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Vardi's Insights


 Communications Editor-in-Chief Moshe Y. Vardi


Moshe Y. Vardi is Senior Editor of Communications of the ACM, having served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008 to 2017. Dr. Vardi is a University Professor and the Karen Ostrum George Professor of Computational Engineering, and a Faculty Scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Houston, Texas.



A culminating chapter in the 200,000-year information revolution is the development of computing and communication technologies in the 20th century, where we learned to transmit as well as process information. View full article
How did the technology that we considered "cool" just a decade ago become an assault weapon used to hurt, traumatize, and even kill vulnerable people? Admitting we have a problem is a necessary first step toward addressing the problems computing has created. View full article
One of the most fundamental conundrums in the philosophy of mathematics is the question of whether mathematics was discovered by humans or invented by them. Neither! They were both developed by humans as a way to reason about the physical world. View full article
It is time to cut the Gordian knot and nullify, legislatively, all click-through agreements. We probably need new laws to govern our intensely online life, but these laws should be legislated in a democratic way rather than by click-through licenses written by tech companies. View full article
I would like to see the ACM Presidential Task Force on "Open Science" develop a detailed set of guiding principles for conference-site selection. Principles, however, must be translated to concrete decisions in the context of a messy reality. View full article
The ACM 4.0 Initiative aims to lay the foundations of ACM for the next 25 years on issues of service to society and to ACM members, ACM membership, ACM finances, and internal processes. View full article
Let us stop talking about Responsible AI. We, computing professionals, should all accept responsibility now, starting with ACM! View full article
For the U.S. to compete with China, the U.S. is using Chinese talent. Approximately 65% of doctoral students in computing in North America are international students. My estimate is that this pool is dominated by Chinese students. This means the technological competition with China is aided, to a significant degree, by Chinese students. View full article
The slow progress in cybersecurity is leading many to conclude the problem is not due to just a lack of technical solution but reflects a market failure, which disincentivizes those who may be able to fix serious security vulnerabilities from doing so. View full article
Computing has become highly important in everyday life during the past 75 years. In addition to its many benefits, however, it has also played a major role in driving societal polarization. View full article
The ACM Future of Computing Academy and social-responsibility initiatives are both very important to the future of ACM, and ACM should not give up on them. View full article
The West has responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine with punitive economic sanctions. In one fell swoop, the efficient, (almost) unified world of global technology has come apart. View full article
The biggest problem that computing faces today is not that AI technology is unethical, but that AI technology is used by large and powerful corporations to support a business model that is, arguably, unethical. View full article
Technology can lead to improved education, but only if we move slow and do not break things. View full article
The current computing-research publication system conflates research publishing with community building. We may need in-person conferences for community building, but not so many! View full article
In 2018, Arnold Kling wrote a famous blog article, "How the Internet turned bad." It is time for us, as a community, to ask now: "How do we turn the Internet good?" View full article
In 1969, Tony Hoare wrote in a classical Communications' article, "An Axiomatic Basis for Computer Programming," about mathematical certainty, great reliance, and confidence. In retrospect, the hope for "mathematical certainty" was idealized, and not fully realistic, I believe. View full article
Three-way conflict arises in professional societies, such as ACM, which have members, elected officials, and permanent staff. Aligning the interests of these three groups can be challenging. View full article
Today, the top seven companies in the S&P 500 index are all tech companies. Large companies wield power, and that power often leads to a clash between these companies and "The People," that is, with governments. View full article
The virtualization of conferences due to COVID-19 has sharpened my conviction that the computing-research publication system is badly broken and in need of a serious reboot. View full article
While social media has provided a platform for countless individuals to express their opinions, many argue that social-media companies must adopt more accountability for harmful content published on their sites. View full article
U.S. Government actions to restrict immigration could result in a dramatic reduction in the number of international graduate students in U.S. universities, and will have a devastating impact on U.S. graduate programs in computing. View full article
Our digital infrastructure, which has become a key component of the economic system in developed countries, is one of the few components that did not buckle under the stress of COVID-19. View full article
Efficiency comes through optimal adaptation to an existing environment, while resilience requires the capacity to adapt to disruptive changes in the environment. View full article
It is time to revisit and update the purpose of ACM. ACM's purpose must be "to advance the science and profession of computing for the public good." View full article
Publish and Perish
January 2020
Publishing one's paper at a prestigious conference has become the standard way to build professional credentials, yet the dominance of conference publication comes at a cost. View full article
What may have been a radical position less than a year ago has become a conventional wisdom now. We need laws and regulations, instead of an ethics outrage, to deal with undesired business models and conduct of tech corporations. The question now is how rather than if. View full article
Research is a long game; patience and endurance are necessary components.  View full article
We are in the midst a profound transformation of our society, with computer science and its artifacts as a major driver of change. Whereas this development opens enormously positive possibilities for our future, it also raises serious questions and has dramatic downsides. View full article
Nearly 100 years after quantum mechanics was introduced, scientists still are not in full agreement on what it means. View full article
Lost in Math?
