matthew at st.andrew's scotland august 2005

Computer science has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. We can all remember when computers were specialized tools for business and government. Yet nowadays everyone puts that same power to use all the time, and not just in our laptops, but in our cameras and mobile phones, our music players and entertainment consoles. We can all remember when computer applications meant complex number-crunching on valuable and meticulously hand-processed data. Nowadays, the software we run is just as likely to put all the information of the world at our fingertips, to connect us with our longstanding friends and with like-minded strangers, and to let us express ourselves not just in words and numbers but through sound and sight, through relationships, interaction and design. It is a whole new world.

For all computing has changed, academia has unique strengths that mean it can and will continue to shape the future of computers in society. Universities can give their technologists unparalleled freedoms: like nobody else, we can make connections among different ideas and perspectives, and pursue radical new opportunities to develop meaningful contributions. But universities also offer institutional support to critical practice in the humanities, arts and social sciences, and thereby create a distinctive context of engagement, reflection, and historical perspective to inform all academic work. And universities direct this intellectual foment at a new generation of students—brand-new minds that leave college inspired not only with the latest scientific ideas and most powerful technical skills, but with anger and hope to struggle against injustice and for a better society, and with the insight, confidence, and determination and to carry it off.

As a computer science professor, I combine technical contributions to research practice with efforts that aim to create new communities, to contribute intuitive ideas and challenging demonstrations to public debate, and to unleash the unpredictable energy of new technologists who can go on to make the world they want to live in.