CSAIL 150 symposium on Computation: a transformative experience

  1. Victor Zue, Director, CSAIL, Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, spoke at the opening and the ending of the symposium, April 11 and 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Victor Zue, Director, CSAIL, Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, spoke at the opening and the ending of the symposium, April 11 and 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  2. Jeremy Wertheimer SM '89, PhD '96, co-founder of ITA Software (which Google is trying to buy for $700 million) discussed the power of today's computation in the travel industry. Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Jeremy Wertheimer SM '89, PhD '96, co-founder of ITA Software (which Google is trying to buy for $700 million) discussed the power of today's computation in the travel industry. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  3. Media Lab Founder, Nicholas Negroponte spoke about the One Laptop per Child Program during the 'Computing for Everyone' session, April 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Media Lab Founder, Nicholas Negroponte spoke about the One Laptop per Child Program during the 'Computing for Everyone' session, April 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  4. Rodney Brooks, Panasonic Professor of Robotics Emeritus and founder of iRobot argued that in-home robotics will become vital as U.S. and world populations skew more towards the elderly.  Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Rodney Brooks, Panasonic Professor of Robotics Emeritus and founder of iRobot argued that in-home robotics will become vital as U.S. and world populations skew more towards the elderly. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  5. Srini Devadas, Associate (and Interim) Department Head, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.  Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Srini Devadas, Associate (and Interim) Department Head, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  6. Tim Berners-Lee, 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering, MIT, Professor, Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, Director, World Wide Web Consortium. Photo: Dominick Reuter
    Tim Berners-Lee, 3Com Founders Professor of Engineering, MIT, Professor, Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, UK, Director, World Wide Web Consortium. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  7. A Panel of Turing Medal Winners including (from right to left) Andrew Chi-Chih Yao (2000), Professor and Dean of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China), , Ronald L. Rivest (2002), Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, MIT, Barbara Liskov (2008), MIT Institute Professor and Associate Provost for Faculty Equity, Butler W. Lampson (1992), Technical Fellow, Microsoft; Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT,  and Fernando Corbato (1990), Professor Emeritus, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, were moderated by EECS Professor Steve Ward, April 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
    A Panel of Turing Medal Winners including (from right to left) Andrew Chi-Chih Yao (2000), Professor and Dean of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China), , Ronald L. Rivest (2002), Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, MIT, Barbara Liskov (2008), MIT Institute Professor and Associate Provost for Faculty Equity, Butler W. Lampson (1992), Technical Fellow, Microsoft; Adjunct Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, and Fernando Corbato (1990), Professor Emeritus, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, were moderated by EECS Professor Steve Ward, April 12. Photo: Dominick Reuter
  8. The audience at the two day CSAIL 150th symposium was attentive, responsive and ready with questions.  Photo: Dominick Reuter
    The audience at the two day CSAIL 150th symposium was attentive, responsive and ready with questions. Photo: Dominick Reuter

As MIT celebrated its 150th year, fantastic events were made available to mark this milestone throughout the Spring Term and can still be enjoyed online at the MIT 150th website. Among these noteworthy events — including six multi-day symposia featuring MIT faculty members and outside speakers — the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) hosted a two day symposium about computation.

“Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything,” held April 11-12, was presented to celebrate and explore the evolution of the Information Age and MIT’s contributions. The event brought together early and current pioneers from a variety of fields to review the role computation has played in the past and present and to explore the (known and yet to be known) frontiers that lie ahead.

The expansive coverage was daunting! From the perspective of global communications breakthroughs over this time span offered by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, EECS professor, principal investigator at CSAIL and inventor of the World Wide Web;

–to Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman of One Laptop per Child, describing the extraordinary impact a computer can have on a child, and the influence the sharing of technology can have on an entire community;

–to the need to investigate and grasp a better understanding of human intelligence as a means for creating robots that are smarter, have higher functioning capabilities and will be able to assist humans in a wide variety of areas — artificial intelligence discussions given by both EECS Prof. Patrick Winston, and former CSAIL Director and EECS Professor Emeritus Rodney Brooks;

–the exploration over the course of this symposium of computation’s past, present and future scope was fantastically rich and stimulating. Visit the 150th website for this symposium to see complete videos of each segment of the two day event. In addition, read the MIT News Office April 14, 2011 review.

Several speakers including two Turing Award panelists and symposium organizers have offered their perspectives on the “Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything” symposium. Read their comments below.