March 2019
While some people find mathematics befuddling, others find it elegant and beautiful. But the seductive power of mathematical beauty has come under criticism lately. View full article
The computing field seems to be going through another image crisis these days. The narrative is that what ails tech today is a deficit of ethics, and the remedy, therefore, is an injection of ethics. I am dubious of the diagnosis and the remedy. View full article
The explosive growth of social-media platforms has led to the proliferation of "bad" speech on social-media platforms, which has become politically untenable. View full article
Whether or not the theory of disruptive innovation has predictive power, it is a powerful story that explains the rise and fall of tech empires. It is deeply embedded in the psyche of Silicon Valley. View full article
Communism is the most famous 20th-century attempt to build market-free economies. It required coercion on a colossal scale. The Internet is the second major attempt to build a market-free economy, limited to information. View full article
We cannot understand the current gender disparity in computing without understanding the history of women in computing. How did we lose the women in computing? They did not just leave; they were pushed out. View full article
ACM is under significant pressure from its membership to move from a subscription-based to an open access publishing model. Such a transition is exceedingly challenging and would threaten ACM's financial viability, a risk that must be taken seriously. View full article
Just as you cannot separate the mind and the body, you cannot separate cyberspace and physical space. It is time to accept this dependence and act accordingly. View full article
A dramatic drop in the public view of Tech, a term that I use to refer both to computing technology and the community that generates that technology, has accompanied the recent recognition of the adverse societal consequences of computing. View full article
Today, Alan Turing is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding scientists of the 20th century, but that was not the case in 1966. The question, therefore, can be posed as follows: Would Turing have won the Turing Award? View full article
Divination is the practice of an occultic ritual as an aid in decision making. It has been dismissed as superstition since antiquity. Yet the practice persists. Developments in mathematics and in computer science in the 20th century shed new light on the power of divination. View full article
In January 2007, I undertook the task of revitalizing Communications of the ACM. Now, after 10 years at the helm of Communications, it is time for me to move on and for the magazine to get new leadership. View full article
Here we are, 70 years into the computer age and after three ACM Turing Awards in the area of cryptography (but none in cybersecurity), and we still do not seem to know how to build secure information systems. And yet, our community marches forward with no special sense of urgency. View full article
ACM's Open-Conference principle reflects ACM's mission of "advance computing as a science and a profession; enable professional development; and promote policies and research that benefit society." In the past few weeks, however, this principle has been gravely tested. View full article
In a keynote address at the 2016 meeting of the Computing Research Association, Kentaro Toyama argued that "In spite of the do-gooder rhetoric of Silicon Valley, it is no secret that computing technology in and of itself cannot solve systemic social problems." Toyama's argument is that persistent societal challenges do not have technology-centric solutions. View full article
Globalization and automation provide huge benefits to society, but their adverse effects cannot and should not be ignored. Technology is not destiny and public policy has a key role to play. As actors in and beneficiaries of this societal transformation, we have, I believe, a social responsibility that goes beyond our technical roles. View full article
Academic rankings, in general, provide highly misleading ways to inform academic decision making by individuals. Using such rankings for academic decision making is letting third-party business interests influence our academic values. Academic rankings are harmful, I believe. View full article
Why is it that academic-unit reviews accomplish so little in spite of the significant effort both by the reviewed units and reviewing committees? And why do we continue to conduct these reviews in spite of their meager results? There are three main reasons, I believe. View full article
The big news on March 12 of this year was of the Go-playing AI-system AlphaGo securing victory against 18-time world champion Lee Se-dol by winning the third straight game of a five-game match in Seoul, Korea. AlphaGo's victory is a stunning achievement and another milestone in the inexorable march of AI research. View full article
Enrollments in computing-related undergraduate degree programs are booming. What is driving the enrollment boom is undoubtedly the global technology boom, epitomized by the global rise of "unicorns. " We must remember, however, we have witnessed such booms in the past. View full article
In November 2015, the computing world was abuzz with the news that László Babai proved the Graph-Isomorphism Problem. If Babai's result holds under scrutiny, it is likely to become one of the most celebrated results in theoretical computer science of the past several decades. View full article
I suspect many computer scientists, like me, like to believe that, on the whole, computing benefits humanity. Thus, it is disturbing to realize computing is also making a major contribution to military technology. View full article
