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What is Computer Science?



In an advertisement which appeard in the NZZ in 1975, a translation service agency complained about "the newest hybrid of foreign words which a company offered: Informatics." The advertiser was not able to assign meaning to and define a scope for this term. Carl August Zehnder, therefore, replied with the following definition:

"Informatics is the scientific field of information processing and storage, a neologism which corresponds to the English term «computer science» and has expanded into the vocabulary by the French «informatique»."

(RZ-Bulletin 23/1975, 16.)

Eventhough Zehnder was able to give an answer regarding the origin of the term, the scope and substance of "informatics" remained a point of discussions for years. In connection with the first graduation ceremony of informatic engineers at the ETH, the following definition was given:

"Informatics covers the field of information and data technology with the computer and its applications playing a central part in it. Informatics includes various subareas like «electronic data processing (EDP)», «computer sciences» und «programming»."

(Elektroniker 11/1984, 21.)

This citation brings the obviuos difficulties to light: computer sciences are regarded as a part of informatics, although the article explicitly covers the computer science curriculum. Thus, it is no surprise that even at the beginning of the 1990s Jürg Gutknecht, Professor for Computer Science at the ETH Zurich, states the following:

"Strictly speaking, differences of opinion exist even today in regard to the dispute whether data processing is rather a scientific subject than a field for engineers, [...]. In any case I will preferably use the more neutral and in Europe much more common term of informatics instead of computer sciences."

(Gutknecht 1990, 16.)

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