Carson Conversations Forum | Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper, Executive Director, Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management at
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, speaks at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts. His talk: “Creative Coding and Campus Collaboration.”
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[00:00:08.095]So, I begin by telling you I feel this weird feeling
[00:00:11.707]because I'm one of the left-right brain,
[00:00:13.615]I'm the other one.
[00:00:15.145]I'm not the creative type, I'm the computer scientist,
[00:00:17.936]and I'll tell you a little bit about me.
[00:00:23.023]One of these does next, how about that one?
[00:00:26.243]A big arrow would be very good.
[00:00:27.795]And so, when I asked what I was even
[00:00:28.786]supposed to talk about at this sort of a get-together.
[00:00:31.671]Megan gave me five things to talk about,
[00:00:33.683]and so I'll focus probably on a couple of them.
[00:00:36.100]And if I do them too poorly you can grab me
[00:00:38.191]during the break to talk through a little bit.
[00:00:40.261]So, I wanna say first a little bit about me.
[00:00:41.678]I'm a computer scientist,
[00:00:43.585]so I'm one of the one who builds the tools,
[00:00:45.287]and I'll come back to this in a minute why it's relevant.
[00:00:47.474]The other reason which makes it
[00:00:48.644]a little bit interesting for me is I did the opposite.
[00:00:52.152]So, I was interested in how students learn
[00:00:54.604]computer science, how to teach it,
[00:00:56.223]and I wanted to use storytelling as a medium
[00:00:59.914]to get students engaged in programming,
[00:01:02.365]rather than, in many ways, the other way around.
[00:01:04.845]And so, with my colleagues Wanda Dan
[00:01:07.650]and the late Randy Pouch,
[00:01:09.212]we built a system about 20 years ago called Alice,
[00:01:12.766]which I think I have a slide on,
[00:01:14.979]which does 3D interactive animation.
[00:01:17.187]The student is the author,
[00:01:18.554]so the student is the storyteller,
[00:01:20.106]the student builds the game.
[00:01:22.256]And Randy used the term a head fake a lot.
[00:01:24.903]The idea is, you're supposed to
[00:01:25.868]think you're doing one thing,
[00:01:27.181]but what you're really doing is something very different.
[00:01:29.033]In this case, the student thought
[00:01:30.447]they were directing the next great American movie
[00:01:32.633]or whatever it was, or building a cool video game,
[00:01:35.034]and what they were really doing
[00:01:35.979]was learning how to program.
[00:01:37.669]Ultimately targeted for quite young,
[00:01:39.438]we started with college kids,
[00:01:40.542]dropped it down to high school, to middle school,
[00:01:42.980]and that's a little bit where we went.
[00:01:46.145]I'm not gonna talk a whole heck of a lot about Alice
[00:01:47.994]because if you're interested
[00:01:49.470]you can catch me to talk about it.
[00:01:51.630]But that was a little bit of where I got into
[00:01:54.713]this other side.
[00:01:57.243]I need to say a little bit about the Raikes School,
[00:01:59.015]which is where I've been invited to come to direct.
[00:02:02.637]It's an undergraduate honors college,
[00:02:04.050]much as what Meegan's gonna have here
[00:02:05.796]with the Carson Center.
[00:02:07.260]It draws typically a little bit
[00:02:09.110]of a different caliber of student than much of UNL.
[00:02:13.020]UNL pulls great students,
[00:02:15.053]the Raikes School pulls truly exceptional students,
[00:02:17.642]so these are students who are considering
[00:02:20.049]the top half of the Ivy Leagues,
[00:02:22.127]Stanford, MIT, Duke, Georgia Tech, perhaps,
[00:02:25.394]as the other school that they're going to go to
[00:02:27.660]if they choose not to come to Raikes, et cetera.
[00:02:31.493]One of the nice things an elite program does and adds,
[00:02:34.725]we're gonna be thinking about the curriculum
[00:02:36.814]and the drawing of an exceptional students
[00:02:38.853]is having these flagship programs
[00:02:41.198]as the Carson Center is about to become,
[00:02:44.016]or it already is but these new program's
[00:02:45.454]gonna enable us to do is it allows you
[00:02:47.593]to become a flagship for the university,
[00:02:49.039]and indeed, for the state.
[00:02:50.986]My kids are most of the technical kids,
[00:02:53.470]so they tend to be mostly computer scientists,
[00:02:56.162]engineers, business students.