The 2015 Grace Hopper celebration of women in computing conference is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. This year's event is expected to bring together more than 12,000 — mostly female — computer scientists! But this impressive number should not be taken to mean all is well on the gender-diversity front. Far from it! View full article
In 1992, Yuri Gurevich wrote, "It is amazing . . . how different computer science is, especially theoretical computer science, in Europe and the U.S." This division did not exist prior to the 1980s. How did such a sharp division arise? View full article
While there is general recognition that the computing-research publication system is "suboptimal," developing consensus on how the system should be changed has proven to be exceedingly hard. The Computing Research Association has addressed this issue head-on in a Best Practice Memo, which may be a game changer. View full article
Does automation destroy more jobs than it creates? While the optimists argue that though technology always destroy jobs, it also creates new jobs, the pessimists argue that the speed in which information technology is currently destroying jobs is unparalleled. View full article
The news flashed last September that Microsoft Research closed down its Silicon Valley Lab. While the specifics may have been surprising, these actions are entirely consistent with the historical pattern of the rise and fall of industrial research labs. View full article
A recent Turing-Test competition was won by a Russian chatterbot pretending to be a Russian teenage boy named Eugene Goostman. The media was abuzz, claiming a machine has finally been able to pass the Turing Test. The real question, however, is whether the Turing Test is at all an important indicator of machine intelligence. View full article
Ownership of intellectual property is becoming a battleground. At one end, "IP capitalists" view intellectual property as no different than tangible property. At the other, "IP communists" object to copyright protection and software patents, and even argue that software should be free. It is regrettable, I believe, that the open access movement found itself in the IP communist camp. View full article
Many of us have lived with Moore's Law for all of our professional lives. We knew that the doubling of the number of transistors on a chip every couple of years cannot continue forever, but the end of Moore's Law always seemed to be beyond the horizon. No more. The real question is not when precisely Moore's Law will die. The real question is what happens now. View full article
The Boolean Satisfiability Problem (SAT, for short) has been a problem of central importance in computer science since Stephen Cook proved its NP-completeness in 1971. At the same time, SAT is a paradigmatic constraint-satisfaction problem with numerous applications, including hardware and software design, operations research, bioinformatics, and more. View full article
A three-day Perspective Workshop on the subject of "Publication Culture in Computing Research" was held at Schloss Dagstuhl in November 2012. One of the main insights developed at the workshop was the computing-research publishing ecosystem — both conferences and journals — has simply failed to scale up with the growth of the field. View full article
What we have learned so far about the wide reach of the U.S. National Security Agency's pervasive phone and Internet eavesdropping and surveillance operations has been quite astounding. I believe we can no longer trust the U.S. government to be the "Internet hegemon." The question, I believe, is whether we can have an Internet that is free, or at least freer, from government meddling than today's Internet. View full article
We like to think we have been surfing a tsunami of computing innovation over the past 70 years. Recently, however, several people have been questioning this techno-optimism. Techno-pessimists argue our economic malaise is an indication of an innovation deficit. Techno-optimists dismiss this pessimism. So which way is it? View full article
Recently a major debate has erupted among economists regarding the impact of robots and automation on jobs and the possibility of technological unemployment. Now this fundamental debate has moved from economics to computer science. Are robots and automation destroying more jobs than they are creating? View full article
Our discipline is dedicated to reducing friction. Our goal is to reduce the friction of computing and communication as much as possible. This reduction of friction has enabled the Internet and the Web, but should zero friction really be our goal? View full article
There has been sound and fury in the Open Access movement over the past year. In December 2011, The Research Works Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill contained provisions to prohibit open access mandates for federally funded research. Many scholarly publishers expressed support for the bill. (ACM expressed objections to the bill.) View full article
The Turing Centenary with its furious pace is now behind us and we can afford some reflection. In our focus on highlighting Turing's seminal contributions we may have gone from celebration to hagiography. One could end up believing that Turing single-handedly begat computing. This picture is simplistic and does not do justice to the richness of the story of how computing emerged between 1930 and 1950. View full article
"Thy destroyers and they that made thee waste shall go forth of thee," wrote the prophet Isaiah. This phrase has been popping into my mind as I have been following the recent raging discussions over the topic of MOOCs. View full article
Why ACM?
