Monday, November 21, 2022

A Celebration of Juris

On November 4th I travelled to my undergraduate alma mater Cornell for a Celebration of the Life and Career of Juris Hartmanis who passed away in July. The workshop attracted many Cornell faculty and students, many of Hartmanis' former colleague and students, grad and undergrad, as well as his family. For the most part, the talks did not focus on technical content but rather memories of the great man. 

I talked about how Hartmanis founded the field of Computational Complexity and brought me into it. Herbert Lin told the story behind Computing the Future, a 1992 agenda for the future of computer science led by Hartmanis and the challenge to the report by John McCarthy, one of the founders of AI. Should the agenda of computer science be solely in the hands of academic computer scientists, or should it take into account its role in the larger scientific and world-wide community? We still face these questions today.

Ryan Williams gave a powerful talk about how Hartmanis personally intervened to ensure Ryan had a future in complexity. We are all better off for that.

After the workshop, Ryan and I walked around the campus and Collegetown reminiscing on how things have changed in the two decades since Ryan was an undergrad and the four decades (!) since I was. Most of the bars and restaurants have disappeared. The Arts quad is mostly the same, while the engineering building have been mostly rebuilt. There's a new computer science building with another on the way

I stayed in town to catch the Cornell football game the next day, as I once was on that field playing tuba for the marching band. They tore down the west stands to put up a parking lot and the east stands were sparsely filled watching Penn dominate the game.

Good bye Juris. You created a discipline, started one of the first CS departments, and plotted the future of both computational complexity and computer science as a whole. A master and commander indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Juris Hartmanis was a key member of the DIMACS Advisory Board for many years. He gave us great advice both at and in between meetings and helped us greatly through his calm and quiet leadership. Juris took membership on the Advisory Board seriously. He didn’t miss meetings. He would often stay after the end of a meeting and provide advice beyond what arose during Board discussions. In spite of his storied career, his awards, his leadership role at NSF, and his stature as a father of theoretical computer science, Juris was humble and unassertive -- except on those occasional times when it was necessary to be forceful. Juris’ advice greatly influenced the directions of DIMACS activities in theoretical computer science but also in other areas, helping us to get an early involvement in data science and also supporting efforts to broaden the scope of the center in new applied directions in the biological and social sciences. He also sent us some wonderful students for our REU program and was a big supporter of DIMACS education programs. It was an honor to learn from this giant in computer science.
    --David Pennock, Director of DIMACS and Fred Roberts, Director Emeritus of DIMACS