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Department of Computer Science celebrates 50 years with a look into the future

Photo of: Eugene Fiume, Paul Gries, Michael Brudno, Raquel Urtasun, Sheila McIlraith and Steve Easterbrook

“The Future As We See It” panelists: Eugene Fiume, Paul Gries, Michael Brudno, Raquel Urtasun, Sheila McIlraith and Steve Easterbrook. Photo: Glenn Lowson.

Computer science is a field in constant transformation, changing the way people work, play and interact through technology.

Computer scientists today are discovering ways to augment our reality by combining computer-generated information with real-life imagery and by creating virtual, artificial worlds we can enter and exit. They are developing artificial intelligence helpers, not limited to our Smartphones, so we can make better decisions and be more effective and productive. Soon, thanks to shared portals, doctors and communities of patients will be able to diagnose rare genetic disorders faster. And, with the aide of computer vision algorithms, our car may one day drive itself. But with all technological advancement, we cannot neglect  the social and environmental impacts of computing, such as our innate human impulse for connectivity and the carbon footprint of our digital outputs.

These are just some of the forward-looking research projects currently underway in U of T’s Department of Computer Science (DCS) and that were up for discussion as part of the “The Future As We See It” panel, featuring Professors Michael Brudno, Steve Easterbrook, Eugene Fiume, Sheila McIlraith and Raquel Urtasun, and Senior Lecturer Paul Gries. The panel served to launch a celebration of 50 years of computer science at the University of Toronto and was inspired by the U of T Magazine article by Toronto journalist and author, Patchen Barss, who joined the panel as moderator.

“We are very pleased to have our faculty share with our alumni and friends their visions for the future,” said Professor Sven Dickinson, Chair of the Department of Computer Science. “We’ve reached a momentous milestone in our history of computer science at U of T. The department has been and will continue to be at the centre of discovery, creation and success.”

Among those celebrating the anniversary was Professor Emeritus Calvin (Kelly) Gotlieb, who served as the department’s first chair from 1964-67. Gotlieb is widely regarded as the “father of computing in Canada”. It was in 1950 that Professors Gotlieb and M.A.R. Ghonarimy taught the first graduate course on computing titled, “The Logical Basis of Digital Computing Machines.” By 1964 a graduate program in the new Department of Computer Science was established; in 1971, an undergraduate program was added.

In the intervening decades, U of T’s computer science community has helped define and redefine the field at every turn. Today our computer scientists are also helping to make the world more livable by developing new technologies to solve some of our greatest challenges — from designing e-learning environments and improving medical diagnostics to tackling privacy and security issues, healthcare and accessibility, and sustainability and design.

The 50th Anniversary event also marked the launch of a fundraising campaign to foster future innovation in computer science. The creation of two new funds  were announced: the Computer Science 50th Anniversary Graduate Scholarship, established through a lead gift by former chair, Professor Eugene Fiume and his family, with additional support from past computer science department chairs and their families; and the 50th Anniversary Innovation Fund, which will support initiatives designed to expand students’ learning opportunities, improve their research and development capacities and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit for which DCS students are known.