September 2012
"Another reason to ditch ACM," thundered an ACM member in a social-media posting during the recent debate over the Research Works Act, introduced in the U.S. Congress in 2011. The proposed legislation prohibits open-access mandates for U.S.-funded research. While deep concerns with the bill were widespread, the nasty tone of the posting was surprising to me. View full article
The partnership that once existed between the scholarly community and commercial publishers is fundamentally broken. While not all commercial publishers are predatory publishers, they are all primarily driven by profits, which creates a conflict of interest between publishers and authors.View full article
Fair Access
May 2012
There has been sound and fury in the Open Access movement over the last few months. I would like to revisit the arguments for open access, which I discussed first in July 2009, in "Open, Closed, or Clopen Access?" The basic question I would like to address again is what ACM's stance should be with respect to open-access publishing models. View full article
The 14th International Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science, held last July in France, included a special symposium on the subject of "What is an algorithm?" This may seem to be a strange question to ask just before the Turing Centenary Year, which is now being celebrated by numerous events around the world. Didn't Turing answer this question decisively? View full article
The most dramatic chess match of the 20th century was the May 1997 rematch between the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue and world champion Garry Kasparov, which Deep Blue won. While this victory of machine over man was considered by many a triumph for artificial intelligence, John McCarthy, who not only was one of the founding pioneers of AI but also coined the very name of the field, was rather dismissive of this accomplishment. View full article
Computing for Humans
December 2011
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz conceived of computing as "a new instrument that will enhance the capabilities of the mind to a far greater extent than optical instruments strengthen the eyes." This definition captures, I believe, the essence of our field. On one hand, our discipline is a technical one, focusing on hardware, software, and their theoretical foundations. On the other hand, the artifacts we build are meant to enhance the human mind. This duality of our field is witnessed by two pioneers we lost last October: Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie. View full article
For almost 50 years we have been riding Moore's Law's exponential curve. Oh, what a ride it has been! No other technology has ever improved at a geometric rate for decades. It has been nothing short of a wild party. But exponential trends always slow down eventually, and the end of "Moore's Party" may be near. View full article
Are You Talking to Me?
September 2011
I recently attended a rather theoretical computer-science conference, and sat, as is my habit, in the front row. The speaker was trying to convey the fine details of a rather intricate mathematical construction. I was hopelessly lost. View full article
On June 16, 1902, philosopher Bertrand Russell sent a letter to Gottlob Frege, a German logician, in which he argued that Frege's logical system was inconsistent. The letter launched a "Foundational Crisis" in mathematics, triggering an almost anguished search for proper foundations for mathematics. View full article
A conference program committee (PC) member received a paper for review. He distributed the manuscript to his research group to "solicit their opinions of the paper." The research group then submitted their own paper to another conference, their submission occurring three months before the first paper was to be presented at a conference. Amazingly, the PC member was not aware that a conference paper submission constitutes privileged communication. For reviewers to use such privileged material for their own work immediately creates a blatant conflict of interest. View full article
Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer tells the gripping story of how Xerox invented the personal-computing technology in the 1970s, and then "miscalculated and mishandled" the opportunity to fully exploit it. To "fumble the future" has since become a standard phrase in discussions of advanced technology and its commercialization. This editorial is a story of how I fumbled the future. View full article
My initiation into the computing-research community was a workshop on "Logic and Databases" in 1979. I was the only graduate student attending; my graduate advisor was invited, and he got permission from the organizers to bring me along. In spite of the informality of the event I was quite in awe of the senior researchers who attended. View full article
The second week of August was an exciting week. On Friday, August 6, Vinay Deolalikar announced a claimed proof that P # NP. Slashdotted blogs broke the news on August 7 and 8, and suddenly the whole world was paying attention. Richard Lipton's August 15 blog entry at blog@CACM was viewed by about 10,000 readers within a week. Hundreds of computer scientists and mathematicians, in a massive Web-enabled collaborative effort, dissected the proof in an intense attempt to verify its validity. View full article