[00:02:57.411]No requirement, we actually don't give a degree,
[00:03:00.140]but half of their classes,
[00:03:01.505]a little bit over half of their classes
[00:03:03.016]are gonna be in the Raikes College,
[00:03:05.445]and most of our focus tends to be on design thinking,
[00:03:08.941]model thinking, big data analytics,
[00:03:11.115]thinking about how to solve problems, et cetera.
[00:03:15.165]One of the interesting parts,
[00:03:16.643]and I want you guys to think about this
[00:03:17.971]as we begin helping Megan, perhaps this afternoon,
[00:03:20.473]thinking about her curriculum
[00:03:22.157]is we have two year-long capstones.
[00:03:24.511]Students as juniors start this year-long capstone
[00:03:27.526]with real clients,
[00:03:28.446]and then the students will redo it
[00:03:29.931]with potentially a new client, a new sponsor,
[00:03:32.586]their senior year where they take more leadership roles.
[00:03:34.792]So, these are real projects for real clients,
[00:03:37.254]mostly tech folks but they don't have to be.
[00:03:39.808]I've been meeting with folks talking about
[00:03:41.359]more data science projects, more creative projects,
[00:03:43.889]and the best ones are always a multidisciplinary across
[00:03:47.261]really, many, many fields.
[00:03:49.319]And the sponsor or the client
[00:03:51.053]will provide a little bit of money,
[00:03:52.607]and more importantly than the money,
[00:03:54.069]they'll actually provide staff,
[00:03:55.596]a staff person to work with the team regularly
[00:03:57.897]to give feedback on behalf of the company.
[00:04:00.930]And in exchange, the sponsor gets potentially labor.
[00:04:04.082]Probably the most valuable thing for the sponsor
[00:04:06.714]is the ability to look at students
[00:04:07.808]and try and get the students.
[00:04:09.038]Of course, the smartest sponsors
[00:04:10.142]not only steal their own students to come work for them,
[00:04:12.295]but for the other projects' students as well.
[00:04:16.573]And they get a solution to the problem,
[00:04:18.551]potentially the solution they wanted,
[00:04:21.988]perhaps a different one,
[00:04:23.124]and they develop relationships as a way to get labor,
[00:04:25.391]I know it to be, build a relationship with the school.
[00:04:28.321]Certainly the best projects we've seen
[00:04:29.715]are the ones that span multiple disciplines.
[00:04:31.854]I'll give you an example from last year
[00:04:33.624]where a medical doctor approached us,
[00:04:35.316]and the team ultimately had this idea that
[00:04:38.409]based on the way you bite can predict
[00:04:41.539]your recovery from stroke.
[00:04:43.389]And so, a team actually built a device
[00:04:45.691]that goes into your mouth, you bite down,
[00:04:47.540]they managed to hook the signal up
[00:04:49.806]and used various machine learning algorithms
[00:04:51.717]to analyze the signal to predict good bite patterns
[00:04:54.063]and bad bite patterns.
[00:04:56.164]Again, in this case it was mostly engineering-ish,
[00:04:58.283]but taking from from mechanical engineers
[00:05:00.386]to electrical engineers, computer engineers,
[00:05:02.009]computer scientists, obviously a lot of things
[00:05:05.629]have to be built in,
[00:05:06.517]and some of the UI/UX work
[00:05:07.780]was beyond the capability of the team.
[00:05:09.243]Those are the sorts of projects
[00:05:10.887]that tend to be quite good for us to do.
[00:05:13.107]And the best projects tend to be ill-formed
[00:05:15.131]where the client doesn't quite know what they want.
[00:05:18.947]The kids are pretty creative.
[00:05:21.662]Megan asked me about emerging media arts,
[00:05:23.088]and I tell you I feel embarrassed to say,
[00:05:24.882]I wanna shrink down below the podium
[00:05:26.354]so I don't have to say in terms of it,
[00:05:27.905]because I'm not the expert.
[00:05:29.181]Many of the people in this room
[00:05:30.138]are much more expert than I am
[00:05:31.711]in terms of stuff to work through.
[00:05:33.438]I get the sense that it's some sort of
[00:05:36.589]a combination of creative arts, computing, and engineering.
[00:05:40.498]I like the interactivity,
[00:05:41.570]because that's a lot of what I've done.
[00:05:42.983]It just means to communicate.
[00:05:44.694]This is something which we can talk.
