Grinnell Lecture: Peter-Michael Osera

Automating Soul: What Does Computation Unveil about The Things We Do?

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations invites you to virtually join this year's Grinnell Lecture with Peter-Michael Osera, associate professor and department chair of computer science.

"Since the rise of the digital computer in 1945, computation has transformed every aspect of our lives. The heart of this transformation lies in the automation that computing provides. In the past, computers automate mundane tasks like data entry, numerical calculations, and spell-checking. With rapid increases in computational power and advancements in algorithmic design, computers are quickly becoming capable of automating complex tasks previously thought to be the stuff of science fiction, e.g., driving, writing, drawing, and even programming itself.

It is easy to leave technology—its development, deployment, and surrounding policy-making—to the experts. However, I argue that it is both essential and possible for the layperson to understand computing automation so that they can have a say in how this technology will shape our lives. I present these arguments through my continued work in program synthesis, the automatic generation of computer programs from specification. If computer programs can “do anything,” then program synthesis represents the pinnacle of automation, i.e., the ability to automatically generate “anything.” By understanding the surprisingly simple core principles behind modern program synthesis, we gain insight into the current strengths and weaknesses of computing automation and how it might evolve in the future.

Furthermore, by understanding these principles, I hope to unveil the “soul” of program synthesis: automating the programming process. As a programming educator, I will also reflect on this “self-irrelevancy” I engage in and how it continually shapes my pedagogy. Through this reflection, I hope to begin a broader conversation with the Grinnell community about the “soul” of what we do at the institution and how we can respond positively to how computing automation will affect our work and the world."

Grinnell Lecture: Peter-Michael Osera
11 a.m. CST | Thursday, Feb. 29
Zoom Lecture

Register online. The Zoom link will appear in your confirmation email.

About the Speaker

Peter-Michael Osera, Associate Professor of Computer Science, received his B.S. in Computer Science and Applied and Computational Math Sciences and B.A. in the Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington in 2006 and his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. His mission is to help people harness the power of computation in its many forms, in particular, through computer programming. He does this by studying problems at the intersection of programming languages and systems, human-computing interaction, and computer science education. His work has been supported in part by the National Science Foundation through EAGER and CAREER awards.

Questions? Contact Adam Kelley-Chown, assistant director of alumni and donor relations, at or call 641-269-3185.

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Thursday February 29
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM
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