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You are here: Home Associate Member Annual Meetings 2005 Engineering as an Intellectual Revolution

Engineering as an Intellectual Revolution

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Mar 18, 2005 04:30 PM
by Gerald Jay Sussman

It is important to understand the fundamental intellectual developments that characterize the transition from purely scientific investigation of natural phenomena to the situation where we can successfully and reliably apply that knowledge to the deliberate development of novel and perhaps useful artifacts. The ideas that enable this transition to engineering are exemplified in electrical engineering and computer "science".

The key ideas are the development of engineering "languages" that allow us to separate concerns in design. Such languages provide ways of expressing modularity and isolation between modules. They provide means of composition that allow the construction of compound systems from independently-specified and implemented parts. They allow characterization of both structure and function, and how function is determined by and implemented in terms of structure. They provide black-box abstractions that allow one to specify the behavior of a composition independently of the implementation.

I will examine the transition from pure physics research to electrical engineering in the 19th century. I will highlight some of these issues in terms of our current state of computer "science". And I will point out what we should expect in the future as we watch biological engineering break out of biology.

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