Featured in Five is a monthly section where we pose five questions to a Computing Reviews featured reviewer. Here are the responses from our July featured reviewer, G. Mick Smith (University of the Sciences, Philadelphia, PA).
Q: What is the most important thing that's happened in computing in the past 10 years?
A: The most important thing that has happened is the interconnection between computing and the human brain. The reason that this is so important is that the higher-level human functions—including the ability to conceptualize (think of primitive man and the ability to paint on cave walls)--are being approached by computers. Moreover, the deeply connected brain functions such as logic and philosophy are emulated by computational processes. It opens up an intriguing angle of artificial intelligence. What if computers can understand humanity’s unique abilities, and the ideas of regret, duty, free will, or pride? I think the angle is important, but also fraught with danger. I hope the ethicists can keep up with the technological developments.
Q: By the end of your career, where do you think computer science will have taken us? What are you working on that might contribute toward that?
A: As noted above, I believe it is the interconnections between human reasoning and computing that will develop even further. Computing as a science and the symbolic structure of brain functions will increasingly interconnect. My work is in the use of computing technology and education; thus, I see computing as increasing the thinking possibilities for students, in the sense that tools, cars, computers, eyeglasses, and so on extend human functions and increase human possibilities for an improved standard of living and greater happiness. Perhaps computing can generate ideas and concepts needed by individual students to learn.
Q: Who is your favorite historical figure? Why?
A: Friedrich Nietzsche. He epitomizes the troubled genius. Spectacularly brilliant, he nonetheless was confined to an insane asylum the last ten years of his life. Perhaps he thought too much or too deeply, but he pushed the boundaries of philosophy in his day and his thoughts are still insightful and applicable. He lived what he wrote about: he overcame personal tragedies and poor health, and saw beyond the limitations of his age. He urged us to overcome Man, to overcome ourselves. He is a stimulating, frustrating, and perplexing writer, all of which makes his works essential reading. His writing is very misunderstood, despite his best efforts, but it is also so opaque and thought provoking that it is fresh and classic, a spring to refresh the mind from time to time. He wrote the greatest book of all time: Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Q: If you weren't working in the computer science field, what would you be doing instead?
A: Something as closely related to the field as possible, but not with anything that includes an abacus. I want to look forward and not backward.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: Anything by Ian Hunter, formerly of Mott The Hoople, of “All The Young Dudes” fame. Like my father, he was a factory worker, but he never gave up until he got his big break into music at the ripe old age of 29, ancient by rock & roll standards. Nonetheless, he is still rockin’ at 76 years young and performs regularly in the Northeast so I can see him. I first saw him in California at the Hollywood Palladium in September 1973, my first rock concert.