Finding computing in everyday objects: Dr. Paul Fishwick at TEDxUTD



okay I'll be talking a little bit bit of a different subject today talking about finding computing at everyday things and I think we're used to finding computing in these sorts of devices that we carry in our pockets and our purses so I'm gonna talk about something a little bit different finding computing in places other than your pocket or your purse in terms of the importance of computing I think the first thing we could look at it we can look at these first two quotes by 2020 one of every two jobs and the STEM fields will be related to computing the other is STEM fields education in the fundamentals of computer science is key to a 21st century workforce so computing is important we know it's it's relevant we know there's a lot of jobs in computing but one of the things I wonder the first thing I want to sort of suggest is that it's more than a technology and when I pulled my phone out of my pocket everyone thought well computing is a technology and it is a technology but it's a lot more than that it's a deeper thing than maybe we think or that we're led to think so a couple of the things that I'd like to suggest as computing is the study of how information is represented in processed so that's a key aspect of computing it really defines what computing is it's about information the second thing is that we can see computing everywhere and we'll see some examples so the first thing I'd like to do is take the second word of the previous slide technology and code code I think a lot of us us have seen that everybody should code right that's a that that's a phrase that I've kind of seen in the newspaper everyone should learn how to code coding is the next big thing if you learn coding then you'll know something about computing and so so code is something I'd like to start and talk a little bit about too before I go in with other examples so this is an example of of some code that I wrote up how many people think this is abstract is this abstract raise your hand if you think is abstract I think okay 65 people know this is fairly abstract I think most people would say it's abstract when I first came here there was some somebody from the humanities and she told me she said Paul we go to the humanities to escape mathematics and computing so that makes it why it's almost like a magnetic like poles you know repel each other and it was almost like that kind of argument I thought it's a little bit scary you know that we were actually repelling people moving them away to some distant part of the university but yes this is an example of some code and it's I won't go on bore you with the details on this but well actually briefly come back to this in a second so that's that that's the kind of thing that I get a lot with so with students it's a you know I I can't stand this I you know I've taken some stuff I take and I learned about some code somewhere and this is just not right for me I it's not relevant or it's it's not appropriate so I like to suggest that hope is on the way speaking of hope that was one of the previous in the previous TED talk they talked about hope I'd like to offer some hope that maybe it's not as abstract as it's as we might think so the first question is on our tail end of talking about coding is can coding and computing be relevant for me I mean me being you can it be relevant to you can be made relevant for you well the suggestion I would have for every each and every one of you I say don't think about code in terms of print technology because normally when when code is presented as an idea to you it's nobody presented as something that you do on a keyboard so I think that's the first thing that we need to put aside is code is not just about the keyboard and in fact when you take it away from the keyboard and away from print technology it turns into something we call modeling so coding and modeling are very very similar and three steps that I'd like to suggest just to talk to talk today I'd like to take a snapshot of this room where you in where you're in and just say that there's a lot of information there's a lot of computing going on in this room basically the way that the chairs are organized the way that the chairs are actually created you can make a process you can make a chair and process of making a chair as a form of is a form of computing it's an information process there are things that computer scientists their structures in here the computer scientists use things call arrays when you move in and out of the auditorium you're creating cues if you bang up against a wall just like being on the back of a bus or in an airplane you're going to be the first in but you're going to be the last out we call that a stack so there's a lot of stuff going on all in the auditorium that's very much computing related and we can find out without ever having to actually take a keyboard out second thing is I know some of you may have played minecraft if your minecraft player raise your hand but like more people hates their hand with Minecraft that were thought the other thing was abstract but that's okay because minecraft there's a lot of places a lot of things that you can learn within games like Minecraft so minecraft is not just a game it's a culture a lot of these games create cultures and if we can bring computing concepts into those cultures then we can teach computing in a way that's more familiar to those the people in the cultures so that's that's that's one of the things we do but I suggest also if you go to a park that computing is also in the park that the the flow the flows that we have into a pond right here actually represent information and so that's the key again for Computer Sciences to see everything as information either the structure of information or how information flows from one thing to the next okay that's what computing is so in order to talk about computing in this light we I need to touch on abstraction this is really important I think because I think we we may think of abstraction in an interesting way but it may not be as broad as it could be so I think a lot of people would say just like the code that I showed earlier this is kind of they think this is kind of abstract I mean it's it's it's something that's print technology looks kind of abstract but I would like to say that this is not really abstract instead what we have to do is we we're going to look at just two other instances two other experiences let's say we go to a park we see a couple of boulders right well we could say both boulders together makes two right the same thing with this picture that we show again from the park of the National Park we have two strings of order which we see as information coming together now for two millennia prior to the Second World War almost every single computer actually operated in an analog fashion not necessarily by taking water and creating something as magnificent