Message from the DeanThis has been a busy and productive year in the short life of the Cornell initiative in Computing and Information Science (CIS). We hired three more faculty with appointments in the Faculty of Computing and Information (FCI), Paul Ginsparg, joint with Physics; Phoebe Sengers, joint with Science & Technology Studies; and Hod Lipson, joint with the Sibley School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering. These are outstanding appointments which I talk more about in this message and who appear in this report in the section on new faculty. In addition we have assembled more components of the FCI, and we have continued those activities of the CIS initiative that started before the FCI came into being, namely our teaching with the Johnson Graduate School of Management in e-Business and our collaboration with the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Computer Systems Laboratory.
As background to the new academic programs in the Faculty of Computing and Information, I want to quote from an article I wrote called "Universities in the Information Age," which tries to set the FCI in context:
The Information Revolution is changing every human activity, especially the way we learn, teach, discover and communicate knowledge. Underlying the change is a powerful new way of thinking called the "algorithmic method." Those who know the algorithmic method bring new categories of thought to intellectual tasks; they know what part of the task can be delegated to a computer or how much of it could be accomplished in partnership with a computer. The algorithmic method and computing technology have already dramatically transformed science, and will soon transform the arts and humanities as well. Teaching this far-reaching new mode of thought will become part of a modern liberal education. Before we see widespread effects, however, the basic ideas must become infused more deeply in university curricula and academic structures. The Computing and Information Science (CIS) initiative at Cornell is our attempt to infuse these ideas broadly.
The CIS initiative is developing along the lines laid out in the report Cornell in the Information Age (available at www.cis.cornell.edu/information.htm). In particular, Cornell has formed a new academic unit called the Faculty of Computing and Information (FCI) as called for in the report. Its mission is to develop new academic programs to complement the computer science major and to stimulate research in computing and information broadly. The Office of the Dean for CIS has been given substantial new funding to develop the FCI and the Department of Computer Science (CS). Some of these funds have already been used to create new faculty positions for Computer Science while others have been used to build academic programs in computing and information.
Building the FCI shares some characteristics of building a large software system. The design document, Cornell in the Information Age, is informed by experience and some "theory" of organizations, but to know whether it works, many details have to be filled in, just as in completing system modules or filling in steps of a large proof. In the end, we have to "run the structure" for several years to see how it works. But it is much more clear now that all the parts fit together and function. Material in this report illustrates important details of the structure.
This year we assembled more parts of the FCI, and we hired more FCI faculty. This is being done with a committee called the FCI Founders, consisting of computer science professors and distinguished professors in other units with interest and experience in computing and information science. The Founders have identified the first four areas in which we will build academic programs and hire new faculty. They are Information Science, Computational Biology, Computational Science and Engineering, and Digital Arts and Graphics.
The Information Science program and the Computational Biology program are each well under way. Basic facts about these programs are available on the CIS home page, www.cis.cornell.edu. They are also summarized in this report just below. Computational Science and Engineering has developed a set of short courses, and the FCI has hired Dr. Andrew Pershing of the Earth & Atmospheric Sciences department to teach them. Information about these courses will also be on the CIS web site and the Department of Computer Science web site.
The impact of these programs is being felt almost as soon as they are in place. They have guided CS and other departments in planning course offerings, and they have attracted the interest of many students who will help us implement this emerging system. In terms of an analogy between social systems and computer systems, it is designed so that "new code" can be added while it is running -- but some of the documentation, like this report, is done in the summer when the load on the system is light.
New funds have allowed Cornell to hire three excellent faculty into FCI programs this year, all of whom are highlighted in the section on new faculty. We have attracted Paul Ginsparg as a full professor to FCI with a joint appointment in Physics. Paul is well known for his revolutionary work in scientific publishing embodied in his e-print archive for physics, astronomy, mathematics and computer science. Paul's system is called arXiv.
