expCS - Computing as an Experimental Science or Exaggerated...

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1 Computing as an Experimental Science or Exaggerated Formalist Rhetoric Considered Harmful Raymond J. Mooney Dept. of Computer Sciences University of Texas at Austin
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2 Philosophy and Methodology Matters One’s beliefs about the philosophy and methodology of computer science greatly impacts: The problems on which one chooses to work. The approach one takes to these problems. One’s perception of the significance of results and the quality of others’ work. One’s beliefs about the education and training of students and CS curriculum issues.
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3 Programs as Mathematical Objects A computer program is a formally defined mathematical object, i.e. a Turing machine. Properties of such a mathematical object can be formally proven: Correctness according to a formal specification. Termination. Time and space complexity: Worst case. Average case (assuming a formal specification of the input distribution).
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4 Exaggerated Formalist Rhetoric Since programs are formal mathematical objects, experiments and empirical analysis have no place in computer science. Computer science is mathematics and consists of definitions, theorems, and proofs. Without theorems, there is no rigorous science, just unprincipled hacking. Students primarily need to be taught appropriate mathematics and how to prove theorems. Students do not need to be taught experimental methodology appropriate for natural and social sciences.
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5 Formal and Empirical Specifications Some problems have clear, mathematical, formal specifications. These lend themselves to theoretical analysis. Some problems have “empirical” specifications that depend on physical (biological/psychological/social) phenomena that, at least currently, have no adequate mathematical formalization. These require experimental analysis.
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6 A Tale of Two Bugs Formalists’ Poster Child : The Intel Pentium division bug illustrates a problem (floating-point division) that has a clear formal definition. Experimentalists’ Poster Child : The Apple Newton’s insufficiently accurate hand-writing recognition illustrates a problem whose specification relies on a psychological phenomenon with no known formalization: human visual perception of written language.
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7 9/3 4
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8 Final exam 9AM Tino1 exon qRH
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9 Formalist $100K Challenge Problem! If you believe that hand-writing recognition can be given a formal specification suitable for mathematical verification, then I strongly encourage you to write it down! If, in my lifetime , you can formulate such a specification and use it to develop and verify hand-writing recognition software and demonstrate perfect accuracy on a standard, realistic benchmark dataset… I will personally award you a $100,000 prize!
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10 Other Problems with Empirical Specifications Speech recognition. Natural-language question answering.
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This note was uploaded on 11/11/2011 for the course MATH 110 taught by Professor Staff during the Winter '08 term at BYU.

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expCS - Computing as an Experimental Science or Exaggerated...

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