IITGN Virtual Seminar Series: A Trip To The Land Of Online Education (Part IV)

“Online learning can open doors that would otherwise remain closed.” – Daphne Koller, Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University and one of the founders of Coursera (an online education platform)

Hello people! Welcome to the fourth edition of the Virtual Seminar Series, an online learning initiative by the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar. The objective of this series of lectures was to impart information and education to the public, on a wide array of topics from different disciplines in an interesting manner. To gain a better understanding of this seminar series, please visit parts III, and III of this article-collection and enjoy some more captivating reads!

So, let’s quickly begin our journey for today.

Exploring Some Aspects Of Literature

Arka Chattopadhyay, faculty in the Humanities and Social Sciences discipline, provided us a glimpse into the beautiful land of literature. The lecture focused on familiarizing the audience with diverse ideas of reading and different interpretation paradigms in literary studies, and their evolution over the years. Doesn’t it sound interesting?

Prof Arka started the session by explaining how the words ‘reading’ and ‘interpretation’ are different from each other. Reading is the sensory process of engaging with the content – we look at a text, listen to things, and so on. On the other hand, interpretation is about analysis. Reading in the interpretative sense is a reading to form arguments (argumentative reading). Literary interpretation is more of a subjectivist idea of analysis where a text can have as many meanings as its readers. So basically, ‘truth’ in this domain, is more of an invention – an act of unpacking or unraveling! Next, he explained the idea of critique, an ideological method of reading literary texts – a primarily political vector of analysis where the reading wants to identify ways in which literature can critique dominant ideologies. On other occasions, it can also become complicit in dominant ideologies.

This lecture also informs us about deconstructive reading, a strategy where a text is read against its intentionality. For example, reading a manifesto for pacifism (peace) as a manifesto for war would be a deconstructive reading – we are going against the intentional grain of a particular text. Prof Arka also talked about some fascinating types and levels of reading such as contrapuntal (reading a literary text alongside a theoretical or philosophical tradition; it is not applied but is comparatist), close (every detail in a text is necessary, and we have to pay attention to every single detail), distant (structurally as well as culturally; distance becomes a condition of knowledge), micro and macro (Are we reading something in the text that is just a microelement? Or, is it a larger question, which is a macro-unit outside the text?). Towards the end, he used some case studies (small stories) to provide us a better insight into the different types of reading and interpretation in literature.

Decoding Alan Turing

Anirban Dasgupta, faculty in the Computer Science and Engineering discipline, delivered a lecture on the renowned computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist, Alan Mathison Turing, who was a major contributor to the field of computing. The father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, he provided a formalization of the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine that’s considered as a model of a general-purpose computer. The prestigious Turing Award (the Nobel Prize in Computing) is named after him.

At the age of 23, Turing stated that the world needs a universal prover — one method that can prove all mathematical statements! After this, in 1936, he authored a paper called on computable numbers, and this is, technically, referred to as the start of computer science. One of his biggest achievements was his contribution to developing Bombe. In 1939, World War II started, and one of the most important techniques employed by the Germans for rapid troop deployment was the Enigma, a machine that allowed coded messages to be communicated through radio-waves. Along with some other cryptographers like John Tillman and Bill Tutte, Turing built Bombe – a very fast machine to enable the cryptanalysis of Enigma. Long story short, it helped in breaking several sophisticated codes and saving many lives.

Turing also wrote the first manifesto of Artificial Intelligence, known as the Intelligent Machinery. It contains many precise statements on idea of machine intelligence. Moreover, he also gave us the Imitation Game (the original game existed in the Victorian era). Based on it, he proposed the Turing test. Even amidst a lot of controversies, it to this day remains the goal of AI! As a theoretical biologist, he claimed to have found out the theory of systems of mutually reacting and diffusing chemicals, which along with factors like their instability and the resulting equilibrium inevitably cause biological cell-differentiation. Unfortunately, Watson and Crick’s DNA model was discovered right after it. This is the reason why this theory of morphogenesis went unnoticed for a very long time. But, there has been a surge in this topic again in recent times. A number of works have popped up which say that DNA and its regulations don’t explain everything! So, maybe Turing’s theory is worthwhile to look at!

So, friends, I hope that you found this sneak peek informative as well as interesting. I will return soon with stories of other lectures from this series. Till then, stay healthy, stay safe, and stay tuned!

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