Science has been growing new legs of late. The traditional "legs" (or "pillars") of the scientific method were theory and experimentation. Then in 2005, the U.S. Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee issued a report stating that "computational science now constitutes the 'third pillar' of scientific inquiry." This leg has been recently augmented by yet a "fourth paradigm" (or "leg"). I find myself uncomfortable with science sprouting a new leg every few years. View full article
In the two years since we launched the revitalized Communications of the ACM, I have received hundreds of email messages from readers. The feedback has been mostly, but not universally, positive. Nothing in life is perfect. Communications is an ongoing project; continuous improvement is the name of the game. At the same time, I have also received a fair number of notes with nothing short of withering criticism. View full article
In 2003–2004, the computing community in the U.S. suddenly realized it had lost its "monopoly" on software. Alarming reports by consulting firms predicted the migration of millions of jobs. In response to these concerns, ACM Council commissioned in 2004 a Task Force to "look at the facts behind the rapid globalization of IT." The Task Force issued its report in February 2006. Do the insights produced by the report still ring true? View full article
In my May 2009 Editor's Letter, "Conferences vs. Journals in Computing Research," I addressed the publication culture of our field: "As far as I know, we are the only scientific community that considers conference publication as the primary means of publishing our research results." In response, Lance Fortnow wrote a Viewpoint column entitled "Time for Computer Science to Grow Up," in which he concluded: "Computer science has grown to become a mature field where no major university can survive without a strong CS department. It is time for computer science to grow." Both pieces attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. View full article
In the May 1979 issue of Communications, a powerfully written article by Richard A. De Millo, Richard J. Lipton, and Alan J. Perlis entitled "Social Processes and Proofs of Theorems and Programs," argued that formal verification of programs is "difficult to justify and manage." That article did not cite a 1977 paper by Amir Pnueli entitled "The Temporal Logic of Programs." His paper had attracted little attention by 1979, but by 1997 it would be described as a "landmark paper" in the citation that accompanied Pnueli's 1996 ACM A.M. Turing Award. View full article
The computing field went through a perfect storm in the early 2000s: the dot-com and telecom crashes, the offshoring scare, and a research-funding crisis. After its glamour phase in the late 1990s, the field seems to have lost its luster. View full article
For many of us, the past year has been one of the most unsettling in our lifetime. In late 2008, we saw capitalism nearly crumble. Many reasons have been offered for the near-collapse of the global economy. I'd like to offer here another explanation. I think information technology played a major role in the crisis. View full article
A frequent question I hear about Communications, and about ACM publishing in general, involves its access model. I am asked: "Why don't you adopt the open-access model?" Good question! Why don't we? View full article
An old joke tells of a driver, returning home from a party where he had one drink too many, who hears a warning over the radio about a car careening down the wrong side of the highway. "A car?" he wondered aloud, "There are lots of cars on the wrong side of the road!" View full article
The 2008 presidential campaign slogan "Yes, We Can" is the English translation of the United Farm Workers' 1972 slogan "Sí, se puede," or "Yes, it can be done." View full article
How Are We Doing?
January 2009
A rabbinical story tells about an angry reader who stormed into a newspaper office waving the day's paper, asking to see the editor of the obituary column. He showed him his name in the obituary listing. "You see," he said, "I am very much alive. I demand a retraction!" View full article
It's been four months since we launched the "new CACM." By now, I hope it is quite clear to our readers that the revamped flagship publication of ACM has undergone a rather dramatic transformation. View full article
Booz Allen Hamilton recently issued a report identifying the world's 10 most enduring institutions of the 20th and 21st centuries. More interesting than their findings is their list of chosen determinants: innovative capabilities; governance and leadership; information flow; culture and values; adaptive response; risk structure; and legitimacy. View full article
The French adage "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose," or, the more things change, the more they stay the same, still rings true today. An April 24, 1964 report to the ACM Council stated, "It was felt that Communications was becoming too much of a journal and that a re-evaluation is in order." I suspect this ongoing need to rethink CACM will stay with us for the foreseeable future. View full article
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