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John Hopcroft Delivers 4th Annual George Bekey Lecture

Dean Yortsos and George Bekey part of an enthusiastic audience

April 07, 2010 —

Professor John Hopcroft of Cornell University presented a wideranging tour of the changing frontiers of computer science in a well-attended April 7 lecture. Hopcroft's speech, the 4th Annual George Bekey Lecture in Computer Science, was on "Computer Science Theory to  Support Research in the Information Age."

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Froml left: Hopcroft, Dean Yannis Yortsos, and series namesake George Bekey
Bekey, the Viterbi School emeritus professor who is the namesake for the series was prominently in Hopcroft's audience along with Dean Yannis C. Yortsos, current Computer Science Department Chair Shanghua Teng,  and numerous  CS faculty and students including a large delegation from the Information Sciences Institute,

Hopcroft focused on the parameters of of the field itself, which he said are "undergoing a fundamental change" as the amount of web digital content and issues of access to it become more important

The change is requiring universities to revise the content of computer science programs – with perhaps the most obvious and fundamental change a necessity for increased emphasis on the discipline of statistics, as opposed to (for example) calculus.

Forty years ago, Hopcroft said, the essential areas were in operating systems, software coding and other basic building blocks of computer inner workings.

Now, making effective use of existing information, and particularly being able to decode and datamine the interactions observed in social networks are critical – “this is where you should be looking for thesis topics,” he told the scores of students who listened to his observations.

He also hit upon the political issues involved – most directly, in getting computer science departments to require less calculus and more statistics. The privacy and other issues of delving into the personal information was a question that he acknowleged to be extremely complex.

Previous Bekey lecturers have included Ed Lazowska, (University of Washington), Raj Reddy (Carnegie Mellon), and Tom Mitchell (Carnegie Mellon).

Hopcroft is the IBM Professor of Engineering and Applied Mathematics at Cornell University. He started his career  at Princeton in 1964 and moved to Cornell in 1967, becoming chair of its Department of Computer Science 20 years later. In 1993 he became Associate Dean for College Affairs, and in 1994 he became Dean of the College of Engineering in which job he served until 2001 when he returned to the Department of Computer Science.

CS Chair Shanghua Teng, left, with George Bekey
He earned his B.S. in electrical engineering from Seattle University in 1961 and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1964. He has honorary degrees from Seattle University, the National College of Ireland, the University of Sydney, St Petersburg State University. He is an honorary professor of the Beijing Institute of Technology and an Einstein Professor of the Chinese Academy of Sciences..

Hopcroft has served on numerous advisory boards including the Air Force Science Advisory Board, NASA's Space Sciences Board and National Research Council's Board on Computer Science and Telecommunications.

In 1986 he was awarded the Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery and in 1992, President H. W. Bush appointed him to the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Science, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He serves on the Packard Foundation's Science Advisory Board, Microsoft's Technical Advisory Board for Research Asia and the advisory boards of IIIT Delhi and the College of Engineering at Seattle University.