Thursday, April 20, 2017

Will talk about Harry Lewis 70th bday conference later but for now- that was then/this is now

On Wed April 19 I was at the Harry Lewis 70th birthday celebration!
I will blog on that later.

Harry Lewis was my thesis adviser. Odd to use the past tense- I DID finish my thesis with him
and so he IS my adviser? Anyway, I will do a blog about the celebration next week.

This week I ponder- what was different then and now (I got my PhD in 1985).

False predictions that I made in 1985:

1) CS depts all have different views of what a CS major should know. By the year 2017 they will have figured out EVERY CS MAJOR SHOULD KNOW XXX and I will still write questions for the CS GRE. DID NOT HAPPEN. And a MINOR source of income for me has been cut off.

2) CS will be about 45% or more female. After all, the old guard is dying, its a new field without a tradition of sexism (this may have been false even then). Actually Women in CS has DECLINED since 1985. I'm still surprised since people in computing tend to be progressive. One could do several blog posts on this, but lacking the expertise I won't. (Gee bill- since when has lacking expertise stopped you before :-)

3) There will be some progress on P vs NP. Maybe an n^2 lower bound on SAT. Saying we've made NO progress is perhaps pessimistic, but we haven't made much.

4) in 2017 when Jet Blue emails me `CLICK HERE TO PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS' the previous night then it will always work, and if it doesn't then I can call them and after 9 minutes on hold (not too bad) be able to fix the problem. They were not able to, though at the airport they fixed it and got me onto the plane fast as compensation.


1) Theory was more centralized. STOC and FOCS were the only prestige conferences, and everyone went to them.

2) A grad student could get a PhD and only have 2 papers published and get a Tenure Track Job.

3) One could learn all that was known in complexity theory in about two years.

4) You didn't have to do ugrad research to get into grad school (I don't think you HAVE TO now either, but many more do it so I PREDICT in the future you'll have to. Though my other predictions were not correct so .... there's that)

5) Complexity was more based in Logic then Combinatorics.

6) Complexity theory was easier! Gee, when did it get so hard and use so much hard math!

7) It seemed feasible that P vs NP would be solved within twenty years. I've heard it said that the Graph Minor Theorem was when P lost its innocence- there were now problems in P that used VERY HARD math--- techniques that were hard to pin down and hence hard to show would not work.

8) The number of complexity classes was reasonable. (I don't count Sigma_i as an infinite number of classes)

9) Grad students were just beginning to NOT learn the Blum Speed Up Theorem. It would take a while before they began to NOT learn finite injury priority arguments in recursion theory. OH- speaking of which...

10) Computability theory was called recursion theory.

11) Some schools had this odd idea that in FRESHMAN programming one should teach proofs of program correctness.

12) Some schools (SUNY Stonybrook and Harvard were among them) did not have a discrete math course. Hence the course in automata theory spend some of its time teaching how to prove things. (Both schools now have such a course. For Maryland I don't recall- either it didn't have one and I invented it OR it did have one and I revamped it.)

13) No Web. You had to go to a library to copy papers on a copier (Ask your grandparents what a copier is)

14) Copying cost far less than printing.

15) Someone who looked good on paper for MATH but had no real CS background could get into Harvard Applied science department for grad school and get a degree in ... speaking of which

16) In 1980 Harvard did not have a CS dept. So my Masters degree is formally in Applied Math, though I don't recall solving partial diff equations or other things that one associates with applied math. Sometime when I was there CS became officially something so I got my PhD in CS. (My students are surprised to hear this-- they think I got my PhD in Math.)

17) Harry Lewis had a moustache and smoked a pipe.  He has shaved off one and gave up the other.

SO, what to make of this list? ONE THING- I DO NOT `yearn for the good old days' That was then, this is now. I am GLAD about everything on the list EXCEPT two area where NOT ENOUGH change has happened- (a) I wish there was more diversity in CS, and (b) I wish Jet Blue had better software for boarding passes.

1 comment:

  1. Regrading 11: NEU does it!

    I haven't been very involved with that class, so I don't know the details, but from what I hear it's been quite successful.