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Leadership in Computer Science

Tom Erickson, director of the School of Computer, Data, and Information Science, sees an opportunity to leverage the UW’s computer-science legacy and its interdisciplinary expertise.

Although he’s the founding director of the UW’s School of Computer, Data, and Information Science, Tom Erickson ’80 maintains that computer science is not UW–Madison’s chief attraction. The university has a great history of leadership in computer sciences — “We graduated the first [computer science] PhD back in the 60s,” he says — and today it has many leading minds in the field. But the UW’s chief attraction to computer scientists lies in the way it brings together expertise from many other fields.

“We have a tremendous leadership in [computer sciences], well-respected top scientists, not only in research, but also in education,” Erickson says. “But Wisconsin as a university is unique in the amount of interdisciplinary opportunities that exist here — unique, really, among almost all of our peers.”

At UW–Madison, computer scientists have the opportunity to use their skills in conjunction with a top-notch medical school, a leading agricultural university, a top engineering college, a law school, and leading humanities programs. 

Erickson knows something about what attracts computer scientists. After earning his UW degree, he spent decades as a software entrepreneur. In 2019, he returned to UW–Madison to help found the School of Computer, Data, and Information Science (CDIS), and he’s leveraged the UW’s leadership in a broad range of fields to make that school a destination for top faculty and students. On March 14, he’ll guest host an episode of The UW Now Livestream in which several of those experts discuss the current state of artificial intelligence.

As an Entrepreneur, I Specialized In:

I worked primarily with what would be considered enterprise software — software to run businesses. Two of the companies I was with were named the fastest growing companies for software in a given year by Deloitte. 

Tonight on The UW Now Livestream, I’ll Discuss:

We have three interesting panelists for this event with different perspectives on artificial intelligence. One of them is building a company using artificial intelligence, and that’s Jignesh Patel, and his company is called DataChat. The next [Sharon Li] is a researcher in deep learning, which is understanding how the brain works and using neural networks in the same way to work with the datasets. And the third is a student, Blaine Hoak, who studies artificial intelligence relative to cybersecurity. What we’ll talk about is how AI is permeating all aspects of what we’re doing, not only in the technology world, but in the non-technology world.

The One Thing I Want Viewers Remember Is:

Artificial intelligence is here to stay. Yet there really isn’t anything yet to be fearful of. It’s actually going to be focused on improving lives dramatically by discovering things that we can’t do without these techniques.

To Get Smart Fast, Read:

openculture.com — There are some wonderful people that weigh in there in all kinds of areas, generally famous professors or former academics: Margaret Atwood, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman.

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