- Paper presented at the session on "VIRTUAL COMMUNITIES",
- sponsored by the Society for the Anthropology of Work and the
- Psychological Anthropology in the 91th American
- Congress, hold in San Francisco, Dec.2-6, 1992.
- CARNEGIE MELLON : AN AMERICAN
- COMPUTER UNIVERSITY.
- Arturo Serra, Ph.D. School of Computer Science 4615 Wean Hall
- Mellon University Pittsburgh. PA 15213 Tel.: (412) 268 6128
Fax: (412) 268
- 5016 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- By content analysis of interviews and written projects
gathered in the
- community, this study seeks to understand the kinds of
cultural knowledge that
- support a computer science culture and their differences with
other kinds of
- cultural knowledge. It also attempts to analyze the meanings
of this culture in an
- American high technology university. This study is based on
two year fieldwork
- at Carnegie Mellon University in 1990-1991 as part of a
- between technologists at CMU and anthropologists from
- Barcelona. Funding is by Centre Divulgador de la Informatica
de la Generalitat,
- a Catalonian public computer company.
- I. CHANGES IN THE ACADEMIC CULTURE: THE
- COMPUTER UNIVERSITY.
- The topic of this study is the analysis of a North American
- called Carnegie Mellon as a " computer intensive campus ".
- In February 1990 a team of three anthropologists from
- coordinated by professor Maria J. Buxo, arrived at this
- Pittsburgh, at the invitation of Professor Angel Jordan, a
- of Electrical and Computer Engineering and, at that time,
Provost of the
- institution. We were interested in information technology,
- academic organizations. The building of CMU as a
- campus" seemed very innovative to us.
- CMU is actually a networked academic community through the
- system. In the 80s it was the first academic experiment of its
kind in the
- country. The Andrew system is a distributed computer network
- college, department, and research team in the university. In
1990 there is about
- one computer for each member of the university, faculty,
students and staff. 90
- per cent of faculty use computers to prepare documents, 68 per
- electronic mail and 76 per cent use online library information
- We have tried to understand the so-called "CMU
- revolution". This change has been developed under the
influential work of
- several CMU professors: among them, Allen Newell, Alan Perlis,
- Simon, Dick Cyert, Raj Reddy, Nico Habermann, Mary Shaw, Angel
- The Simon's idea of a "sciences of artificial"
or "sciences of
- design", defined by along the last 20 years, is
a good expression of this culture.
- For this professor, one of the founding fathers of the
Artificial Intelligence, the
- design activity is a scientific activity and, the scientist, a
designer. From a
- European point of view, this statement seems extremely
- science and technology inhabit two different kinds of
institutions in Europe, the
- humanistic-scientific university and the polytechnic one.
- lives mostly in the last one as a technological field.
- I have just expent two and one half years doing fieldwork in
this university in
- three different places: the Engineering Design Research Center
- School of Computer Science and the Andrew network. This
- community" is an INTERNET node, now with more than 5,000
- many of them dedicated to electronic newsletters, courses,
- electronic debates, both national and international.
- During this time, I made 105 interviews of professors,
- graduates students and staff from the CMU university community
as a whole.
- Progressively , I focused my investigation first in the
research area of the
- university, and then in the School of Computer Science, its
- center. Finally, I have arrived at two apparently banal but
- First, that the keystone of a research university is their
research projects. And
- second, that each research project begins with a simple
proposal written by a
- research team. Then I have designed a methodology to deal with
this problem. I
- have called it "project analysis".
- The basis of this methodology is to try to understand what the
goals of a
- research activity are, and to consider these goals as the
value system of a
- research community. The ethnographic model of this kind of
community will be
- based in its common research projects. We can consider
- as a application of the "content analysis"to the technological
- Thanks to the friendly collaboration of Dr. Jordan and other
- thanks to the end of the Cold War too, I had access to the
documentation of 30
- years of defense sponsored research in this school,
particularly its original
- proposals. The result has been the study of 21 large research
projects in the
- four basic research areas in this School: "Artificial
- "Programming Systems", "Computer Systems" and
- "Theory", and the selection of 150 papers, technical
- dissertations of professors, graduate students and researchers
of the institution
- referred to this topic.
- After this search, we learned several interesting things:
- First of all, Carnegie Mellon has built a kind of high
technology university, or
- computer university, based on a core research knowledge in
- and technology. This knowledge is extended to the rest
of the campus through
- education in computer technology skills and a daily practice
- research and education.
- At a first look, this university seems similar to the
- research university . This dominant model of university was
analyzed by Talcott
- Parsons and Gerald Platt in a book called "The American
- published by Harvard University Press in 1973.
- According to these authors, the "American university", or
- university", is an institution centered on a faculty of Arts
and Sciences, that
- conceives of the research activity as a primary academic
function. Research and
- education is organized in departments comprised of professors
- students. The Arts and Science faculty is organized in three
- humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, each of one
- well-recognized intellectual disciplines. Usually this kind of
- America has absorbed the professional schools of law, medicine
- conceiving them as a kind of applied professional complement
to the basic core
- knowledge on arts and sciences.
- But Carnegie Mellon has different characteristics.
- In the first place, during the most part of its existence ,90
- Mellon has been an institute of technology, not
a "full university".
- Only from 1967, was the institution born with the union of
Carnegie Tech and
- Mellon Institute renamed "university". That means that during
- part of its existence, the arts and sciences have been a
complement of technology
- to improve the knowledge about the design of new technological
- other words, the relation of science and technology is just
the inverse situation
- than in the dominant universities of the Ivy League.
