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Computational sciences

Camille Liewig - 27/11/2009

Gérard Berry has given his opening lecture at the Collège de France

On 19 November 2009, at 6 p.m., at the famed higher education and research establishment, Collège de France, a few privileged souls were able to attend Gérard Berry's first lecture. The event began with a speech by Pierre Corvol, a trustee of the Collège de France. He reiterated why it was essential these days to recognise computer science as a science in its own right and therefore to teach it more widely. He then quickly hailed Gérard Berry's teaching skills and highlighted his qualities as a conduit for knowledge.

The audience was quickly won over by the lecturer's skill. Gérard Berry caused general hilarity when he said that the only way of being a good computer scientist was to "be as stupid as a computer". For an hour, give or take a few minutes, in front of a varied audience – experienced computer scientists, eminent Collège members specialising in other disciplines, representatives from public research bodies, etc. – Gérard Berry breathed life into some tough mathematical concepts in a blizzard of images and sometimes fairly surprising anecdotes like the one about two skiers meeting on a slope… The purpose of the lecture, incidentally, was to explain the four major classes of computation models, i.e. computability model, sequential model, parallel model and distributed models.

Gérard Berry paid tribute to the great figures in computing history, such as Alan Turing and Georges Gonthier, an eminent researcher present in the room. He also stressed the major developments in computer science. The new chair holder even suggested posthumously awarding Alan Turing the prize that bears his name, the 'computing Nobel prize'.

The "conduit for knowledge" predicted a forthcoming "digital epidemic" in the form of increased importance for computer science, the flagship science in the 21st century, to meet the main social challenges of the coming decades. To warm applause, Gérard Berry wrapped up his lecture saying that "doing what we want while being as stupid as a computer requires a great deal of intelligence".

Keywords: Computing chair Computational sciences