[00:05:46.500]The one question which I think about a lot
[00:05:48.583]as a computer scientist
[00:05:50.401]is to what extent does the technology drive what gets done,
[00:05:54.913]versus to what extent does this community
[00:05:57.085]help drive the technology?
[00:05:58.823]And as a computer scientist I oftentimes myself
[00:06:01.145]because I can build the tools,
[00:06:02.095]and we do build the tools,
[00:06:03.665]as being the wrong way.
[00:06:04.898]We build something and say, use it,
[00:06:06.864]which is kind of awesome,
[00:06:08.265]but it's wrong because, guess what,
[00:06:10.188]we don't know the right things
[00:06:11.991]and we're not thinking there five and 10 and 15 years.
[00:06:15.131]Imagine what it would be if every tech company
[00:06:17.707]had to put a science fiction writer on their staff
[00:06:20.961]for every single project.
[00:06:21.973]It would be awesome what we could build,
[00:06:24.497]and I think that that's an important thing.
[00:06:26.530]CP Snow, 60 or 70 years ago, talked about the two cultures,
[00:06:31.361]this, the difference between, he was talking about science,
[00:06:33.457]and I think of it more computer science now,
[00:06:35.111]and the arts,
[00:06:36.020]and this gap of mutual incomprehensibility
[00:06:38.308]between the two sides.
[00:06:39.805]And this is clearly limiting,
[00:06:41.771]and I think this center has the opportunity to change that,
[00:06:45.199]to bring in this connection between the fields
[00:06:48.165]rather than saying, "You're in this building,
[00:06:49.545]"I'm in this building, we never talk to each other."
[00:06:51.624]And I hope we can help have the emerging media arts
[00:06:54.433]to drive the technology,
[00:06:55.571]and we can build technological solutions
[00:06:57.720]based on what's needed
[00:06:59.827]rather than the other way around.
[00:07:02.346]So, Megan asked a little bit,
[00:07:04.390]because I know she's been thinking a lot
[00:07:05.664]about where should the role of creative coding fit?
[00:07:08.390]And I think about all coding as creative,
[00:07:11.532]since I'm a computer scientist, in terms of it.
[00:07:13.786]But the idea is really focusing on
[00:07:15.326]the expressiveness rather than
[00:07:17.359]just building something which is purely just
[00:07:19.180]useful or functional in terms of it.
[00:07:22.390]I think about some of my own experiences.
[00:07:23.874]As a computer scientist, I can build anything.
[00:07:25.541]We can build tools, libraries, environments,
[00:07:27.830]to solve any sort of a problem,
[00:07:30.314]but this has to be done together
[00:07:31.820]in terms of what can be built.
[00:07:33.387]I think of a couple of projects that I've used
[00:07:35.352]for second semester students
[00:07:37.745]back when I was at Stanford.
[00:07:38.941]Unfortunately, I haven't been able to have time
[00:07:40.229]to teach here yet,
[00:07:41.517]but certainly when I was at Stanford
[00:07:42.529]I had a chance to teach some.
[00:07:43.976]So, I think about an assignment
[00:07:45.013]I gave second semester students
[00:07:47.102]building Mondrian-style art.
[00:07:48.920]It's a simple exercise of
[00:07:50.775]understanding recursion and how it works.
[00:07:52.751]Of course, what I didn't teach
[00:07:54.166]is how color composition works, or how patterns work.
[00:07:57.214]So, most of the art the students actually built
[00:07:58.743]was quite hideous because they didn't think about it.
[00:08:02.058]It wasn't just breaking up the canvas into sub-canvases,
[00:08:05.094]you actually had to think holistically
[00:08:06.232]about the whole thing.
[00:08:07.609]I think about another assignment I gave
[00:08:09.786]which involved, we were doing things
[00:08:11.889]like link lists and stacks,
[00:08:14.131]and what we were doing was
[00:08:15.502]we wanted to automatically generate text
[00:08:18.158]in the style of an author.
[00:08:19.596]And so, we were using this technique
[00:08:20.642]called hidden Markov models.
[00:08:21.930]I don't care so much about the details,
[00:08:23.747]but we'd read in a bunch of text,
[00:08:25.656]and then through a random probabilistic approach
[00:08:29.498]we would then generate text.
[00:08:30.866]Doesn't work so well for Shakespeare.
[00:08:32.267]I'm a big fan of the historical plays.
