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Turing Lectures Open ACM FCRC

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Outside the Phoenix Convention Center last evening, it was a steamy 98 degrees. Inside, in Symphony Hall, there was a slight chill in the nearly packed auditorium as we awaited the insights of the 2018 ACM A.M. Turing Laureates, as part of the welcome session for ACM's Federated Computing Research Conference (FCRC).

Taking place every four years, FCRC is the site of 13 computer science conferences at the same time and place, along with their associated workshops:

Before the Turing Laureates spoke, conference chair Vivek Sarkar of the Georgia Institute of Technology welcomed the hundreds of developers, academics, and others interested in deepening their understanding of specific aspects of computer science. 

Sarkar said this year's event was the largest FCRC since its creation in 1993, having drawn the record number of 2,700 participants, including more than 1,100 students. "Our conferences are where you find the cutting edge of computer science research," he noted, before offering attendees some advice: "If your cellphone rings this evening (during the remarks of the Turing Laureates), that's 2,700 people who will remember you for the rest of your career, including everyone on live streams." 

Given the broad range of topics covered by the individual conferences, Sarkar said, "I would like to encourage every one, especially the students, to take advantage of the unique opportunity offered by FCRC to attend sessions and conference outside your research area as well, so you can be exposed to emerging ideas in other areas of computer science. 

ACM president Cherri Pancake pointed out the unique opportunity FCRC represents. "We all know that computing has become increasingly interdisciplinary, but it's not often that we have the chance to meet and interact with leading researchers from other areas outside our own."

Pancake observed that recent advances in artificial intelligence "would never be possible without some of the foundations that were established by people like those we are honoring tonight" in the area of deep learning.

She noted that "The 2018 ACM A.M. Turing Award was presented just last week in San Francisco to three pioneers of deep learning: Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton, and Yann LeCun. The three of them, collectively and independently, worked over a 30-year period to develop first of all the conceptual foundations of deep neural networks, and then performed experimentation that ended up identifying a lot of very interesting phenomena. They didn't stop there, they went on to develop engineering advances that demonstrated conclusively that deep neural nets could actually be applied in practice and in an economic way. This, in turn, allowed other people to develop these amazing concepts that we are now, and advances that we are now benfitting from in so many different areas: computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, robotics, and so many different other areas."

Pancake then introduced Hinton, who presented his Turing Lecture on "The Deep Learning Revolution." Hinton was followed by LeCun, whose Turing Lecture was titled "The Digital Learning Revolution: the Sequel." Rather than try to summarize their the depth and breadth of their remarks, you should see them for yourself (and you can access video captured from the live stream of their full presentations here). 

Lawrence M. Fisher is Senior Editor/News for ACM magazines. 


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