Sign In

Communications of the ACM

BLOG@CACM

Consilience: The Path to Innovation


Microsoft Research Director Daniel Reed

As a universal intellectual amplifier, computing is the quintessential enabler of 21st century discovery and innovation. Much of computing’s power accrues from its broad applicability and relevance; its definitions are at least as varied as the talents and interests of its practitioners, in varying proportions spanning mathematics, science, technology, engineering, policy, the humanities and the arts. I would not presume to define computing more precisely, for to do so would inevitably omit something important and would unnecessarily constrain its scope.

In this era of hyper-specialization, it is important to remember the combined power of generality and specialization, lest we render true the old joke that education teaches one more and more about less and less until finally one knows everything about nothing and is eligible for a Ph.D. After all, Ph.D. is an abbreviation for the Latin Philosophiae Doctor (Doctor of Philosophy), and science itself evolved from natural philosophy.

I believe solutions to many of the most challenging problems facing our society – medicine and health care, climate and the environment, economic security and privacy – will require fusing expertise from multiple disciplines, including computing. Filling those disciplinary interstices is both our challenge and our opportunity, and we must embrace diverse intellectual cultures and technical approaches to succeed. We also need both computing specialists and generalists who think systemically.

Cooperation, collaboration, synergy and consilience: the words are often used and abused, but the sum really is more than just the parts, and the harmonious integration of those parts is often the difference between excellence and mediocrity. It’s why we have building architects, as well as specialists in each technical area. In the same vein, we need to consider how we combine our disparate technical skills to attack large-scale problems in a holistic way. This is the beauty and universality of our field.


 

No entries found

Comment on this article

Signed comments submitted to this site are moderated and will appear if they are relevant to the topic and not abusive. Your comment will appear with your username if published. View our policy on comments

(Please sign in or create an ACM Web Account to access this feature.)

Create an Account

Log in to Submit a Signed Comment

Sign In »

Sign In

Signed comments submitted to this site are moderated and will appear if they are relevant to the topic and not abusive. Your comment will appear with your username if published. View our policy on comments
Forgot Password?

Create a Web Account

An email verification has been sent to youremail@email.com
ACM veriȚes that you are the owner of the email address you've provided by sending you a veriȚcation message. The email message will contain a link that you must click to validate this account.
NEXT STEP: CHECK YOUR EMAIL
You must click the link within the message in order to complete the process of creating your account. You may click on the link embedded in the message, or copy the link and paste it into your browser.