Bright college students are majoring in finance and economics, not computer science, writes Nick Schulz in Revenge of the Frosh-Seeking Robots. Bill Gates, who says he’s in the â€œIQ business,â€ worries the brainiest young people will choose investment banking over programming.
The number of smart kids studying computer science peaked a few years ago and has dropped dramatically since. The number of new computer science majors today has fallen by half since 2000, according to the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Merrilea Mayo, director of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable at the National Academies, says the drop-off was particularly pronounced among women.
Meanwhile, elite schools are reporting that the number of economics majors is exploding. For the 2003â€“2004 academic year, the number of economics degrees granted by U.S. colleges and universities increased 40 percent from five years previously. Economics is seen by bright undergraduates as the path to a high-paying job on Wall Street or at a major corporation.
Microsoft thinks the dotcom bust and the offshoring of information-technology jobs have turned off potential computer students. They also see an “excitement deficit.”
The way computer science is taught in colleges and universities, says Bryan Barnett, lead program manager for Microsoft Research, â€œturns kids off almost immediately.â€ They typically spend a year learning basic theoretical concepts and code syntax. Thereâ€™s little concrete to show for such work.
So Microsoft has partnered with Bryn Mawr and George Tech to create “a $2 million pilot program called the Institute for Personal Robots in Education that is developing an easily programmable tabletop robotic device to introduce to first-year computer science students.”
Within the first weeks of a class, students will be able to write elementary code that prompts the robot to do simple tasks like drive forward or back. But even simple code-writing with immediate, physical results like this can have an impact that energizes students. Or so it is hoped. Eventually, students can write more complex codeâ€”programming their personal robots to emulate a moth.
Via Hit and Run.
Crime-solving shows featuring forensic scientists (CSI) and mathematicians (Numb3rs) are making scientists cool, writes Virginia Postrel in The Atlantic.
What these shows have done is to make science and math alluring â€” without invoking an imagined future, an alternative reality, or travel to distant worlds.
. . . CSI and Numb3rs align scientific curiosity with justice. Science, they promise, will judge fairly. It will not be warped by politics or public opinion. By pursuing and revealing the truth without prejudice, it will protect the innocent.
And scientists and mathematicians are a lot better looking on TV than they are in the old sci-fi movies.