- Second, the leading faculty at Carnegie Mellon has been
engineering, not the
- faculty of arts and sciences. That engineering culture has
- "problem solving" mentality as a characteristic
feature of this institution.
- Nevertheless, after the World War II, an important change
- computer field was organized at Carnegie Tech by
mathematicians and social
- scientists interested in the new machine, not by engineers.
Because of that this
- new field was called "Computer Science" in Carnegie Tech.
- But, at the same time, this new "science" was very
- from the beginning. This was one of the reasons why it has
been funded for 30
- years by a federal entrepreneurial agency, the Advanced
- Agency, now DARPA. For decades this agency has
supported a kind of
- fundamental technological research in Artificial Intelligence,
- Computer System and Theory. This field was called Computer
Science, but in
- fact this community, known as a "Artificial Intelligence
- laboratory" has centered it research in the
knowledge about the design of
- technological systems, more than in its discovery as in the
- The contradictory term "scientist of design" expresses this
- As a result of that context the term "science" has a different
- this community from that in the natural and social sciences.
- "Computer Science" at CMU primarily means the creation
- knowledge about what kind of computer system the
researcher can design and
- how he can build it. As an example of it, we
will quote the goals of the research
- proposal in Artificial Intelligence at CMU called "Basic
- Computer Science: Integrated Architectures for Intelligent
- Systems"(1990-1993): " The basic scientific results of
- will be a technical understanding of what types of total
- organizations are capable of integrated intelligent
behavior, as well
- as an understanding of which aspects of the total system
- the architecture".(CMU-SCS-Basic Research in CS,
1989:6-1). In other
- words, this scientific activity is similar to a technical
understanding about new
- capabilities of the new systems in construction.
- As Allen Newell, one of the founding father of CMU Computer
- community, said last year in a university conference at the
SCS: " Science is
- in the techniques... .If a domain cannot get beyond having
- discovering... that science is in fact in a preparadigmatic
state. It is
- in a very early stage. My idea is that discoveries in physics,
- chemistry, in biology all convert routinely into things you
- later" ("Desires and Diversions", April 12 1991.)
- spent the last years of his career designing SOAR, a new
- Discoveries are considered, in the traditional science
- highlights of the discipline. But in Computer Science, at
least in CMU,
- discoveries are only means to do something different: to
increase the knowledge
- about what kind of new computer systems are possible and how
to design them.
- That history began with the invention of the Logic Theory
Machine, the first
- Artificial Intelligence program in the 50s, and continues now
with the design of
- the Mach Operating System in the 80s. In fact, ANDREW was also
- Computer Science project .
- The general consensus in CMU defined Computer Science as " the
study of the
- phenomena surrounding computers". Some professors, such as
- call it a "science of the artificial". For others it is an
- science". But the problem is that in this so-called "science"
- scientist must figure out the new system before discovering
- characteristics. He must be a designer before a scientist. In
other words, in
- computer science the empirical science comes after, not
before, the design
- In this sense, this cultural knowledge is a
technological one in its nature, not a
- scientific one. Knowledge is design more than
discovery, in the
- computer intensive campus.
- II. IMPLICATIONS: A NEW KIND OF RESEARCH MODEL.
- In this kind of university, the computer design activity
precedes the science in a
- new kind of innovation cycle, driven by the technological
- Usually, the traditional innovation cycle defined by the
R&D policy experts is
- based in the so called Science &Technology system. This
cycle begins with the
- Science, as the "basic research", and the Technology is
conceived as an
- "application" of it.
- This model was established by Vanevar Bush and adopted by the
- Science Foundation after the World World II. It has been
useful for the period
- where the physicists had the leadership in academic research.
But the Cold War
- is over now and in Computer Science this model does not fit
- In this computer culture, fundamental or basic design research
- growing for decades independent of basic science. The
- begins with this design activity and empirical science follows
it. In other words,
- the computer technology at CMU is not a mere application of
the natural or
- social sciences, but increasingly its own foundation.
- At the beginning the computer was a simple machine built by
- like Pascal or Babbage, as a tool to do calculations. But now
- physicists, cognitive psychologists, linguistics, indeed the
natural and social
- science community are increasingly becoming designers, helping
- scientists in building the Universal Machine.
- This new research model is redefining what knowledge means in
- information society. In 1988 the Computer Science and
Technology Board, a
- section of the National Research Council, in a rapport called
" The National
- Challenge in Computer Science and Technology" said: "
- computer science is an artificial science (Simon 1981)
- computer science plays a very different role within
- science than, say, theoretical physics plays within
- Theoretical physics seeks to understand the physical
- exists independently. Theoretical computer scientists
- understand all possible architectures or algorithms,
- scientists create themselves."
- This change in the cultural meaning of a key cultural
knowledge of Western
- civilization, scientific knowledge, could have enormous
consequences in the next
- future. We are changing from a natural scientific vision of
the world, the world
- as a "natural order", to a technological one in which
the world is
- conceived as a man-made machine, as an artifact
- This presents a great danger and a great challenge to
anthropologists. The final
- goal of the Computer Science and Technology community is to
- Universal Machine. In this sense, the new "artificial world"
can have the
- appearance of a world of sophisticated machines served by
- Usually, anthropology in computer fields is used to help the
- designing a better system.