Yes! Here is a list of research question prompts for you to use:
- Microprocessors: Code in surprising places
- Helpful software
- Accessibility technology
- Historical figures
- AI pretending to be human
- AI doing people things
- The beginnings of innovations
- Historical Robots
- Unusual I/O
- Dangers of the internet
- Programming languages
- Predictions of the future
- Wrong predictions of the future
- Non-CS technology
Knowing computer science opens a lot of career opportunities! Every engineering project needs a variety of different roles to work together. Their code is used to create apps, games, robots, and other technologies that benefit people’s lives. There are even more jobs that require computer science knowledge, but don’t directly involve coding.
Find one cool or unusual computer science career. What is the work like day-to-day? What skills and qualifications do you need to succeed in this job?
Microprocessors: Code in Surprising Places
Coding isn’t just for computers and phones. Tiny computing devices called microcontrollers are hidden in many everyday objects. A microwave needs a microcontroller to keep track of time and adjust its temperature. Even some trash cans use microcontrollers to send an alert when they need to be emptied. All these devices require a type of coding to make their logic work.
Find the most surprising hidden microcontroller you can. How is it useful? What device is it embedded in, and what does it control about it?
Most software has the purpose of making people’s lives easier. It’s less effort to write an email than to mail a letter, and it’s much quicker to use a graphics program to touch up a photo than painstakingly cutting and gluing exposures in a darkroom.
Find one piece of software that makes life easier for a job you’re interested in. How does it save work or empower the user? What have people been able to accomplish using it?
It can be easy to get used to the standard computer input and output: mouse, keyboard, a screen, and so on. But not everyone is able to do that. People who have amputated limbs might not be able to use a standard mouse and keyboard. Blind people can’t use a monitor or screen for output.
There are many ways in which technology can be used to help someone with a disability. Making software more accessible is one example, but it’s not the only one – robotic prosthetics are sometimes used to replace limbs.
Research a piece of technology meant to help disabled people. What challenges do those people face, and how does it help? How easy is it for someone to access this solution if they need it? Is it expensive or experimental?
Computer science’s most important pioneers have had some interesting lives. As some examples:
- The first computer program was written by a 19th-century noblewoman, the daughter of a legendary poet, who didn’t have a computer because none had been built yet.
- The man who discovered many of computer science’s key theories was a vital codebreaker in World War II for the British government, but was later convicted by his nation for homosexuality.
- The term “algorithm” is named after an 8th-century Persian mathematician, astronomer, and geographer.
- The first computer language compiler was written by a navy admiral nicknamed “Amazing Grace” for her many accomplishments.
Research one of these figures. Who were they? What did they accomplish, and what did they contribute to computer science? What challenges did they face in doing so?
AI Pretending To Be Human
Despite recent advances in computer science, we still don’t have robots that can perfectly pretend to be human. (Maybe that’s for the best.) Yet, throughout computer history, there have been many programs or AIs that have successfully fooled people into thinking they were human.
One famous program from the 1960s called ELIZA tricked many users into thinking a human psychologist was talking with them, even after its creator told them it was just a machine. In the early days of the Internet, a chatbot called SmarterChild used similar techniques to spark a fad for virtual personalities. Nowadays, many video games use advanced learning techniques to simulate human behavior in computer-controlled opponents or teammates.
Research one of these programs, or any other AI with the goal of appearing human. How did it work? What was the secret to its success? Did it influence future programs?
AI Doing People Things
Some tasks that are obvious for humans can be very difficult for computers. Our brains can understand which objects our eyes are seeing, or parse the words we hear into sentences and meaning, or come up with a bad idea for a movie, without us even having to think about it. Even though they’re easy for us, these tasks are incredibly computationally complex.
Research how AI is being developed to solve a problem that’s easy for humans yet difficult for computers. Why is this problem so tough for computers? What is the AI trying to accomplish, and what are some practical applications of its technology?
The Beginnings of Innovations
Many pieces of technology are ubiquitous – it seems like they’re everywhere in our everyday lives, and it’s tough to imagine life without them. But all of these – smartphones, the Internet, text messages, the mouse – came from somewhere.
Research the first release of a piece of technology that we take for granted. Was it developed by a company, an individual inventor, or a research lab? Did it catch on instantly, or was it mocked at first? Were there failed attempts at similar products before it?
When you think of robots, you probably think of futuristic high-tech androids. Yet “robots” are commonly used for many specialized tasks today, and automatons have a long history. In fact, automatic pianos of the 1800s might be called robots, and the chess-playing “Mechanical Turk” robot of 1770 was considered a marvel before it was revealed to be a hoax.
Research an automaton from centuries past or a robot from recent history. How did it work? Did it just perform one specific task, or was it capable of other uses? Was it mass manufactured, or was there only one of it?
Some types of input and output have become common today: mouse and keyboard, game controllers, touch screens, speakers, even eye-tracking virtual reality. But as many as there are, there are way more inputs and outputs that you’re likely to never run across.
Research and describe one unusual form of input or output. What was the reason behind it? Is it an accessibility aid? Does it have a specific commercial use? Was it a failed innovation? Or was it just made for the sake of being different?
Dangers of the Internet
One problem facing the world today is how frequently technology is misused to bully and abuse, especially online. However, we can often use that same technology to prevent those abuses.
Research one way in which people have been bullied, abused, harassed, or harmed through the internet. What are the consequences of this problem? What is one solution that has been attempted to prevent it or help its victims? What else do you think could be done to combat the problem?
In this course, you’re learning Python. There are hundreds of other programming languages in use in the world right now, and countless more that aren’t used very much.
Research a programming language to find out what makes it unique and how it has been used. If you want, you can research a popular language such as PHP, Lisp, or assembly code to learn more about it. Or, you can try to find the most bizarre programming language you can. Look up Shakespeare, Whitespace, or omgrofl, or discover an even weirder one!
Predictions of the Future
Technology has made today’s world extremely different from life even twenty or thirty years ago. And yet, some of the most surprising developments were predicted by futurists, inventors, or works of fiction.
Find one piece of technology that was anticipated by an individual, newspaper, magazine, or work of fiction, before it existed. What did they get wrong about this technology, and what were they correct about?
Wrong Predictions of the Future
The last research question asked you to find a prediction of future technology that came true. Can you find one that didn’t? Find a vision of future technology that our world passed by in favor of another alternative. Why did the world take its own path instead of that one?
(As before, you can use a work of fiction, but only ones that try to predict a vision of Earth’s future instead of ones set in a fantasy world.)
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