The September Communications of the ACM has a provocative article by Peter J. Denning and Paul S. Rosenbloom, Computing: the fourth great domain of science (OA version). It’s well written and persuasive, certainly worth reading the whole thing.
Science has a long-standing tradition of grouping fields into three categories: the physical, life, and social sciences. The physical sciences focus on physical phenomena, especially materials, energy, electromagnetism, gravity, motion, and quantum effects. The life sciences focus on living things, especially species, metabolism, reproduction, and evolution. The social sciences focus on human behavior, mind, economic, and social interactions. We use the term “great domains of science” for these categories.
The core phenomena of the computing sciences domain–computation, communication, coordination, recollection, automation, evaluation, and design–apply universally, whether in the artificial information processes generated by computers or in the natural information processes found in the other domains. Thus, information processes in quantum physics, materials science, chemistry, biology, genetics, business, organizations, economics, psychology, and mind are all subject to the same space and time limitations predicted by universal Turing machines. That fact underpins many of the interactions between computing and the other fields and underlies the recent claim that computing is a science of both the natural and the artificial.
Computing is pervasive because it is a fundamental way of approaching the world that helps understand its own crucial questions while also assisting other domains advance their understandings of the world. Understanding computing as a great domain of science will help to achieve better explanations of computing, increase the attraction of the field to newcomers, and demonstrate parity with other fields of science.
To say that computing is a domain of science does not conflict with computing’s status as a field of engineering or even mathematics. Computing has large slices that qualify as science, engineering, and mathematics. No one of those slices tells the whole story of the field.
The exercise of examining computing as a domain of science reveals that the extent of computing’s reach and influence cannot be seen without a map that explicitly displays the modes of implementation and interaction. It also reveals that we need to revisit deep questions in computing because our standard answers, developed for computer scientists, do not apply to other fields of science. Finally, it confirms that computing principles are distinct from the principles of the other domains.
So, what do you think? Is computing the fourth great domain of science?