’s for Computing —the Theory
Our first chair Hartmanis started it off.
Profs at Cornell helped push it aloft,
Like Constable, Kozen, and John E. Hopcroft.
But Theory is not simply what those profs do,
It’s a tool, a way of thinking for me and you.
When understanding and advance would appear very tough
Theory provides the path through the rough.
The year Juris Hartmanis became Chair of our
new CS department, 1965, he published a paper with Richard Stearns that
introduced a new field and gave it its name: Computational Complexity.
That, together with John Hopcroft’s (joined in 1967) work in automata, formal languages,
and algorithms and Bob Constable’s (1968) work in subrecursive
function theory and logic and mathematical reasoning established Cornell
as one of the best places for theoretical work in computing.
In the early days, most faculty in CS believed in the use of theory
to make advances, when it made sense to do so —be it programming
language design, semantics, operating systems, information retrieval,
or numerical analysis— and this contributed to our long-lasting
This understanding of the use of theory continues today. Look, for example,
at Bart Selman, an AI guy, who worked with physicists to unearth phase
transitions, like water freezing, in certain instances of the Satisfiability
problem in computational complexity. In data mining, the science of networks,
language-based security, mission critical systems —in these fields
and more, our strengths can be traced to theoretical and practical people
working side by side, or to people who refuse to be called “theoretical” or “practical” because
they are both.
Our undergrad majors get a heavy dose of theory of computing, and it
pays off. We continue to hear from those that go on to grad school in
CS that others struggle with theory while they have no problem.