Brian Kernighan
Princeton University

All of us are affected by computing, in ways we may not even realize. Some of the technology is highly visible, like personal computers and the Internet; most is invisible, like the microprocessors in cars and appliances, the programs that fly planes and control telephones, power systems and medical equipment, or the myriad systems that quietly collect personal data about us.

Even though most people will not be directly involved with programming such systems, everyone is strongly affected by them, so an educated person should have a good, if rather high level, understanding of how computer hardware, software, and networks operate. This includes knowing what programs are and understanding why programming is hard. It means being informed about issues like usability, reliability, security, privacy, and some of the inherent limitations of computers. It should include some idea of the history of computing and enough understanding of the technologies to make reasonable guesses about the future.

This talk is based on my experience developing and teaching "Computers in Our World," a Princeton course for students in the humanities and social sciences. The course is meant to describe how computing works - hardware, software, networking, and systems build upon them - for a non-technical audience. The intent, or perhaps just fond hope, is not only to help students understand specific technologies, but also how to reason about how systems work and how to be intelligently skeptical about technology and technological claims.

Brian Kernighan received his PhD from Princeton in 1969 and was in the Computing Science Research center at Bell Labs until 2000. He is now a professor in the Computer Science Department at Princeton, where he writes programs and occasional books. The latter are better than the former, and certainly need less maintenance.

Date: Thursday, April 24, 2003, 8:00 PM (Refreshments at 7:30 PM)
Location: Auditorium, Sarnoff Corporation, 201 Washington Road (Rt 571 1/4 mile south of US 1), Princeton, NJ

Additional Information: Dennis Mancl (908) 582-7086, or Jim Matey (609) 734-2868

A pre-meeting dinner with the speaker is held at 6 p.m. at the Rusty Scupper on Alexander Road in Princeton. If you would like to attend, please RSVP with an e-mail to

Princeton ACM / IEEE Computer Society meeting are open to the public. Students and their parents are welcome. There is no admission charge, and refreshments are served.