reasons. The first is that high-performance computing and communications are essential to the nation's future economic strength and competitiveness, especially in light of the growing need and demand for ever more advanced computing tools in all sectors of society. The second reason is that the program is framed in the context of scientific and engineering grand challenges. Thus the program is a strong signal to the CS&E community that good CS&E research can flourish in an applications context and that the demand for interdisciplinary and applications-oriented CS&E research is on the rise. And finally, a fully funded HPCC Program will have a major impact on relieving the funding stress affecting the academic CS&E community. Consistent with Priority 1, the committee believes that the basic research and human resources component of the HPCC program is critical, because it is the component most likely to support the research that will allow us to exploit anticipated technologies as well as those yet to be discovered through such research.

The committee is concerned about the future of the HPCC Program after FY 1996 (the outer limit on current plans). If the effort is not sustained after FY 1996 at a level much closer to its planned FY 1996 level than to its FY 1991 level of $489 million, efforts to exploit fully the advances made in the preceding five years will almost certainly be crippled. In view of the long lead times needed for the administration's planning of major initiatives, the committee recommends that funding necessary for exploitation of recently performed research and the investigation of new research topics be fully assessed sometime during FY 1994 with an eye toward a fol1ow-on HPCC Program.

Recommendation 2. The federal government should initiate an effort to support interdisciplinary and applications-oriented CS&E research in academia that is related to the missions of the mission-oriented federal agencies and departments that are not now major participants in the HPCC Program. Collectively, this effort would cost an additional $100 million per fiscal year in steady state above amounts currently planned.

Many federal agencies are not currently participating in the HPCC Program, despite the utility of computing to their missions, and they should be brought into the program. Those agencies that support substantial research efforts, though not in CS&E, should support interdisciplinary CS&E research, i.e., CS&E research undertaken jointly with research in other fields. Problems in these other fields often include an important computational component whose effectiveness could be enhanced substantially by the active involvement of researchers working at the cutting edge of CS&E.

Those agencies that do not now support substantial research efforts of any kind, i.e., operationally oriented agencies, should consider supporting applications-oriented CS&E research because of the potential that the efficiency of their operations would be substantially improved by some research advance that could deliver a better technology for their purposes. Such research could also have considerable ``spin-off'' benefit to the private sector as well.

Recommendation 3. Academic CS&E should broaden its research horizons, embracing as legitimate and cogent not just research in core areas (where it has been and continues to be strong) but also research in problem domains that derive from nonroutine computer applications in other fields and areas or from technology-transfer activities. The academic CS&E community should regard as scholarship any activity that results in significant new knowledge and demonstrable intellectual achievement, without regard for whether that activity is related to a particular application or whether it falls into the traditional categories of basic research, applied research, or development. Chapter 5 describes appropriate actions to implement this recommendation.

Recommendation 4. Universities should support CS&E as a laboratory discipline (i.e., one with both theoretical and experimental components). CS&E departments need adequate research and teaching laboratory space; staff support (e.g., technicians, programmers, staff scientists); funding for hardware and software acquisition, maintenance, and upgrade (especially important on systems that retain their cutting edge for just a few years); and network connections. New faculty should be capitalized at levels comparable to those in other science or engineering disciplines.

Reconmendation 5. The basic research and human resources component of the High Performance Computing and Communications Program should be expanded to address educational needs of certain faculty. The program described in Chapter 5 to address these needs is estimated to cost $40 million over a four-year period.

Of particular concern are two groups: CS&E faculty who are not themselves involved in CS&E research and researchers from other scientific and engineering disciplines that depend on computation. Many of these individuals received their education in computing many years ago and are unfamiliar with new paradigms in CS&E developed over the last decade or so. They would benefit from exposure to these paradigms, and such exposure could well have a major impact on the quality of undergraduate CS&E education in the United States, as well as on the nation's ability to use computing in support of other science and engineering.

The committee believes that senior academic CS&E researchers have an obligation to participate actively in providing such continuing education efforts. Mechanisms to encourage their attention to these matters need to be developed; one example is that research funding could be used to some extent to encourage participation in these efforts.

Recommendation 6. So that their educational programs will reflect a broader concept of the field, CS&E departments should take the following actions: (a) Require Ph.D. students either to take a graduate minor in a non-CS&E field or to enter the Ph.D. program with an undergraduate degree in a non-CS&E field, (b) encourage Ph.D. students in CS&E to perform dissertation research in nontraditional areas, (c) offer undergraduate students not majoring in CS&E a wide range of CS&E courses and programs, and (d) provide mechanisms to recognize and reward faculty for developing innovative and challenging new curricula that keep up with technological change and make substantive contact with applications in other domains.

Recommendation 7. The academic CS&E community must reach out to women and to minorities that are underrepresented in the field particularly as incoming undergraduates) to broaden and enrich the talent pool. Such outreach is necessary if CS&E is to fulfill the potential for inclusion of such groups that might be expected given the youth of the field.


Since the invention of the electronic stored-program digital computer less than 50 years ago, CS&E has blossomed into a new intellectual discipline with broad principles and substantial technical depth. By embracing the computing challenges that arise in many specific problem domains, computer scientists and engineers can build on this legacy, guiding and shaping the course of the information revolution. This expansive view of CS&E will require a commensurately broader educational agenda for academic CS&E, as well as undergraduate education of higher quality. Adequate funding from the federal government and greater interactions between academia and industry and commerce will help immeasurably to promote the broadening and strengthening of the discipline. If the major thrusts of this report-sustaining the CS&E core at currently planned levels, broadening the CS&E discipline, and upgrading undergraduate CS&E education to reflect the best of current knowledge-are widely accepted in the CS&E community, the community-as well as government, industry, and commerce-will be well positioned to meet the coming intellectual challenges as well as to make substantial and identifiable contributions to the national well-being and interest.

[A Latex source of this document is available by anonymous ftp at with the name pub/jmc/petition/preface.tex.]

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John McCarthy
Sat Apr 13 11:14:35 PDT 1996