Computer science: CTRL + ALT + CONGRATS

Despite the chartreuse scar the computer science 50th anniversary tent left on the Cut last week, we should all show our computer science department heartfelt appreciation. Here’s why:

It’s been 50 years since the first computer was installed at Carnegie Tech: a state-of-the-art IBM 650. The IBM 650 was a massive contraption hardly advanced enough to be called a computer — IBM referred to it as an automatic calculator. Nevertheless, the 650 was the centerpiece of Herbert Simon’s brand-new Computation Center. One of the first orders of business at the Computation Center was to study artificial intelligence — a field that the University still leads 50 years later.

Of course, Carnegie Mellon students know all too well that computer science has come a long way from the oversized, punch-card-powered calculation engines that would fill a standard double in New House. Since then, Carnegie Mellon’s computer science program has seen plenty of firsts. The school offered the first introductory-level computer programming class in the country in 1958. Our Robotics Institute designed and built the first direct-drive arm prototype — a forerunner to modern robotic arms — in 1981. Carnegie Mellon even became the first “wired campus” in 1983 with a predecessor of the Andrew File System.

In 1990, a chess-playing computer designed here was the first in history to beat a grand master. Three years later, a researcher developed the theories behind what ended up being known worldwide as bullet-time; the research enabled the “Eagle Cam” coverage of Super Bowl XXXV. A computer science graduate developed Lycos, the first mainstream Web search engine, in 1994. In 1997, a team of students won their division in the first ever robo-soccer tournament in Japan. The first wireless campus network in the country was installed here in 2000 and just two years ago, Sandstorm beat out 14 other competitors in the first DARPA Grand Challenge.

The School of Computer Science consistently ranks in the top three worldwide. Students in SCS are proud of what they do, and for good reason. Simply put: When people hear the name “Carnegie Mellon,” they’re likely to think of our computer science program. This week, you should feel proud, too, because computer science students are making breakthroughs that will impact all of our lives in CS’s next 50 years.