“I was nervous prior to the event about whether the talks would be sufficiently good and sufficiently on point; but, in fact, the vast majority of talks exceeded any expectation in both quality and relevance.”
John V. Guttag,
CSAIL principal investigator, EECS Professor and former Dept. Head,
Symposium Chair

“This event made four things clear:

First, more than any other field, computer science has changed the world. A recent report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology describes computer science as “arguably unique among all fields of science and engineering in the breadth of its impact.”

Second, more than any other institution, MIT has driven this revolution. From Vannevar Bush, Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, and Jay Forrester; to Multics, Emacs, RSA, and GNU; to the Connection Machine, the World Wide Web Consortium, and Barbara Liskov’s foundational advances in software design.

Third, the future is even brighter. Further advances in computer science are central to achieving our national priorities – in energy, education, health care, national and homeland security, scientific discovery and open government. As more fields become information fields, facility with “computational thinking” is necessary for success in just about every endeavor. Once, the principal qualification for a career in linguistics was the ability to speak multiple languages; but along came Noam Chomsky with transformational grammar, and the world changed. Once, biology was taxonomy; then Watson and Crick discovered that the human genome was a digital code that could be read, deciphered, modified and rewritten. Once, sociologists studied the formation, evolution and dissolution of cliques by paying undergraduates to participate in focus
groups; today they mine half a billion users’ worth of Facebook data.

Fourth, there is every reason to believe that MIT will drive this revolution, too.”
Ed Lazowska,
Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering,
University of Washington at University of Washington, Seattle

“The meeting as a whole conveyed excitement for computer science and the fact that there is a lot more to be done in the field and highlighted the work of several of our rising CS faculty.”
Barbara Liskov,
Institute Professor, Turing Medal Winner, 2008

“For me, the best part of the Symposium was the dinner talk by Erik and Marty Demaine where they pointed out the wonderful connections between algorithms and the arts. A great way to showcase the power and reach of computational thinking!”
Srini Devadas,
Interim Department Head, MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (until July 1, 2011)

“I was inspired when we came up with the overarching theme (Transformation of Practically Everything), but as the event got closer, I began to worry about how well we could deliver on such an ambitious promise. By the end of the symposium I was reminded of how right it was. The world has changed in ways almost too numerous to consider, and those of us who live daily in the high tech world easily forget how vast and profound the changes have been. It was delightful, and inspirational, to sit back and take the long view, listening to the pioneers who help engender those transformations.”
Randall Davis,
Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at MIT,
Research Director at MIT CSAIL

“I was lucky enough to have been at the 100th MIT symposium [the MIT 100th symposium on Computation held in 1961] also held in Kresge. My recollection of that event was that it was much more formal with prepared talks, mostly about the significance of computation and the import for the future.

By contrast, this symposium was mostly about what is ongoing and happening. From my own perspective, I felt that the CSAIL symposium was a wonderful snapshot of contemporary Computer Science research that exemplified how far the field has progressed in fifty years. It was a pleasure to attend and to be a participant in the panel with the other Turing Awardees.”
Fernando J. Corbató,
EECS/MIT Professor Emeritus,
Turing Medal Winner, 1990

“If you didn’t make it to the MIT+150 Symposium, Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything, too bad. It was really good.

Representative examples: Our own Charles Vest reminisced about the transformation of practically everything. John Hennessy, President of Stanford, and himself a Computer Scientist, talked about computer architecture. Nicholas Negroponte and Eric Lander covered one-laptop per child and the computational revolution in biology. Andrew Lo explained the role of computing in financial catastrophes, and Rodney Brooks offered his views on the future of personal robots. A panel discussion featured five winners of the Turing Award.

Videos of the talks will, of course, soon be up on the World Wide Web, invented by Tim Berners-Lee, who spoke about the future of the web.

Computing technology has moved so fast, we all tend to take it for granted now, so it was good to have a party favor, delivered at the symposium dinner, that reminds us of how far we have come. Someone found in a warehouse somewhere a pallet full of six-inch Pickett 600ES slide rules, the same model that Buzz Aldrin (MIT ScD ’63) took with him on Apollo 11.

I checked it out. Yep, 2 × 2 = 4. I figured it out several billion times slower than my laptop and only got an approximate answer. No doubt when the speakers prepare for MIT’s bicentennial, they will look at our videos and laugh at how excited we all said we were, just as we chuckle over slide rules in 2011.”
blog entry on the MIT Alumni Association’s Slice of Life blog by
Patrick Henry Winston,
Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science at MIT

If you were fortunate enough to attend this symposium, please leave your impressions using the comment form below.

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