Hardware vs Software, Computer Science vs AI

May 30th 2019

Throughout my whole academic life, colleagues have agonized over whether it was a computer science department. Was it really science? Really? Or engineering, like computer engineering, emphasizing the hardware over the software. Or was it just computing, like the German informatik and French informatique descriptors.

Well, far be it for media counts to decide such an important internecine conflict. But the civil, and sometimes uncivil and incivil, struggle can still be viewed from a distance with media mentions. This goes in the “anecdotal” bucket, as it’s just one data point. Still, I’d be happy to bet against someone who wants to deny the implied odds here.

How is “computer science” doing as a phrase in the zeitgeist? The national nomenclature? As usual, we size the browser to fit as much as possible, so the PeakMetrics logo’s size is like a map’s scale guide.

Not too bad, though “political and computer science” would turn the stomachs of many mathematically-minded purists I have known. Interesting to see it 50-50 balanced left and right.

Computer engineering?

Never a great buzz phrase, it continues to resist popular use, especially in right-leaning media though I would not bet on that persisting.

How about computation, simpliciter?

This seems to have a bit more popularity, and the right lean here is a bit more interesting.

“Computing” seems a winner here, or at least a worthy rival. “Computing Systems” would be a perfectly good name for a major in my mind. Sure there are components to the older studies of computing that don’t involve systems directly. But those aspects of computing are probably more linguistics. Even business and human-centered aspects can be included in “Computing Systems”.

Much of my academic time was spent defending AI against its detractors. Sure, AI taking jobs and being biased or over-sold is worth attacking. But these people were mainly saying AI, shmay-I, never gonna fly. Joke’s on them I guess, until the next AI winter.

Even “machine learning” is not as hot.

As for hardware vs. software, hardware fits in a single screen grab:

while software does not fit in three:



Scrollbars are included on the right to help judge the full extent of the linguistic landscape (for this slice in time — most recent month).

Software popularity over hardware is not news — hardware people never seem to compete for the social spotlight, but the evidence is hard.

Finally, “internet” is simply a popular term. Much of the phrase invention, and correlated concept invention, is using “internet” as its base. “Internet shouting” is precious, apt, and apparently partisan. “Cornerstone of internet expression” would be worth watching too. Sign up for PeakMetrics, where we have a free tier, and we can show you what phrasing sits in the center.