Courses 6 and 14 form a new joint major

Major anticipated to increase enrollment in Course 14, and ‘diversify’ enrollment in Course 6

Students can now declare a joint major in computer science and economics. The 6-14 major was approved in a faculty meeting May 17, and the major requirements appeared on the Course 6 department website in late May.

The major is the first joint computer science and economics major in the country, “as far as we know,” Constantinos Daskalakis, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, said in an interview with The Tech. “The first in the history of the universe, as far as we know,” David Autor, professor of economics, added, laughing.

“I think it’s important to say that we don’t want 14 majors who have taken a programming class. We want people...with depth in 6 and also with depth in 14,” Daskalakis said. According to Daskalakis, the fields are intrinsically bound together. Von Neumann, Daskalakis said, was the father of both game theory and the modern computer. The fields were connected, but then diverged.

However, the fields of economics and computer science are now re-connecting. Autor provided an example of how better algorithms can improve high-school allocations. School programs have an options for students to rank which school they want to go to before an algorithm pairs them to a school. But, historically “the ranking systems are really naive,” Autor explains.

According to Autor, the current ranking systems lead to misrepresented preferences. “Let’s say I want to go to schools A,B,C,D. And I really want to go to A. But if I put A as my first choice and don’t get it, I get dropped on the list. So I get into school C or school D. So people behave strategically. They don’t rank school A first because they don’t want to risk ending up at school D. So they rank school B.”  

This risk-minimization leads to situations where “nobody is expressing their actual preferences,” which in turn results in an inefficient allocation of resources. We know the allocation is inefficient because, at the end of the process, many people want to trade the schools they end up at, but trading schools isn’t feasible. Less naive algorithms, suggests Autor, could help reduce this inefficiency.

“Our sense, at least from the Course 14 side, is that we are a relatively small major...and we think that this is going to bring a lot of students in the department,” Autor said.

Not only does the department want to increase enrollment in Course 14 classes, according to Autor, but the number of Course 14 majors.

Autor points to the fact that many people enroll in Course 14 classes, but very few of those people go on to major in it. Autor mentioned concerns that in a technical institute, economics doesn’t have the same status as fields like math or computer science. “I think a lot more MIT students would actually like economics if they viewed it as being on scientific par with these other fields. And I think that this pairing will help people to see that.”

While Autor foresees the program increasing the number of Econ majors, Asu Ozdaglar, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, contends Course 6 has the “complementary” problem.

“We’re not a small major,” Ozdaglar said.

Dean for Undergraduate Education Dennis M. Freeman PhD ’86 mentioned in a previous interview with The Tech that it was concerning there were so many people in Course 6. He mentioned that was the main reason the minor in 6 was added. But after the minor was introduced, even more freshmen enrolled in Course 6 as their major.

The Tech asked what trends the professors foresee in Course 6 enrollment after adding a new major.

“I believe it’s going to be growing at the same rate it has been growing,” Daskalakis said.

“We expect some increase, but not an overwhelming increase,” Ozdaglar said. “That increase is already happening.”

“If...registration is reduced from other majors, I wouldn’t blame it on 6-14 per se. I’d just blame it on people flocking into Course 6,” added Daskalakis.

Autor believes a lot of people in 6-14 would already have been Course 6, so this major addition would be “broadening, not narrowing.”  

“We think students will come out of this with a broader toolset,” Autor said. “How does [computer science] apply to commence?  How does it apply to policy?  How does it apply to social allocation of scarce goods?”

Costis also mentioned that he expected the major to “diversify” the enrollment in Course 6.

“We don’t want one-sided students,” Daskalakis said.

Update 06/08/17: The last quote is attributed to Constantinos Daskalakis, not Asuman Ozdaglar, as previously written.