David Alan Grier is a writer and scholar on computing technologies and was President of the IEEE Computer Society in 2013. He writes for Computer magazine. You can find videos of his writings at video.dagrier.net. He has served as editor in chief of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, as chair of the Magazine Operations Committee and as an editorial board member of Computer. Grier formerly wrote the monthly column The Known World. He is an associate professor of science and technology policy at George Washington University in Washington, DC, with a particular interest in policy regarding digital technology and professional societies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The vice president for engineering gave me the usual response when I asked him how the IEEE Computer Society might be of help to his company. "Tell us where we should invest," he said, while making a big gesture with his arms. "Tell me which technology is going to be important so that we can make some money with it." I understood why he made this request, but felt that he really didn't understand what the Computer Society did or how it helped his engineers do their jobs better. Ultimately, they would be able to answer his question better than I ever could. Read more
On the Flight Home from Beijing
I learned that Beijing had a technology museum only as we were driving to the airport. We were catching a plane back to Washington, DC, after attending the annual banquet of the China Computer Federation. I hope to be able to see it on my next visit. I have a special love for technology museums because they claim to tell one kind of story but actually explain something quite different.
When my time came to be president of IEEE Computer Society, I didn't think I was quite ready for the job. I had risen very quickly through the leadership ranks and didn't know much about some parts of the society. I knew little about standards and less about our education board. I was worried that I might make a bad decision that would haunt my presidency. A mistake that I could not correct. However, as I got ready to take the position, a friend gave me a bit of friendly advice. "You don't need to get everything right," he said, "you need to keep the organization on the path of improvement." Read more
Koichi, a friend of mine, asked me to visit his office a few weeks ago to talk about the state of computing research. He has a lovely office, located near the center of Washington, DC, and enjoys a beautiful view of the region. Perhaps more importantly, he is an officer in one of the large government research organizations and near the center of the computing university. Read more
Computer scientists and computing engineers don't deal with obsolescence well. We quickly abandon old forms of technology as soon as new ones show their promise. We claim that old software is useless and call the people who still use old systems "dinosaurs" or some other term that suggests that they are no longer productive members of the community. Yet when we discard old technologies, we often fail to see how one technology builds upon another and how old ideas reappear in new solutions. Read more
Early in my career, I wrote a paper with a Chinese colleague on the technology transfer policies of Deng Xiaopeng. I had done no prior research in the field but was intrigued with the topic and enjoyed working with these colleagues. Read more
Towards the middle of May, Computer Society presidents start preparing for a major Board of Governors meeting in June. It's a large job and requires me to write the agenda and get the members ready for the meeting. Read more
Somehow time and place got lost. During the last month, I promised myself that I would write my next column for the China Computing Federation as I shuttled from one IEEE meeting to another. That plan got lost in the shuttle from one airport to another. I hope that I am forgiven for the lapse, as movement seems to be one of the themes of this season. Perhaps, in the process, I will learn what needs to be moved and what does not. Read more
As president of the IEEE Computer Society, I have had to talk to a lot of reporters about the state of technology. Over the past year, I have had to discuss 3D printing, the recent Chinese supercomputer, and the Internet of Things. In early November, shortly after I returned from the Chinese National Computing Congress, I had to talk about the nature of the society itself. Read more
Should you ever go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, you can easily get confused and start to think that this is the place where technology leaves the laboratory and marches into the world in order to improve society. The show tells you that electronic technology is the most important force in the world today. It offers hundreds of talks and thousands of exhibits about the newest products and the most innovative services. Over 150,000 people attended the show, looking for the ideas that will shape the future. If they had looked carefully enough, they would have seen that the Consumer Electronics Show not only reveals the value of electronic products, it also shows how the market shapes research and how our technology is moving to incorporate economic ideas. Read more
For the past six weeks, I have been adjusting to the life of a former president of the Computer Society. At some level, the transition has been easy and welcome. Sometime, in early January, people simply stopped sending me email. I no longer opened my mailbox to find society members asking for help with their subscription to Computer or the bill for their society dues or the conference that won't accept their paper. Yet, as I move through this period, I find that I cannot shed some of the business of the society as easily as I thought. Some of the projects that I started last year are not over. A negotiation still needs to be completed. There are responsibilities that I have to complete. These experiences have caused me to reflect on the bigger issues that the Computer Society faces when it needs to put aside a set of activities that have outlived their usefulness and start something new. This is a problem that all professional societies face. As we try to advance the field, we discover that we can't always drop activities that have outlived their usefulness. Read more
Some days, I wonder if we did the right thing when we decided to bring computers and Internet connections into the classroom. This technology brings a lot of useful information into class discussions but it also brings many tempting distractions. Only the strongest students can sit in front of a computer without succumbing to the temptation to review the news on Instagram, or check the latest scores of sporting events, or send a message to their friends. We have brought the world into our classroom but we are still struggling to engage that world in our instruction. Read more