A Light Bulb Moment

onlineelectricity_shutterstock_54655537I believe every student should be required to take an introductory course in computer science. I’m an avid follower of new technology and it is my worst nightmare to fall behind. I’d like to share a little bit of a light bulb moment I had a few years ago, just to convince you.

Before my CSE 110 – Introduction to Computer Science class, I understood that computers certainly made things easier, but I always felt as if no computer could challenge human intelligence. And to an extent, I was correct. But I was also incorrect. As humans, our greatest attribute is our mind—our minds allow us to be able to identify, analyze, interpret, etc., while also creating our personalities.

Let’s compare humans and computers on what humans consider to be basic intelligence. If you show a person just one cat for the first time in their lives, they will be able to identify another cat as a cat, even if the second cat is a different breed than the one they were originally shown. Doing the same thing with a computer will yield different results. If a computer only has a picture of a calico cat to work with, it will assume that all cats must be exactly the same or very similar in size and color to the calico cat it is given. If, then, you follow up by inputting a picture of a black cat into the computer, asking if the second picture is a cat, the computer will answer no. It only has one example to work with.

So can computers match human intelligence? The answer as of yet is no. But they’re much better at other things.

One of our assignments in my class was to create a simple Java program which would read in a user’s input of DNA bases (A, T, C, and G), and transcribe this input into the corresponding RNA sequence (U, A, G, C), while also discarding or not allowing garbage inputs (the other letters of the alphabet). While writing this program, I knew that I could certainly transcribe these base pairs myself, which made the assignment a bit frustrating. I closed my last bracket and started the program, inputting bases with my keyboard in both capitals and lowercase letters, along with many garbage letters which the program was supposed to eliminate. But no matter how many curveballs I threw at the program, it fixed my intentional errors for me, all within fractions of a second after hitting the enter button.

The simple program accomplished a simple feat as it was written to do. But it did so in a manner I found amazing. As a human, I would find it tough to work with over fifty small pieces of data to work with, especially if nonsensical bits were thrown in. But the computer interpreted all of my data instantly, without making errors. I certainly could have done the work myself, but it would have taken far longer for me to do it. The computer was more efficient, and far faster than me. And this is the point I want to drive.

Many people are afraid of technology, afraid that it will take over our lives or steal our jobs. Computers are certainly better than humans at processing, sorting, and searching. But as of yet, humans and computers are nowhere near each other in certain intelligent activities. We should all become more comfortable with this important tool we have collectively created, and use it in conjunction with our lives, simply to make things easier. Thus, in the end, I feel that we should all consider taking a computer science course some time during our academic careers. And if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from President Obama!


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2 Comments on “A Light Bulb Moment
  1. Sayid, I was very intrigued with your comparison between human and computers and the pro and cons of both entities. It is true a computer can delineate certain intelligence activities as you put so eloquently, but it sure does make or daily lives much easier.
    I like how you mentioned DNA bases, which I know from having studying them (endless codons, DNA, RNA etc., it never ends) but trying to go through it with the human hand is very tedious and time consuming. The convenience the computer program you developed afforded you, can be applied to many other sectors of the working world and should be embraced and not spurned because of its latent potential to take over as we are led to believe from certain movies (IRobot, Transcendence)

  2. A great explanation on the differences between humans and computers that I often take for granted. Recently, Cuomo announced that high school students in the top 10% of their high school classes would get free tuition to SUNY and CUNY schools if they choose a STEM major (link: http://blog.suny.edu/2014/05/governor-cuomo-free-suny-cuny-tuition-to-stem-students-in-top-10-of-hs-class/).
    As someone who had the privilege of going to a high school with a mandatory intro to computer science for all sophomores, I really like the idea of teaching comp sci basics to everyone the same way we teach other subjects. Even though not everyone will have to actually code in their professions, it is becoming more and more important to at least have an understanding of it so that we can more effectively interact with those who do. This (hilarious) video on what it’s like being the only engineer highlights it perfectly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg

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