as a Natural Park as a National Park but the these kinds of computers were called analog computers and they used they processed information in a slightly different way so the key message here is that the code isn't abstract this is an abstract abstraction is what happens when you see that all of these three things are the same thing you look at those three representations these have these three experiences and you say after you've been taught you know a little bit about what what some of the things are in the abstraction itself you say you know what they're all the same that's abstraction okay and so I think that gives hope to some of us that that we think oh this this thing is too abstract because it isn't maybe you just haven't been given enough opportunity to see multiple examples of phenomena that went that you can kind of link together and create this concept of abstraction so I would like to show you some other some some examples of finding computing everywhere I'm gonna show some historical examples and I'll show you an exam at Utd this is a thing called a kam hammer and was designed by Leonardo da Vinci in the latter part of the 15th century and what's interesting about this device and this is a model I develop reiated and I've got this on my desk at a tech but one of the things I like to show students when I talk about this I have to say you know there's a lot of interesting stuff going in here in terms of computing this iteration there's sequence this conditional branching these kind of sound very abstract and they kind of they do have they do they have a bit of an abstract flair to them but the key point is that a lot of the key things that we try and teach students about computing can be experienced viscerally with Leonardo's kam hammer the computing concepts are in the kam hammer just like they're in something that uses print media and so I just bring this back this is the this is the code that represents a simulation of the kam hammer and is more traditional and I think when we think of code but but I would come away from the talk maybe thinking code maybe it could be outside of the of the printed box here's another example this is a lamp in my home so that this is IC computing inside the lamp I see it everywhere I see it in the cam hammer I see it in the lamp and the way to think about computing here is in different ways but the I won't bore you with all these individual things but there are different states that the lamp can be in there's a wall switch there's a switch on the wall there's a switch underneath the lampshade when you combine those two things together and you play around with them you create something called an and gate which is something that every computer scientist has to learn right and so it's interesting just as in minecraft we could experience and gates within Minecraft if we like minecraft we can also experience and gates in the lamp we don't need to do any any typing on the keyboard it's not necessary in order to at least intuitively understand and what an angei is this is just this is what we'd call a control model or a flowchart and that defines what a person would do to turn the light on or off and I sometimes eat lunch here this is the this is our hub the student the student hub and I I was out leading eating lunch one day I think was eating lunch at this table I said you know where's the computing after all computing is everywhere that's my mantra right so certainly I could see that there was thing called an array just like there's arrays here right we'd there's an array and the array represents the organization of information which is to say all of you in all of the chairs which is also seen on the side of this building and that structure in the way that the the windows are organized and built into the the side of the building so we would say in computer science that's an array and we might make it look like that now what's even weirder is I see people as trees okay and I know that's that's a bit bit I'd what we agreed was going to go away you know that guy's fish lake was a little bit strange he saw people as trees but a tree is a very is one of those abstractions it's very important to two mathematicians and two computer scientists we in computer science we get a lot from math okay we kind of grew out of mathematics and in the 20th century Electrical Engineering so that's what the tree looks like and actually if you are going to make a game and rig a character all the movies you see where you've got the synthetic characters you have to think in terms of a human as a tree because if you don't you can't rig that you can't do the character rigging so that's an example of that but you can also think of something like the table as being a process an information process the way I look at tables as being information as I say how is the table built okay this I'm going to show you just two slides on old technology but old computing this is one of the earliest computers and it showed the position the Sun and the moon over time it's called the Antikythera mechanism for around 100 BC and they they dug it they basically took it out of the water and this is a model of that but the key point is that this is a computer that was built over 2,000 years ago and so by studying it you learn coding modeling computing in a slightly different way this automaton was the basis of the movie Hugo it was actually the basis of the book by Selznick and then Martin Scorsese actually used Selznick's book on Hugo cabaret for the movie Hugo but there's a lot of fascinating computing going on in the background right here and what I'd like to just leave you with is there's three thoughts okay one is that code is not about this print media if we think of code as modeling any material can be used and you can find computing in all kinds of different places abstraction is not a quality of an object it's a process that you go through by seeing that many different things are in fact the same thing okay at an abstract level and also the last thing is that computing is about the flow of information and we can see it everywhere

3 Comments

  1. Poke said:

    This video only gets views cuz it's actually an assignment in the CS 1200 class at UTD. I would not watch this over my dead body if I had a choice – god this guy is so goddamn boring.

    June 28, 2019
    Reply
  2. Alan Lowrance said:

    I'm a masters student at UTD and was happy to find this talk. I like his point about abstraction not being representative, but recognizing the correlation in other representations.

    June 28, 2019
    Reply
  3. JOHN FISHWICK said:

    Of course I'm biased by the speaker-he's my son!    I learned a lot about a subject that interests me.  Einstein is reputed to having said "Intelligent people talk about ideas; Average people talk about events; Dull people talk about other people".

    June 28, 2019
    Reply

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