Monday, June 9, 2008

I received an email from a friend about a kid in Canada, who is writing a play about a company trying to capture all the kid's calculating ability in their calculators, and then sell it back to them for profit. My reaction to that was, "Hey, where have you been? It has been happening in the US for the last two decades, under the name of reform math curricula." A calculator could pretty much automate anything anyone could do mentally since the 1970s, and it did not take very long for them to be sold as a substitute for human's ability to figure, rather than an aid or a tool.

But we have come a long way since then.

Consider this:

When I joined Intel in 1982:
They had just announced the IBM PC with 4.77MHz processor with less than 30,000 transistors
The typical DRAM memory chip density was 64 kbit
No hard disk, but 256 kB floppy drives
Large enough to fit on an average sized desk

When I left Intel in 2006:
A high end laptop had 2 cores running at 2.2 GHz - Almost 1000x (100,000%) of the throughput
The DRAM memory chip was 1Gbit, which is 13,000x (1,300,000%) in density
Typical hard disk size was 100 GB, which is 4,000x (400,000%) in size
All this in a size and weight that was low enough to fit in a backpack.

Never in the history of humankind has there been such an exponential increase in any capability in such a short time. All this started in a small area called the Silicon Valley right here in the US of A.

Now comes the shocker. The ability to take economic advantage of this explosion in the number of transistors has fled this country. What discipline takes advantage of such an exponential rise in the number of transistors? It is the newest branch of mathematics - computer programming. The graduates of computer science make $60,000 right out of school, and easily double their income within a decade. And if we look around and ask if we are preparing enough kids to be excited about these high paying careers in computer programming, the answer comes back negative. The number of computer science graduates has remained flat at around 60,000 per year, or gone down slightly in the last two decades. India now produces 10 times the number of programmers per year, and the number is expected to double in the next decade. Just one institute in India, the NIIT (National Institute of Information Technology) trains 500,000 programmers per year. I am happy that this is helping a lot of Indian people escape poverty, but this is way lopsided in one direction. We could have done better training our kids to take the high paying jobs. But with the jock culture that is pervasive, I get the feeling we are just training our kids to be used car salespeople (like we need more of them).

Next time you go to your friendly neighborhood public school, ask them what computer science courses they offer. If you get blank stares, don't be surprised. I already warned you.

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