Jointly with the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, the FCI hired assistant professor Hod Lipson who works in computer aided design of mechanical systems, graphics, and evolutionary design of systems.
Jointly with the Department of Science and Technology Studies, the FCI hired assistant professor Phoebe Sengers. Her computing expertise is in AI, especially the study of agents and human computer interfaces. Phoebe's Ph.D. is also in the field of Cultural Studies, and she looks at how computer systems embody cultural values. She will be part of the Information Science program.
The FCI also inagurated a Distinguished Lecture Series this year. The first two speakers to present were William A. Wulf, President of the National Academy of Engineering, who spoke on "Some Challenges for Computer Science and Engineering in the 21st Century," and Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Physics and Media Group, MIT Media Lab and Co-director of the Things that Think research consortium, who spoke on "Things that Think."
The CIS initiative has been helping the Johnson Graduate School of Management build a program in e-Business. This year Fred B. Schneider worked with Richard Conway, from the Johnson School, to design and implement the CS contribution to an immersion course in e-Business. Ken Birman and Johannes Gehrke lectured in this course along with Fred. The CS contribution was well appreciated by the Johnson School students.
Another piece of the CIS initiative is the collaboration between the Department of Computer Science and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) in the Computer Systems Laboratory. CIS provides some lab space that supports investigation in common topics of interest in computer systems. We hope to eventually build new laboratory facilities closer to the Duffield Systems Lab on the third floor of Upson Hall. Students in the lab come from both CS and ECE. The CSL web page (www.csl.cornell.edu) lists fifteen courses offered in this area by over eight faculty from the two units.
The Department of Computer Science continues to play a broad role in the university, now in partnership with the FCI. The Department of Computer Science started its life being managed as a central university resource reporting to the Office of the Provost. Once it created undergraduate programs, they were offered in both Arts & Sciences and in Engineering. Both of these majors are thriving, and the Department of Computer Science plays an active role in the educational programs of both colleges. Its Engineering BS program and its Master of Engineering program are the largest in the college. CS co-teaches courses with Electrical and Computer Engineering and with Civil and Environmental Engineering. Its major in Arts & Sciences is very high quality -- it produced two of the current group of Cornell CS professors. CS is also one of the most active departments in the Cognitive Studies Program, with Joe Halpern as one of the co-directors and two other CS faculty on the executive committee. CS co-teaches courses with Mathematics, Physics, Linguistics and Psychology, and will add a course with Economics and one with Science and Technology Studies soon.
The Department of Computer Science is starting to work more closely with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences through the FCI programs in computational biology and information science. There are joint research projects and joint seminars. CS faculty will play an important role as this college starts a new department in biological statistics and computational biology.
In addition to its responsibilities in the large undergraduate colleges, CS plays a leading role along with the FCI founders in the CIS initiative. Most of its faculty are active in FCI working groups or other CIS initiatives. Nine CS faculty helped eight university units in recruiting. Being a university department is both demanding and exciting. The CIS faculty are exposed to a variety of stimulating probems and ideas, from systems engineering to digital arts. The FCI and the CS have discovered that teaching people to use the computer as a medium of expression is just as challenging as using it as a problem solving tool.
The Computing and Information Science initiative is being energized by a great deal of university support. The CIS Task Force and the Department of Computer Science helped sketch a broad faculty vision. University president Hunter R. Rawlings has not only encouraged and inspired the effort, he has also helped shape it, helped recruit faculty with us and continues to raise new endowment. Provost Biddy Martin has helped us find new opportunities at Cornell, and she has spent time connecting us with specific programs, especially in support of Digital Arts and Graphics. The University librarian, Sarah Thomas, has been a strong partner as have several college deans, notably Susan Henry, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Phil Lewis, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Bob Swieringa, Dean of the Johnson Graduate School of Management, and Porus Olpadwala, Dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. I look forward to another exciting year as we continue to develop Cornell's initiative in Computing and Information Science.
--Robert L. Constable
You can access the CIS Dean's web page at