Heartbreak of a CS Fool

Dear kids interested in CS for your career,

You have the right to know what you are getting yourself into. Here is a small sampling of the reality I witnessed in just the last few months, in my own words. Think for yourself if this is what you want to get into.

1) A junior female faculty member is muzzled and gaslighted by ACM and a major SIG for speaking out over a borderline racist comment she received in a review for her research paper.

2) A renowned Black female researcher is forced out in a degrading manner for questioning the processes of a major CS company admired for its technical prowess that also wants to support diversity and inclusion in CS. And her colleague, also a renowned researcher, who bravely stood up for her and for due process gets fired.

3) A renowned senior male researcher/ex-faculty posts crude misogynistic takes against a renowned female researcher/faculty member who criticized his opinions/behavior, escalating the situation.

4) ACM and a major SIG stay silent despite repeated questioning over ethnic cleansing against ethnolinguistic/religious minorities in a nation hosting their conference but still want to support diversity and inclusion in CS.

5) ACM awards the highest honor in CS (named after someone who killed himself upon being persecuted for his sexual orientation) to a renowned senior faculty member and stay silent on his hurtful xenophobic words/behavior and his rationalization of genocide as Social Darwinism but still want to support diversity and inclusion in CS.

Sigh.

This field has kept, and keeps, failing marginalized people who are already inhumanely discriminated against, belittled, harassed, tortured, or even murdered by their own nations’ legal systems and/or civil societies.

This field has kept, and keeps, rationalizing its repeated failures in large part due to a pervasive lack of empathy and delusions of (faux) objectivity.

This field has kept, and keeps, undervaluing its holistic responsibilities to humankind while obsessing over all kinds of self-aggrandizing goals.

If you feel CS is not for you, I will understand. I do not blame you. If I could turn back time, knowing what I know now, I will likely not join CS either. I suspect if Turing could see what we see now, he will likely not either.

Alan Mathison Turing. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing

But here I am. In CS. A fool.

A fool who teaches CS.

A fool who does research in CS.

A fool who goes around trying to convince people like you to join CS.

Hoping you too can see what I saw in the myriad courses, textbooks, projects, publications, software, and applications of CS: the awe, the wonder, the magic, the joy of the science and technology of computing.

Hoping you too can experience a life similar to what I got to experience, with amazing teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, and more.

Hoping I can play a role in helping this field evolve away from its worst impulses by going around giving talks, writing articles, organizing activities, and more.

Hoping. To what end, I know not.

Sadly, a great many people in this field will sit silently, oblivious or uncaring for the suffering caused to you by unfair systems. Or worse, trivialize the cruelty that pervades this field for many.

Sadly, a great many people in this field will sit silently, trapped in fear. Unwittingly complicit in the deeper hole this field digs for itself and wider humankind.

Sadly, a great many people in this field will sit silently, or fight against you. Trapped in a cesspool of false equivalences, faulty generalizations, argument to moderation, and more logical fallacies. And many of those very people will be trained in logic and math.

And yet here I am. In CS. A fool.

A fool who still believes in the change we want and need to see in this field.

A fool who still believes we can and must walk, run, and fly that distance.

A fool who still believes that the arc of the moral universe can be bent.

Thankfully, I see a trickle of hope. Fast growing into a raging torrent.

A great many people in this field are rising up to not be content with this state of affairs and to fiercely push back against decades of injustice.

A great many people in this field are refusing to kneel before fear, illogic, untruth, unfairness, cronyism, and cruelty.

A great many people in this field are going out of their way to fight the good fight to make genuine change happen for you and for all.

So here I am. In CS. A field that made a fool of me.

But also a field where I have found a great many friends and allies who helped, and continue to help, me become an agent of change.

I hope you will become one too. Not a fool. But a shining sword that can cut through all the crap this field will lob at you to also become an agent of change.

For you. For Turing. For all of humankind.

Best,
Arun

Associate Professor at UC San Diego CSE and HDSI. Research on data management and machine learning systems. Freethinker. Poet. Memester. Gay. He/him.