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Communications of the ACM

Editor's letter

Four Aspirations for ACM 2032


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The coming decade is fraught with geopolitical tension, competition, and rapid technological change. Computing's dramatic growth has intertwined it with the fabric of our world. And, to our great pride, it continues to transform society at an accelerating rate. Still, computing is also a commercial and social technology, a tool for disinformation and autocratic control, and a military technology.

But the ACM's growth has not matched computing's ascendance, and as a result ACM is declining in relevance. To fulfill its responsibility as the world's preeminent computing professional society, the ACM must transform itself to lead. As a long-time member and five-year Editor-in-Chief of Communications, here are my four aspirations for ACM:

  1. Be and be recognized as a powerful global voice for the computing profession:
    • Engaging and educating the public policy community, particularly on the tough, controversial issues, to ensure computing has a positive impact.
    • Outspoken in speaking truth to power (for example, tech giants and governments) and developing the capacity and resources to be a trusted, credible peer.
    • Driving for clear and applicable individual ethics and responsibility for computing professionals.
  2. Be an inclusive home for the entire computing professional community:
    • Including industry research and product, academic research, and computing application.
    • ACM should grow to 500,000 members by 2032. This is comparable to the size of the IEEE (>400,000 members today).a This is just 1% of computing professionals worldwide in 2022 (3 million in U.S., 55 million worldwide).

While computing has grown exponentially over the past 25 years, ACM membership has barely grown at all—level at 100,000 since 1998. Meeting this goal requires approximately 17% growth per annum, far slower than the expansion of computing employment and big tech companies. Breadth and scale are essential for perspective, representation, and influence. This is not just a numbers game, ACM leaders must be drawn from all of these constituencies to strengthen ACM.

  1. Engage and reflect the global computing professional community:
  • Reaching the global research and innovation community across geographic, cultural, and political dimensions.
  • ACM should balance globally, with growth to 100,000 members in each of Europe, China, and India. It should triple membership to 150K in North America, and add significantly to membership in Latin America, Arabia, and more.

Today, ACM's membership continues to be concentrated in North America (~50%) and Europe (~25%), with Asia (China and India) accounting for the rest. We launched Communications' Regional Special Sections to drive global reach, and other excellent ACM initiatives are driving in this direction.

  1. Engage young computing professionals:
  • ACM's current membership has median age of 45 years. And those younger are dominated by student members, producing a significant gap of young professionals (25–45 years).
  • ACM should track and target a median membership age of perhaps 35 years, and work to achieve it by creating appropriate valuable services at activities for varied stages of career.

Computing has been reinvented by each new generation, through powerful new insights and applications, making strong engagement and leadership by young computing professionals critical to ACM's leadership and future.

These goals are challenging. But ACM has the reputation, talent, and resources to accomplish them. ACM members' must encourage, assist, and drive ACM leadership—both volunteer and paid—to achieve these goals. Today, ACM excels in research, conferences, and publications. With broad disciplinary expansion (AI, AI applications, data science, and more) combined with new opportunities to reach and serve the computing professional community, ACM has a tremendous opportunity for growth. These goals are worthy ambitions for the "World's Leading Computing Professional Society."

I welcome your thoughts and ideas for how to achieve these goals.

Andrew A. Chien, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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Author

Andrew A. Chien has been an ACM member and an active ACM research author for 40 years, and ACM Fellow since 2004. He has served on the ACM editorial board for 15 years, the last five as Communications' Editor-in-Chief.

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Footnotes

a. Computing is more important and more pervasive than electrical engineering!


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