Avi Wigderson responds to yesterday's post.
20 years is a long time, and TCS is in a completely different place today than it was then.
I am happy to say that internally its members are far more confident of its importance and independence as a scientific discipline, and externally the recognition of that importance by all sciences (including computer science) has grown tremendously. I have no doubt that both will continue to grow, as will its impact on science and technology.
Let me address a few aspects of the original post (one can elaborate much more than I do here).
Young talent: The way we continuously draw exceptional young talent to our core questions is not just a fact to state - it carries important meaning, namely a key sign of our health and prosperity. After all, these exceptionally talented young people could have done well in any field in science and technology, and they freely chose us (and indeed have been responsible for the many great results of the field in the past 20 years)!
Funding levels: In contrast, funding levels are always controlled by few and are subject to political pressures. So here our field was wise to grow up politically and realize the importance of advocacy and PR besides just doing great research. This has definitely helped, as did other factors.
Growth of theory in academia: I have no idea of the exact statistics (or even how to measure it exactly) but I should note as an anecdote that as soon as Harvard got 12 new positions in CS it made three senior offers to theorists: Cynthia, Madhu and Boaz! I see it as an important critical development to have TCS well represented not only in the top 20 universities but in the top 100. Our educational mission is too important to be reserved only to the elite schools. (Needless to say, our science and way of thinking should be integrated to the K-12 educational system as well. While this is budding, significant meaningful presence will probably take decades.)
Scientific relevance: While it may be too early to evaluate the true impact of our (many) specific incursions into and collaborations with Biology, Economics, Physics, Mathematics, Social Science etc., I believe the following general statement. *The emerging centrality of the notion of algorithm, and the limits of its efficient utilization of relevant resources, is nothing short than a scientific revolution in the making.* We are playing a major role in that revolution. Some of the modeling and analysis techniques we have developed and continue to develop, and even more, the language we have created over the past half century to discuss, invent and understand processes, is the fuel and catalyst of this revolution. Eventually all scientists will speak this language, and the algorithmic way of thought will be an essential part of their upbringing and research.
Technological relevance: Even without going to great past achievements which are taken for granted and dominate technological products, and considering only current TCS work evidence is staggering. Sublinear algorithms, Linear solvers, Crypto (NC0-crypto, Homomorphic encryption,...), Privacy, Delegation, Distributed protocols, Network design, Verification tools, Quantum algorithms and error correction, and yes, machine learning and optimization as well, are constantly feeding technological progress. How much of it? Beyond counting patents, or direct implementations of conference papers, one should look at the integration of modeling and analysis techniques, ways of thinking, and the sheer impact of "proofs of concept" that may lead to drastically different implementations of that concept. Our part in the education we provide to future developers was, is and should be of central influence on technology.
In a tiny field like ours, having the impact we do on so many scientific and technological fields that are factors 10-100 larger than us may seem miraculous. Of course we know the main reason since Turing - we have universality on our side - algorithms are everywhere. What is perhaps more miraculous is the talent and willingness of pioneers in our field over decades to search, interact, learn and uncover the numerous forms of this universal need in diverse scientific and technological fields, and then suggest and study models using our language and tools. This has greatly enriched not only our connections and impact on other disciplines, but also had the same effect on our intrinsic challenges and mysteries, many of which remain widely open. I am happy to say that at least part of that remarkable young talent constantly drawn into our field keeps focus on these intrinsic challenges and the natural, purely intellectual pursuits they lead to. Our history proves that there are direct connections between the study and progress on core questions and our interactions with the outside world. Our current culture luckily embraces both!
All the above does not mean that we can't improve on various aspects, and constant questioning and discussion are welcome and fruitful. But I believe that a the firm foundation of these deliberations should be the intrinsic scientific importance of our mission, to understand the power, limits and properties of algorithms of all incarnations, shapes and forms, and the study of natural processes and intellectual concepts from this viewpoint. This importance does not depend on utility to other disciplines (it rather explains it), and should not seek justification from them. The correct analogy in my view is expecting theoretical physicists to seek similar confirmation in their quest to uncover the secrets of the universe.