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Stein traces increasing reach of computers

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Computers are quickly becoming members of a community in which they will eventually "disappear" as they are integrated into -- and interact with -- more and more objects like cars and chalk, said Associate Professor Lynn Andrea Stein at an IAP Spark Forum talk on January 20.

As an example, she cited the intelligent room project she is working on at the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Computers embedded within the room, coupled with equipment such as cameras and VCRs, allow the room to respond to a user's needs. "So the architecture within this room is one full of these things interacting," said Professor Stein of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Networks such as the World Wide Web are also "communities of computers that are cooperating to make sure information gets to the people who are asking for it," she said.

As computers move from their original role as powerful calculators to interacting members of a community, "our job as computer scientists is to figure out what kinds of interactions can best be facilitated this way," Professor Stein said.

Asked later for her views on teaching computer science, she replied that "any well-educated computer scientist should know something about computer systems and how they work, the theory of computation, and something about applications." They should also "know how to write a program and how to debug and modify it," though these latter two skills "are things less often taught."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2000.

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