[00:08:34.190]You feed it in and then you get this stuff
[00:08:35.650]which makes no sense.
[00:08:36.926]But one of my students who wrote a solution to this
[00:08:38.698]did a remarkable job with soap operas.
[00:08:41.319]She took a bunch of text from Days of our Lives.
[00:08:43.528]She needed to seed it with, I think it was eight words,
[00:08:45.439]I was trying to remember what the words were.
[00:08:46.723]I remember it was boyfriend, affair, sex,
[00:08:48.955]and five other words.
[00:08:50.372]And with that she actually generated text
[00:08:52.716]that actually, from my perspective
[00:08:53.947]as a non-soap opera fan,
[00:08:55.972]was actually better than what I was reading
[00:08:57.556]in her diagrams, which maybe talks about
[00:08:59.722]quality literature versus less quality literature,
[00:09:02.687]not putting a value standpoint on it.
[00:09:04.875]But the thing being is you can do that,
[00:09:06.415]you can build anything you want to be able to build.
[00:09:08.935]But what we have to do together
[00:09:10.727]is to figure out what needs to be capable to be done,
[00:09:14.455]and what libraries we need to provide
[00:09:16.295]as computer scientists to the media arts,
[00:09:18.789]to the emerging arts.
[00:09:19.975]Because I know we don't do it right on our own
[00:09:21.960]because I saw my Mondrian art,
[00:09:23.701]and I won't share it with you.
[00:09:25.069]But it didn't come out right.
[00:09:26.790]It was cool, the idea was right, it just didn't work.
[00:09:28.991]I read about what happened with the,
[00:09:31.610]I remember I think a student did it for Middlemarch,
[00:09:33.869]and what he would up with was utter gibberish.
[00:09:36.133]It was kinda cool in the style,
[00:09:37.053]but it wasn't quite that good.
[00:09:40.287]So, to talk a little bit about the possibilities,
[00:09:43.759]and we're gonna be spending some time
[00:09:44.744]talking about it, is Carson is brand new.
[00:09:47.680]We get a chance to help Megan
[00:09:49.060]to build a curriculum from scratch
[00:09:50.612]and to really make this amazing program.
[00:09:53.372]Raikes exists, it's existed for about 15 years.
[00:09:55.822]We've many similar goals,
[00:09:57.156]and so I see clear opportunities for overlap.
[00:10:00.272]We're interested in innovation, creativity,
[00:10:02.591]entrepreneurships, building real solutions, real problems,
[00:10:05.746]helping to get our students jobs.
[00:10:07.159]This is kind of an important thing to do.
[00:10:09.989]I see it clearly as the opportunity
[00:10:11.691]of what would it be like to build
[00:10:13.912]not only inter-disciplinary teams within Raikes,
[00:10:15.923]but what if you mix it with Raikes and Carson?
[00:10:18.432]What could you do then
[00:10:19.728]when you put a bunch of artists together
[00:10:21.100]with computer scientists, business people, engineers, wow.
[00:10:25.812]Taking a 10-person team.
[00:10:27.388]When Susan was talking about her real world teams
[00:10:29.518]I was thinking, okay, I got about
[00:10:30.748]four or five of those covered in my program,
[00:10:32.667]and Megan's gonna have
[00:10:33.500]another bunch of those covered in her program.
[00:10:35.475]What can't we actually solve
[00:10:36.798]when we have students who don't realize
[00:10:38.548]certain things are impossible to do?
[00:10:40.685]I'm clearly very excited about the possibility.
[00:10:43.031]I don't know what the right team should look like,
[00:10:45.011]and I'm very excited about the possibility
[00:10:47.093]in terms of what conversations we're going to have
[00:10:49.312]over the next day or change
[00:10:50.841]to be able to do some really neat things.
[00:10:53.273]And then also to figure out together
[00:10:54.909]what are the right technological solutions,
[00:10:56.737]because I think it should be the media arts
[00:10:58.522]that should drive technology,
[00:11:00.049]which is historically not what has happened.
[00:11:02.257]It's a bunch of computer scientists
[00:11:03.628]building cool libraries to make music sounds,
[00:11:06.041]or to be able to draw lines on screens.
[00:11:08.709]Maybe that's cool technologically,
[00:11:10.503]but it maybe doesn't help solve
[00:11:11.954]the real problem of the arts.
[00:11:14.023]Okay, that's all I've got to say, thank you.
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