Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Great Discoveries and Inventions in Computing

CS 56N
Students should have some experience programming, preferably in a formal course.

This seminar will explore some of the great discoveries that underlie computer science as well as the inventions that have produced the remarkable advances in computing technology. Key questions we will explore include: What is computable? How can information be securely communicated despite the threat of hackers? How do computers fundamentally work? What makes computers fast? What is artificial intelligence and machine learning? Our exploration will look at the principles behind the discoveries and inventions, use interactive class exercises to explore the ideas, and include student-led discussions of current hot topics and ethical issues. In addition to our classes: we will visit the Computer History Museum (the foremost museum in the world for computer artifacts) and some computing labs on campus or in Silicon Valley.

Meet the Instructor(s)

John Hennessy

"I joined Stanford’s faculty in 1977 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering. In 1981, I drew together researchers to focus on a technology known as RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer), which revolutionized computing by increasing performance while reducing costs. I helped transfer this technology to industry by cofounding MIPS Computer Systems, later MIPS Technologies, which designs RISC microprocessors. I rose to full professorship in 1986 and was the inaugural Willard R. and Inez Kerr Bell Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. I served as chair of Computer Science and dean of the School of Engineering before being inaugurated as Stanford’s 10th president, serving from 2000 until 2016. I now lead the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship program, the world’s largest graduate scholarship program focused on developing future leaders.

"My honors include the 2017 Turing Award (considered the highest award in computer science) and the 2012 Medal of Honor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, its highest award, and many others. I am an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. I earned my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University and my master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and also hold ten honorary degrees."