CMU celebrates 50 years of computer science

This weekend the computer science program celebrated its 50th anniversary. The four-day event, dubbed CS50, commended the innovation and prominence that has marked the past half-century in computer science research.

In the summer of 1956, the first computer at the University was an IBM model 650. The IBM was delivered to the basement of the business school, and soon afterward the dean announced the founding of the Computation Center, to be headed by professor Alan Perlis. The center soon gained much admiration and praise as a premier research location. Successive innovations led the program to be one of the top institutions in the country. CS50 highlighted all of this past excellence and gave insight into what the future holds for the program.

The CS50 celebration was coordinated and prepared by Deborah Harris, who devoted her time to ensuring the recognition of all that has been accomplished. Randal E. Bryant, the dean of the School of Computer Science, reflected on the event: “Preparing for this event has given me the chance to look over and learn about the research and education conducted here since the pioneering days of Newell, Simon, and Perlis,” said Bryant. “I have been very impressed by the depth and vision of their work, and I am very thankful that they helped create the field and the organization that has become my career.”

Over 500 computer science researchers and others who have contributed to the program gathered to recognize the triumphs of their coworkers. Bryant commented that in preparation for the event, he was given “the opportunity to look into the past and gain an even greater appreciation for the foresight of our founders.”

Governor Edward Rendell even paid tribute by discussing how significant the contributions from the school have been for the field of computer science. He mentioned how the program will, from a technological perspective, help shape the “new Pennsylvania.” Alumni speakers followed, as well as the introduction of five new inductees to the Robot Hall of Fame.

A variety of activities were organized to recognize the achievements of students, faculty, and alumni. The second-to-last day of the event, for example, included the 12th annual Mobot Races, in which competitors were given the opportunity to develop their own autonomous robotic agents. The development of these robots required extensive effort and demonstrates the creativity that continues to thrive in the School of Computer Science today. (For a deeper look at this year’s Mobot races, see the Pillbox section, page 22.)

The computer science school also highlighted a preview of the new, 209,000-square-foot Gates Center for Computer Science, to be built by 2009; the innovation prospects to follow its construction were also discussed. The Gates Center was funded in part by Bill and Melinda Gates, among other donors, and will be devoted to broadening the horizons of computer science. This portion of the event gave insight as to how increased dedication to research will continue to benefit computer science.

The past 50 years in computer science at our university have been marked by excellence and prominence. This weekend, the campus community paid tribute to those who have made the program what it is today. President Jared L. Cohon remarked that “their impact is felt across nearly every discipline and field of endeavor, wherever people seek to solve complex problems.” CS50 brought to attention all of these contributions, which cannot easily be forgotten.