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Symposium kicks off with IBM's "Watson" investigator

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David Ferrucci of IBM

David Ferrucci, IBM Fellow and principal investigator behind "Watson," opened Union's fourth annual "Symposium on Engineering & Liberal Education" Friday.

After welcoming remarks from President Stephen C. Ainlay, Ferrucci gave symposium participants a behind-the-scenes look at how "Watson" was able to beat his two human competitors on "Jeopardy." Ferrucci detailed difficulties of programming the computer to overcome different uses of common words in the English language and shared how the computer would find an answer from its vast, stored knowledge. Ferrucci heads the Semantic Analysis and Integration Department at IBM’s T.J. Watson’s Research Center, which is overseen by John E. Kelly III ’76, senior vice president and director of research at IBM.

Leaders from nearly two dozen schools are at this year’s conference, which is being held June 3 and 4. Among the participants: Princeton, Swarthmore, Binghamton, Lafayette, Smith, Trinity and MIT.

This year’s symposium will explore the impact of integration on innovation and entrepreneurship, including an “Integrate to Innovate” Faculty Institute consisting of workshops for faculty to enhance their courses and curricula by integrating engineering and the liberal arts.

Past symposia have focused on how engineering contributes to a liberal education, the importance of a liberal education for engineers and exploration of the intellectual relationship between engineering and the liberal arts.

In 1845, Union became the first liberal arts college to offer engineering. With the addition of projects such as the recently opened $22 million Peter Irving Wold Center, with its emphasis on interdisciplinary study, the College is reshaping what it means to liberally educate students in the 21st century.