The second item on CSTB's list was talent. How can the gap be closed between the small number of U.S. citizens graduating with Ph.D. degrees in computer science and computer engineering and the large demand for graduates with these skills? How can high school graduates be taught to deal with the computers and high technology they must use on the job in fields that range from the military to banking?
I will divide this issue into two parts: Ph.D. production and K-12 education. We have succeeded in building Ph.D. production from some 200 a year to about 1,000 a year in computer science and engineering. In the 1990s, there has been concern about overproduction of Ph.Ds in some specialties as universities and research laboratories downsize and as the field matures. I am not convinced the country needs 1,000 Ph.D.s a year in computer science and engineering. I have seen the pain in physics and mathematics since about 1970; can we learn from history? Incidentally, after a quarter of a century, and due to a number of circumstances, the crunch in physics and mathematics seems worse than ever. Since most of these Ph. Ds will not be appointed to faculty positions in the top research universities, questions have also been raised about possible changes in the Ph.D. program to produce people better suited to positions in industry and colleges.
Problems in K-12 education seem more serious and overwhelming than ever. There is a widespread feeling, which I certainly share, that Americans do not get the education required for an informed populace in a democracy. They do not get an education that will enable them to fill many service sector jobs or to function in our high-technology armed forces. Students are not adequately prepared in analytic and writing skills to do well in universities. If we believe that educated people will be the key resource in the twenty-first century, we have much to be concerned about. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), has identified K-12 education as the most important problem of his presidency.
The third item on the 1986 list was scope and support. What will be the nature of computer science and technology in the 1990s? How can its health and vitality be sustained during a period of uncertainty and stringency in federal research and development budgets ?
I will discuss this issue in two parts also, beginning with nature and scope. It is typical of NRC boards to do studies on the nature of their fields. Some have become classics, such as the Bromley report for physics1 and the Pimentel report for chemistry.2 These studies set the standard for other studies. Since we were the "new kids on the block," CSTB decided that beginning with a report on the nature of the field would be self-serving. We wanted first to build a record of reports dealing with critical national issues. Computing the Future , CSTB's study of the scope and direction of computer science and technology, was published in 1992. The committee was chaired by Juris Hartmanis.
The second part of this item asked, How can the field's health and vitality be sustained during a period of uncertainty and stringency in federal research and development budgets?
Oh, my prophetic soul! Since there are people in this audience who have been grappling with this issue during a period of uncertainty and stringency, I will not pursue it here.
Item 4 on the 1986 list was supercomputers. How can the power of supercomputers be exploited to promote scientific and technological advances, and how can U.S. leadership in this area be maintained?
Supercomputers continue to have economic and symbolic importance. At the time that I write this paper, a major battle is under way to determine whether the National Center for Atmospheric Research will purchase an American or a Japanese supercomputer. The contract is valued at $13 million to $35 million; the amount of interest being generated must be due to more than just the amount of money involved. A teraflop computer will soon be installed at Sandia National Laboratories. Faster, more powerful machines are needed for aircraft design to ensure the safety and effectiveness of nuclear weapons with zero testing, for molecular dynamics in biology, and for cosmological computations.
The federal government's interest in supercomputers has evolved since 1986. A program plan for high-performance computing was published by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1989. The High Performance Computing Act of 1991 authorized a five-year program known as the High Performance