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The Great Principles of Computing

Computing may be the fourth great domain of science along with the physical, life and social sciences

Peter J. Denning

Where Computing Stands

2010-09CompSciDenningFC.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageComputing as a field has come to exemplify good science as well as engineering. The science is essential to the advancement of the field because many systems are so complex that experimental methods are the only way to make discoveries and understand limits. Computing is now seen as a broad field that studies information processes, natural and artificial.

This definition is wide enough to accommodate three issues that have nagged computing scientists for many years: Continuous information processes (such as signals in communication systems or analog computers), interactive processes (such as ongoing Web services) and natural processes (such as DNA translation) all seemed like computation but did not fit the traditional algorithmic definitions.

The great-principles framework reveals a rich set of rules on which all computation is based. These principles interact with the domains of the physical, life and social sciences, as well as with computing technology itself.

Computing is not a subset of other sciences. None of those domains are fundamentally concerned with the nature of information processes and their transformations. Yet this knowledge is now essential in all the other domains of science. Computer scientist Paul Rosenbloom of the University of Southern California in 2009 argued that computing is a new great domain of science. He is on to something.


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