Tuesday, September 17, 2013

2nd 8 Week N&M Class: HPSC X227 What Computers Cannot Do

I'd like to interest you (and your students) in a 8w2 course I am teaching this term, that starts on Oct 22nd, and deals with what computers cannot do. The course is a gentle introduction to the logical and physical limits of computers. We discuss how these limits, as well as the notion of what it is to compute, were conceived within mathematical logic and slowly migrated into physics. The course is self contained (only high school math is required), carries CASE N&M distribution, and involves active group learning. It usually enrolls 30-40 students. This year is the course's 5th edition.

I hope some of your students will find it interesting. I enclose details and a syllabus here

HPSC X227 (section 29534)
Computers LTD. What they cannot do
Meets TTR 5:45-7:45 PM @ BH344

Many thanks in advance


Amit Hagar
HPS Department
College of Arts and Science
Indiana University, Bloomington

Course Description

In 1984, the TIME magazine ran a cover story on computer software. In the
otherwise excellent article, an editor of a certain software magazine was quoted
as saying:

Put the right kind of software into a computer, and it will do whatever you want it to.
There may be limits on what you can do with machines themselves, but there are no
limits on what you can do with software

A simple way of summarizing this course is that it is devoted to describing and
explaining the facts that refute – no, shutter! – this claim.
In the 5 modules that comprise this course we will acquaint ourselves with
the logical limits of computation, as they were conceived within the framework of
the foundations of mathematics. We will get to know the standard model for
computation, the Turing machine, and learn about problems that it can and
cannot solve. Turning to physics, we will find parallel definitions for
computability in dynamical systems and in spacetime theories, and use notions
from complexity theory to reframe long-standing problems in the philosophy of
mind about free will, creativity, and the mind-body problem.
Each module will be composed of frontal lectures, 2-3 writing
assignments, and a group project that will be presented in class. Typically, these
projects will consist of a digital presentation and an exposition of one of the
concepts that will be discussed in the respective module, with an emphasis on its
use and mention (or, as usually is the case, abuse and misinterpretation) inside
academia and outside it in the popular culture. The course is self-contained and
presupposes a mathematical background at the high-school level.