Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

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Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Learned a new word today - "compute", yep.

Does not compute

Earlier today I came across this report ...

"Independent review of The Future of Compute: Final report and recommendations,
updated 6 March 2023"

... which had the word compute in the title and in several other places within the document. I skimmed through trying to work out if they meant 'computing' or 'computer(s)' or 'computer science' and couldn't understand what was going on. Surely someone proofreading it would have caught this. 

Bernard... Delaney
I did wonder if the authors had had enough of trying to decide whether to write 'computing' or 'computer science' and elected to simplify things with this new word and wondered if anyone else had noticed.

Taking the web page's link (URL) and pasting it into Twitter's search bar brings up any tweet that's mentioned that page. There were a few tweets but none of them mentioned the fact that the document used the word (to me, a verb) 'compute' as a noun the whole way through. Here are the section titles.

    Glossary of terms
    1. The significance of compute for the UK
    2. The international landscape of compute
    3. The demand for compute in the UK
    4. Meeting the UK’s compute needs
    5. Creating a vibrant compute ecosystem


Oh, I see!
To cut a long story short (I read the glossary, and asked people on Twitter) it turns out that the word has been used in this way for some time and refers to something like the computing equivalent of horsepower - the amount of processing resources and computational capacity your high performance computer has to complete a task.

The thing is... I work in the computer science department at Queen Mary University of London and write about computer science in my day job and I have never seen 'compute' used in quite this way before. You'd think it might have come up in the fourteen years I've been working there. 

Anyway I wanted to record this moment as it's not often you're "there" and able to remember exactly when you encounter a completely new word, or in this case a completely novel use of a word you're familiar with. 

It's not just jargon you have to worry about
This is actually a bit of a 'thing' in science communication. Scientists often talk about a 'theory' or about 'proteins' etc and, if talking to non-scientists, need to be aware that their audience might take a different meaning from the one intended. 

To a scientist a 'protein' might be a peptide, enzyme, membrane protein but to a non-scientist it might be egg or meat etc. 

To be honest an unfamiliar word in place of 'compute' would actually have been much less jarring and so I've basically been the 'non-scientist' here, experiencing an example of an everyday word being used in a very specific way. I'm sure it's good for me to be baffled occasionally :)

But for now I'm still at the point where a phrase like "the amount of compute used" just brings me up short and also makes me laugh a little. I expect after a period of time has passed I will adjust to this noun-ing of a verb. 

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