We have the mini and the micro computer. In what semantic niche would the pico computer fall?
Alan Perlis, Epigrams in Programming
The Department of Computer Science was founded by people who had a vision. This vision was how computer science would fit into the unique spirit of Yale University, an institution oriented to an unusual degree around undergraduate education and close interdepartmental collaboration. The Department has always had close ties to mathematics and engineering, but has increasingly experienced collaborations with other disciplines important to Yale, including psychology, linguistics, economics, business, statistics, music, medicine, physics and more. It is through these collaborations that the importance of computer science in a broader sense is best appreciated.
One of the Department’s founders was Alan Perlis, who came to Yale from Carnegie Mellon in the early seventies. As all who knew him can attest, he embodied a rare combination of human warmth and scientific imagination. His long illness and untimely death in 1990 were a blow to the Department. In his honor, the Department inaugurated the annual Alan J. Perlis Symposium in 1992. Every spring, distinguished lecturers are invited to speak on a topic related to computer science, but from the perspective of a wider audience. People from all segments of the Yale community, and many places outside Yale, come to hear about the impact computer science is having on some aspect of their lives. Recent topics include: “Robotics: The Next Millennium,” “Cryptography & Verifiable Computing,” “The Internet Five Years From Now: Will Anybody Care?”, “From the Genome to Artificial Life: The Quest of Computational Biology,” “Vision and Control in Humans and Machines,” “Megamedium: The Convergence of Broadcast, Cable, & Net Technologies,” “Programming Languages: Theory vs. Practice,” and “From Statistics to Chat: Trends in Machine Learning.”
The 1995 Perlis Symposium was also an opportunity to hold a birthday party for the Department. We invited as many people as we could find who had been associated with the Department since its creation. On the day following the usual Perlis session, we had a series of talks and panel discussions about how the department was founded, how its mission had evolved over the years, and where it is going. The Department has a long history of making outstanding seminal contributions to the field. It was gratifying to see how many alumni still took a lively interest in our activities.
The University’s commitment to the Department was dramatized when, in 1987, the Department moved into its own building, Arthur K. Watson Hall. Originally constructed in the mid-1890’s, the building’s interior was completely gutted, leaving only the exterior brick walls, and then rebuilt from the outside in to accommodate the high-tech requirements of what had now become one of the nation’s leading computer science research departments.
No one can say what the next thirty years of the Yale Computer Science Department will be like, but we plan to do everything we can to make them as exciting as the first.