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Computer science

(Redirected from Theoretical computer science)

In its most general sense, computer science (CS or compsci) is the study of computation and information processing, both in hardware and in software.



In practice, computer science includes a variety of topics relating to computers, which range from the abstract analysis of algorithms, formal grammars, etc. to more concrete subjects like programming languages, software, and computer hardware. As a scientific discipline, it differs significantly from and is often confused with mathematics, programming, software engineering, and computer engineering, although there is some degree of overlap with these and other fields.

Edsger Dijkstra is quoted as saying:

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes."

The renowned physicist Richard Feynman said:

"Computer science is not as old as physics; it lags by a couple of hundred years. However, this does not mean that there is significantly less on the computer scientist's plate than on the physicist's: younger it may be, but it has had a far more intense upbringing!"

The Church-Turing thesis states that all known kinds of reasonable paradigms of computation are essentially equivalent in what they can do, although they vary in time and space efficiency. The thesis is not a mathematical theorem that can be proven, but an empirical observation that all known computational schemes have the same computational power. This thesis is a fundamental principle of computer science.

Most research in computer science has been related to von Neumann computers or Turing machines (computers that do one small, deterministic task at a time). These models resemble most real computers in use today. Computer scientists also study other kinds of machines, some practical (like parallel machines) and some theoretical (like probabilistic, oracle, and quantum machines).

Computer scientists study what programs can and cannot do (see computability), how programs should efficiently perform specific tasks (see algorithms), how programs should store and retrieve specific kinds of information (see data structures and data bases), how programs might behave intelligently (see artificial intelligence), and how programs and people should communicate with each other (see human-computer interaction and user interfaces).

Computer science has roots in electrical engineering, mathematics and linguistics. In the last third of the 20th century computer science has become recognized as a distinct discipline and has developed its own methods and terminology.

The first computer science department in the United States was founded at Purdue University in 1962. The University of Cambridge in England, among others, taught CS prior to this, however at the time, CS was seen as a branch of mathematics, and not a separate department. Cambridge claims to have the world's oldest taught qualification in computing. Most universities today have specific departments devoted to computer science.

The highest honor in computer science is the Turing Award.

Related fields

Computer science is closely related to a number of fields. These fields overlap considerably, though important differences exist

Debate over name

There is some debate over whether the name of the field should be computer science or computation science. The first name is the original, traditional name, however it implies that CS studies of computers. The second name is more recent, and it implies that CS studies what we do with computers. Some view this debate over names as silly. Others see it as important symbolism.

Major fields of importance for computer science

Mathematical foundations

Theoretical computer science


(see also electrical engineering)

Computer systems organization

(see also electrical engineering)


Data and information systems

Computing methodologies

Computer applications

Computing milieux


Prominent pioneers in computer science

See list of computer scientists for many more notables.

See also

External links

Our sister project, Wikibooks, provides a collection of electronic books on Computer science.

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45