FCA Chair Brent Hecht’s Opening Speech at the 2018 FCA Annual Meeting

I thought a good place for us to start was to reflect on our mission statement from our strategic planning meeting about 10 months ago. According to this statement:

The mission of the FCA is to substantially improve (1) computing, (2) the computing community, and (3) computing’s relationship with society.

As I have been reflecting on this mission over the past 10 months, its critical importance, and its critical importance specifically for the people in this room and listening remotely, this importance has only become clearer and clearer to me. All of us are fortunate enough to be closer to the beginning of our careers than the end of them and we’re looking at working in this field for another 30, another 35, and even another 40 years.

We can spend these years – the only working years that we’ll have – laboring in a field that grows new cobwebs year by and year and is so married to the traditions and interests of the past that it ends up ceding its most impactful problems to the dozens of other fields whose passion for computing is only growing…OR…we can spend our careers in a field that is dynamically allocating its energy to the most interesting computing problems and is adjusting its practices and incentives to optimally advance the true state of the art.

Similarly, we can continue to spend our working years in a professional community that is missing the voices of many types of people and doesn’t provide some of its members with the respect they deserve…OR…we can work in a field that is a role model for a troubled world in how celebrated pluralism and an implacable reverence for every colleague’s human dignity can lead to strength and can lead to widespread benefit.

And then we come to computing’s relationship with society. We have a stark choice of futures here. Probably like those in the oil and tobacco industries, we can tell our kids and grandkids that throughout our careers, we were just doing our jobs, and our jobs were to invent or ship the next logical technology, regardless of this technology’s impact on the rest of the world…OR…we can tell our kids and grandkids that ours was the generation in computing to take responsibility for the effects of our innovations. Ours was the generation to do the hard work of intentionally bending the arc of technological development towards greater societal benefit. Ours was the generation that restored the feeling of widespread excitement about computing that we remember from our youth…not because of any whizbang gizmos that we build, but rather because people once again believe that technology will help them, not threaten their privacy, not threaten their ability to put food on the table, and not threaten their democracies.

It’s easy to cynical in the face of the somewhat cheesy idealism of a group that says they want to substantially improve anything, let alone a powerful industry, a community, and especially society. But given the stakes of this mission, there’s no time and no place for cynicism.

Along the same lines, we all know that the extraordinary pressure of fighting to excel in this extremely competitive field of ours can leave little time for thinking beyond ourselves and thinking beyond our families. But given the stakes of this mission, it’s critical that we broaden our view.

And finally, most of us know the long-term weariness that is the result of so many years of early mornings and late nights filled with writing code, crafting research papers, and laboring over proposals. We’re tired. We need a break. But given the stakes of this mission, we need to lift each other up and give each other the energy to create a computing field in which we all can be proud.

And speaking of lifting each other up, there’s no way this mission can be accomplished alone. No one David of a computer scientist is going to slay the Goliath of entrenched but counterproductive publication practices. No one Da-ood of a programmer is going to take down the Goliath of diversity issues in our field. And no one Davina of a professor is going to eliminate the Goliath of our field’s negative societal impacts.

This is clear to us, we all know this, this why we all joined this academy. We believe that together, we are far stronger than we are apart, and we believe that this collective strength can be used to accomplish this challenging but incredibly worthwhile mission.

Put another way, we’re a group of people that has asked for and has been given the mandate to take on the critical work of actioning this mission. We do so both for the sake of pride in our careers and for the sake of those affected by what we do in our careers.