FRSEM-UA.0385-001 -- Computational Thought, fall 2013

Dennis Shasha
Mondays, 2-4:30 room 317 Warren Weaver Hall
Office hours: After class on Mondays



Computational technology and methods lie at the core of modern science, commerce, entertainment, and regrettably war. There are very powerful ideas underlying the field that have roots in mathematics, linguistics, engineering, and even philosophy. Some of its greatest inventions were born in cafes or as responses to a puzzle. Some recent algorithmic methods come from studying ants and evolution.

My goal is to teach you to understand computation from the point of view of its history in logic and mathematics, how computers are built from transistors up, the ideas underlying programming languages, computational problem-solving techniques (algorithms), and new frontiers such as artificial intelligence, swarm intelligence, and DNA computing.

Principal Texts



You will have weekly assignments of reading, puzzles, and/or programs.

In addition, you will be a scribe (take notes for all members of the course) for two half-classes during the semester. To see what the product of a scribe is, check out the excellent web site on quantum computing (a subject we will discuss a bit towards the end) where graduate students at MIT were scribes. I'm sure you can do better. (Please take the scribe duty very seriously. If you can't make it, then please get your alternate to take it for you.) Here is one exemplary scribe report from the fall of 2011 and here is a secondary exemplary scribe report. Here is a a third excellent scribe report, this time from 2012.

You will make oral presentations two or three times during the semester.

For homeworks, you may work alone or with at most one partner.

There will be quizzes (one or two questions per quiz) but no exams.

Your grade will depend in equal measure on class engagement, quizzes, presentations, and homeworks.

Lateness policy: Late homeworks or project will not be accepted . If you have a medical excuse, then I will simply not count that homework and your grade will be the average over your other work. I will spend some time reviewing the homeworks either the day they are due or the following class. So this is just a question of fairness.

Syllabus in Order