Freshman Seminar: What is Computing?
Spring 2013


Computer technology has produced many impressive gadgets that surround us every day. However, its foundations are still a mystery to many. The purpose of this seminar is to discuss the essence of computing, with the hope that the students will gain some insight to the foundations of this fascinating field and its future potential.

Instructor: Tevfik Bultan     Email:
Office Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 10:00-11:00, HFH 2123
Seminar webpage:
Meeting time: 11:00-11:50, Wednesdays, HSSB 1237
Units: This will be a 1 unit seminar



As a professor of computer science I get to teach many courses on computing. I enjoy teaching them because they cover interesting topics. But they tend to be specialized and technical. Sometimes I feel like I could motivate my students better and get them more excited about computer science if I were to discuss some "big picture" questions about computing. Questions such as: What is the essence of computing? What is its future potential? Unfortunately, one has limited opportunities for integrating such discussions to specialized technical courses. So, I decided to offer a freshman seminar!

This seminar is not only targeting students with computer science or math or engineering background. I hope that it is accessible to everyone who is interested in computing. Some of the topics discussed in this seminar are covered in advanced theoretical courses in computer science departments. This seminar will omit many, maybe all, technical details that would be required for rigorous discussion of these topics. But, I believe that the fundamental concepts in computing can be explained without getting lost in the math. I will try to make the seminar as understandable and as entertaining as I can. No formulas, no graphs, just plain English. I hope you enjoy attending it.

Course Work

Each week we are going to discuss a topic about computing. There will be a reading assignment for each topic we discuss (short essays written by the instructor). Each student will need to do three things each week:
  1. Read the given reading assignment.
  2. Send the instructor an email (subject line INT94PL) the day before the seminar that contains 1) one paragraph summarizing your views about the topic discussed in the reading assignment and 2) one question that came to your mind while reading the reading assignment.
  3. Attend the seminar and participate in the discussions.