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Encyclopedia > Theoretical computer science

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



Computer science encomposses a variety of topics relating to computation, ranging from abstract analysis of algorithms and formal grammars, to subjects like programming languages, software, and computer hardware.

Computer scientists study what programs can and cannot do (see computability), how programs can efficiently perform specific tasks (see algorithms and complexity), how programs should store and retrieve specific kinds of information (see data structures and databases), 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).

Most research in computer science has focused on von Neumann computers or Turing machines (computation models that perform one small, deterministic step at a time). These models resemble, at a basic level, most real computers in use today. Computer scientists also study other models of computation, including parallel machines and theoretical models such as probabilistic, oracle, and quantum computers.

Edsger Dijkstra said:

"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!"

Computer science has roots in electrical engineering, mathematics and linguistics. In the last third of the 20th century computer science emerged as a distinct scientific discipline and 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.

Related fields

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

  • Computer engineering is the analysis, design, and construction of computer hardware.
  • Computer graphics is the field of visual computing, where one utilizes computers both to generate visual images synthetically and to integrate or alter visual and spatial information sampled from the real world.
  • Computer programming or software development is the act of writing program code.
  • Information science is the study of data and information, including how to interpret, analyze, store, and retrieve it. Information science started as the scientific foundation for communication and databases.
  • Information security is the analysis and implementation of information system security, including cryptography.
  • Information systems (IS) is the application of computing to support the operations of an organization: operating, installing, and maintaining the computers, software, and data.
  • Lexicography focus on the study of lexicographic reference works and include the study of electronic and Internet-based dictionaries.
  • Linguistics is the study of languages, converging with computer science in such areas as programming language design and natural language processing.
  • Logic is a formal system of reasoning, and studies principles that lay at the very basis of computing/reasoning machines, whether it be the hardware (digital logic) or software (verification, AI etc.) levels.
  • Management information systems (MIS) is a subfield of information systems, that emphasizes financial and personnel management.
  • Mathematics shares many techniques and topics with computer science, but is more general. In some sense, CS is the mathematics of computing.
  • Software engineering emphasizes analysis, design, construction, and testing of useful software. Software engineering includes development methodologies (such as the waterfall model and extreme programming) and project management.

Debate over name

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

Computer science is usually described by the words informatique in French and Informatik in German. However, informatics in English is not directly synonymous with computer science; it is actually more equivalent with information science.

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

The highest honor in computer science is the Turing Award. See list of computer scientists for many more notables.

See also

External links

Wikibooks has a textbook about:
Wikibooks Wikiversity has more about this subject:
School of Computer Science
  • Women and Computer Science by Ellen Spertus (http://www.mills.edu/ACAD_INFO/MCS/SPERTUS/Gender/gender.html)
  • Open Directory Project: Computer Science (http://www.dmoz.org/Computers/Computer_Science/)
  • Collection of Computer Science Bibliographies (http://liinwww.ira.uka.de/bibliography/)

  Results from FactBites:
Theoretical Computer Science - Elsevier (546 words)
Theoretical Computer Science is mathematical and abstract in spirit, but it derives its motivation from practical and everyday computation.
Although natural computing is concerned also with experiments and applications, this section of Theoretical Computer Science is focused on the theoretical aspects of natural computing with clear relevance to computing.
Theoretical Computer Science offers authors or their institutions the option to sponsor non-subscriber access to their articles on Elsevier's electronic publishing platforms.
Computer science - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1542 words)
Computer science (abbreviated CS or compsci) encompasses a variety of topics that relates to computation, like abstract analysis of algorithms, formal grammars, and subjects such as programming languages, program design, software, computer hardware, artificial intelligence, and numerical analysis.
Computer graphics is the field of visual computing, where one uses computers both to generate visual images synthetically and to integrate or alter visual and spatial information sampled from the real world.
Theoretical computer science is the mathematics of computing.
  More results at FactBites »



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