CMU, Microsoft create 'computational thinking' center
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Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University announced today they are setting up a new center for "computational thinking."
Using a $1.5 million grant from the computer giant over three years, the Microsoft Carnegie Mellon Center for Computational Thinking will seek novel solutions to real-world problems, and promote the concepts of computer science to students in grades K-12 and their teachers and counselors, said Jeannette Wing, head of Carnegie Mellon's world-renowned computer science department.
The center's broad mission will be to give people a greater appreciation of how problems can be analyzed and solved by computers, and to understand the connection between human ingenuity and growing power of computational methods.
"Increasingly, scientists and researchers rely on computer science to enable them to sift through massive amounts of data and find breakthroughs that could provide new insights into the human body, the earth we live on and even the universe," said Rick Rashid, Microsoft Research senior vice president and a former Carnegie Mellon professor. "We are eager to explore this exciting new area of research with Carnegie Mellon."
The center is the eighth Microsoft Research has set up around the world to explore particular areas of research.
Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon plan to hold annual "Mindswaps" at the center, at which scientists from the company and university will share their research and generate ideas on how to solve emerging problems.
Those will lead to various "probes" that will gather diverse groups of thinkers to tackle such issues as privacy, embedded medical devices and e-commerce, Dr. Wing said.
The center will also develop programs to promote the value of computational thinking among students and their teachers, starting with a program this summer called "Computer Science for All."
When computer scientists look at a problem, they create "abstractions" known as algorithms that tell the computer how to sort data, detect patterns and come up with solutions, Dr. Wing said.
In some cases, the algorithms make it possible to solve problems that human beings could never unravel alone or that would take them far too long to finish.
One good example, she said, is the famous "shotgun algorithm" that made it possible to efficiently put together the sequence of the human genome. "Had that not come about, we probably would still be sequencing the human genome," she said.
"I think the future of all sciences and engineering rests on the power of computing," Dr. Wing said, "and I think scientists and engineers understand that they can actually gain new knowledge through computers."
Someday, Dr. Wing said, she would like to see parents encourage their children to study computer science because "you can go into computing and do anything."
"My bias is that you would have an advantage over others. Because of my argument that computers are going to become pervasive, if you go into medical school or business school or law school, you will have an edge over your friends if you've been a computer science major."
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
First Published March 26, 2007 12:00 am