Chuck Thacker, a distinguished service professor and technical fellow at Microsoft Research delivered an insightful and compelling lecture on the challenges facing computing in the 21st century, at Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s Dean’s Lecture Series on Thursday.
Chuck Thacker received the Association for Computing Machinery’sA.M Turing Award in 2009 for his numerous contributions to the field, including his pioneering design and realization of the Alto, the first modern personal computer; the prototype for networked personal computers; his contributions to the Ethernet local area network, which enables multiple computers to communicate and share resources; and the prototype for today’s most used tablet PC, with its capabilities for direct user interaction.
The Turing Award is an annual prize given to "an individual selected for contributions of a technical nature made to the computing community". The Turing Award has been called both the highest distinction in computer science and the Nobel Prize of computing.
Thacker visited Carnegie Mellon Qatar as part of a special seminar course, in which renowned computer scientists provide students with new perspectives in computer architecture.
In his lecture, Thacker credited Raj Reddy, professor of computer science and robotics in the School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh, for his ability to attract specialists from industry to Carnegie Mellon with the aim of bringing in expert views outside of academia.
Thacker introduced an audience of 50 community members to Jim Gray’s 1998 Turing Lecture on the 16 challenges he believed Information Technology needed to solve.
Solutions to many of those problems have been found - including Speech Recognition.
But many of these challenges persist.
Thacker discussed the limitations that the field is now facing, such as the increasing gap between processor speed and storage access times, and the difficulty of cooling today’s computers.
“Computers aren’t getting any faster. The age of computers becoming two times faster every two years are behind us,” Thacker said.
“Moreover, we have more data than ever before, yet not enough IT professionals to meet the demand. That is why improved education for all is crucial. And, the field of computing can be a benefit to society [in this manner].
“Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) [like Coursera] and Western Governor’s University, a fully accredited, online university, have already shown ways in which this can be done,” he added.
Students found Thacker’s lecture very insightful.
"The highlight for me was the video that was shown on speech translation, it is amazing that technology is so advanced that this can be done with such accuracy and with the potential to break down language barriers for society," said Carnegie Mellon student Narcis Jafarian.
A group of students from Qatar Academy also attended the lecture.
"I have read about Chuck Thacker and his amazing work so I wanted to listen to his opinion on technology and computer science. I have done some of my own research on physical limits and it was really inspiring listening to an alternative view which will add value to future research projects," said Abdullah Al-Shakarchi, a student at Qatar Academy.
Carnegie Mellon Qatar’s computer science department continues to engage the Qatar community through its high school outreach programs, lectures and academic courses.