Pamela Fox Computer science has the potential to be an amazing base knowledge for a wannabe-Renaissance scholar, at least

of the engineering sort. It gives you the usual general education, plus some science, some math, some logic, and of course, programming skills. Once you’ve got that foundation, there are two distinct options: 1) become a “code monkey,”… 2) realize there are approximately three

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gazillion fields that could be enhanced by a cleverly designed program. No offense to the monkeys out there, but I’ve personally opted for the latter. We computer scientists know how to take advantage of a processor’s incredibly fast calculations to solve problems, and as it turns out, there are unresolved problems in every academic field of study. So I often find myself in non-programming classes figuring out how I can use computer science to solve the problems or answer the questions I’ve encountered in that particular class. After becoming frustrated with the seemingly formulaic nature of the essays assigned for the upper division writing class, I chose to code a “Children’s Book Generator” for our creative assignment. I wanted to answer the question of whether actual human thought was required to create literature, and well, by coding the generator, I discovered that yes, it probably was – which is why I can now guarantee that this essay was not written by a program. In a class studying Asian American literature this semester, we often discuss the idea of the stereotypical Asian face, and whether it does exist. So I’m currently coding a program that

Pamela Fox will randomly create faces from Asian and non-Asian parts, and quiz users on the perceived race. This program should help me discover exactly what makes us identify an Asian vs. non-Asian, and if we can actually do that accurately. When I began the Linguistics minor, I didn’t know that I would later combine it with computer science. I was always intrigued by

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language, always looking to learn new languages, always searching for the etymological connection between languages. The introductory classes confirmed my sneaking suspicion that there was a deep universal structure common to all languages. I set the curve high in my intro classes – I didn’t mean to, but everything just seemed to intuitively make sense to me. I blame my computer science classes for my unfair advantage. In the same semester that I took the first class for the minor, I also took a required computer science class on Algorithms. There was literally one week when I got the exact same lecture in both classes, a discussion of the Barber’s Paradox and self reference. It’s as if someone up there had been subtly trying to point out the interconnectedness of these fields for a while, and finally just decided to kick me in the face with their point. Well, fine, I got it! The following summer, I was granted an NSF fellowship to participate in a well-known computational linguistics workshop at John Hopkins. There were three teams, and each had to tackle a problem judged to be one of the most urgent and interesting in the

Pamela Fox Computational Linguistics world. Our team worked on statistical machine translation by parsing – using the hierarchical nature of a

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sentence structure to teach a computer the patterns of a language. For two weeks before the workshop, we were given a crash course in computational linguistics, sampling lectures and labs from the most researched areas. I hated most of it. I wanted to scream at the researchers, “NO! Stop it! Respect the beauty of language!” Most of the research was simply using brute force to “solve” problems. Google gloated at a conference that summer that their translation results were the best – after running 10,000 computers for 40 hours. That’s the first time Google has not impressed me. That’s why I was thankful to have been placed in a group that was were actually teaching the computer about linguistic structure - we could get meaningful results after running for just 20 minutes. My personal contribution to the team was creating a “Multi-Tree Viewer” that would view the simultaneous parses of equivalent sentences in multiple languages, showing the relationship between both their lexical equivalence and structural equivalence. It was a great moment when the MTV showed a sentence where “USA” and “the United States of America” were linked as equivalent phrases, because of their location in the sentence hierarchies and not because of any preset vocabulary knowledge. During lectures at the workshops, I daydreamed about the research that I would pursue. By the end of the workshop, I had several

Pamela Fox project ideas that I had thought about for so long (we had a lot of lectures) that I absolutely had to pursue implementing them. This semester, I’m creating a “computer baby” that is given sentences describing a 3-d scene, and then examines the scenes to deduce the relationship between the scene and the sentence. By the end of the project, I hope that my baby will understand sentences with prepositional relations, and I aim to prove that it is possible to teach a computer a language the same way that a baby learns language. It’s

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my personal attack on Google’s brute-force philosophy. Another project I dreamed up was an online site that would illustrate, on a map of the world, the etymological connections between words over the course of time. I wanted to share my love of etymology linguistics with the world – I wanted everyone to realize the beauty of the interconnectedness of languages. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive the grant to pursue that project, so in the meanwhile, I instituted a “Word of the Week” last semester. Every week, we’d post flyers on campus about a word, focusing on its etymology. It feels natural that at this point in the narrative I’d begin discussing my other minor – 3-d animation. I’d talk about learning how to draw, put life into a character, set up lights, tell a story, compose a scene, and I’d probably tell you how I started a club for students interested in the spectrum between computer science and art. But according to the Renaissance board, all of that is too similar to

Pamela Fox Computer Science. I was pretty mad when the board only certified my Computer Science and Linguistics combination, refusing to acknowledge my 3-d animation minor as a widely separate field. I understand why, of course. The 3-d animation minor is in the same school as my major, and therefore most likely doesn’t “stretch my mind intellectually.” But it really does, especially in the contrast between right-brained and left-brained skills. While computer science is logic-based problem solving and linguistics is the study of an

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incredibly structured system, 3-d animation is the use of an artistic eye coupled with technical skills to create something that will entertain others. But that’s when I had a realization- being a renaissance scholar means realizing that two fields that are officially “widely disparate” may actually be strung together by the same intellectual threads, while two fields within the same department can actually call on entirely different parts of the brain. So I guess that now I’m thankful that my 3d animation minor was dismissed by the board, as it caused me to realize that there’s more than one way to be a vastly different field of study. And well, now I don’t have to write so much. 