PDC Research Keynote and Boku

Today was the third day of "keynote" presentations. These are big impressive events, but I must admit that a lot of today's left me a little deflated. The best bit was the description of the way that computer research is informing work on the behaviour of diseases such as Aids. Apparently it is not just a question of computers providing data processing power to crunch data, it is the way that advancing knowledge in the behaviour of software systems is informing the work on the virus. That was fascinating.

Less compelling was the presentation of Boku, a new development that purports to teach programming to kids. (Rant warning: I feel strongly about this one)

Before he introduced the item, Rick Rashid told the audience how his kids are finding out how to use Visual Studio to create software. This is a good plan. They are learning something which will be genuinely useful in their future.

Boku doesn't use conventional tools or notations. You get to control funky shaped creatures in brightly coloured landscapes and make them zoom around and shoot at each other. The language is what I call "sort of" programming in that you do learn that you can put into place things that control what stuff in the game does, but I'm at a loss to understand how you could ever transfer any skills attained doing this into a real, problem solving, situation with a proper language in use today. I really can't see even Rick Rashid feeling that he would be doing his kids a favour by pointing them at things like this.

I'm probably missing the point here, but I don't see how this will engage future students with Computer Science.  It looks like it might be fun to play, and it sure looked great fun to create, but at the end of the day I feel strongly that Computer Science is about solving problems in the real world, and I don't think that Boku gives any kind of useful lead on that. Modern computer games have significant problem solving as part of the gameplay and I really don't think you have to make any half way house products like this I'm afraid.