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Digital literacy

MDV - 14/01/2015

Binaire, the blog that's wild about Computer Science

Binaire, Le Monde's blog on Computer Science, is celebrating its first anniversary. Its only rule is to talk about computer science... to everyone. Interview with Serge Abiteboul, Research Director at Inria.

Computer Science lies at the heart of the incredible changes taking place in our world, and has played a key role in the ground-breaking innovations of the last few decades. And yet, many people know nothing about this science and the technology related to it, not just about its more formal aspects but also the social issues it raises. So, what is Computer Science? What are the advances, the dangers, impact and issues involved? What careers are available? How should it be taught? These are some of the questions that the Binaire blog aims to answer and raise awareness of among its readers. Launched under the aegis of the Société informatique de France (SIF) the blog is hosted on and run by scientists and research professionals (Inria, ENS Cachan and universities). One of its key writers is Serge Abiteboul .

Portrait Serge Abiteboul © Inria / Photo C. Lebedinsky

"I was chairman of the SIF's Scientific Council, and couldn't help wondering what good were we doing. I realised that the general public knows nothing about Computer Science. When a few bits of bone are discovered in Africa, the press pick up on the story immediately. Yet when a major discovery is made in Computer Science, such as the development of PageRank, the algorithm used to classify web pages that has a huge impact on all our lives, there's not even one line about it in the media.

In the last fifty years, no other science has seen such incredible development as there has been in Computer Science. Computer Scientists aren't used to explaining what they do. So, as scientists in other branches of science have learned to do for a long time now, they need to learn to talk about their work. Binaire aims to address this need: explaining what Computer Science is all about, and answering questions about something so omnipresent in our society.

I have found many articles fascinating

When Le Monde invited me to open this blog, my only condition was to do it with a small team. We needed to publish 2 or 3 articles a week, and I knew I couldn't do that on my own if I wanted to continue doing research. The first surprise of this experiment has been the sheer pleasure of working with the team, in a quite extraordinary atmosphere. We have been publishing more articles than expected, and only post online what we want. Our only rule is to enjoy talking about Computer Science. And we do have lots of fun!

The second fantastic surprise has been to realise that, when we ask someone to write something, they nearly always say yes. It takes a lot of time to write an article, it's a lot of hard work. But we have this common desire to talk about our work, we want to tell the story of Computer Science. And I find that all our contributors talk pretty well about it! I have found so many articles fascinating, for example, the interview with Henri Maitre, professor at ParisTech, on images, and the interview with Françoise Combes, the astronomer.

What are our plans for 2015? To carry on and develop regular sections. We want to continue with a series of inteviews with key figures

to try and define what Computer Science is. Françoise Tort, Lecturer at ENS Cachan, has started work on an overview of Computer science education, to show what is going on outside France. There will also be a series of articles on Alan Turing, to coincide with the release of the film "The Imitation Game", another to discuss electronic voting, and we are working on another series about digital art...

We also want to hear from anyone who has any ideas or requests. That means readers who want to suggest articles, Computer Scientists who want to write - we can provide the opportunity. One of our goals is to bring to light new talent writing about Computer Science."

Keywords: Binaire Le Monde Digital literacy Informatic Serge Abiteboul SIF