We sat down with Pulkit Grover during a break in the student-postdoc research workshop that took place in July 2012. Pulkit was a post-doctoral scholar at Stanford during the time of this interview. He is now an Assistant Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. This is what he had to say about his interactions with the Center.
Pulkit, tell us about your impressions of the Center and what interactions you have been involved in terms of research and education
I think the effort of the Center developing a list of grand challenges is great but towards addressing those grand challenges and even in the process of coming up with those grand challenges, the discussions that are happening across different communities is just wonderful.
This very discussion is happening during our research workshop going on now; we were just talking about issues in neuroscience and how measurements made in neuroscience today are being influenced or can be influenced by a better understanding of what those measurements are being used for. This all boils down to goal oriented communication in a way, which is very interesting as an area of application for idea.
My background is in information theory. Personally for me, developing during a graduate student and now a post-doc, this development from taking an information theory class and information theory ideas to understanding where all information theory can go to is a very satisfying thing.
For me there were two interdisciplinary interactions that happened during the workshop today and last night.I was talking to a neuroscientist from UCSD she is a post doc from Todd Coleman’s group. She was telling me about how measurements are made [in the brain], and then on the other hand there was quite a bit she had to understand the language I was trying to speak and i had to understand a lot of words she was using. In an informal environment it was very easy to do, you could never do it during a talk. I could probe her on questions, \"so I’m pretty stupid in neuroscience, I’ve watched movies and read science fiction. But not really any books. So tell me what this means\" And she was very ok with explaining it to me in a child’s language.
I also had a promising interaction with the computer scientist from MIT who works in cryptography and we were trying to develop ideas on how to look at boolean operations and security in systems. There is an understanding of security within information theory, which has for good and not so good reasons not had much application in practice, while computer science cryptography has been extremely successful in getting it into practice. Now what is the reason?
In order to understand this, it is important for me to understand how computer scientists perceive security. And then try to see how information theoretic security can apply to that area. We actually wrote out a tiny problem formulation, which we couldn’t solve in one night! But, the hope is that we can do it in the next year or at least begin to address that with let’s say a seed grant.
Do you feel it is important for graduate student to interact on an interdisciplinary level?
Well, faculty get to interact with each other at a level where they interact across disciplines all of the time, if they want to. Graduate students don’t even have that access because they don’t have those links established yet. Sometimes credibility is an issue. So this environment [The Center has built] is really nice in being able to get graduate students and post docs together from different streams.
I love the center, its genuinely amazing. It’s often said that interdisciplinary collaboration and interactions are very useful but what’s happened over the years is that fields have matured pretty much independently And it’s not over the process of the last ten years it’s over the past thirty or forty years.But the emphasis that we are now laying on big data, and bringing on new insights and new ideas or new problems that challenge us in different communities, information theory community, computer science community, and life science community, that challenge might push us again to come together in a way that different communities came together during world war two and afterword’s.
I was reading this book called 'The Information', it’s a beautiful book! It’s a genuinely beautiful book written by James Gleik, which describes the history of information theory and interactions between Turing and Shannon at the time. And it was just excellent and that was again interdisciplinary interactions. Shannon worked on building guided missiles during world war two, and Turing worked on breaking codes. And these are interdisciplinary activities, once you build something it has to be interdisciplinary. It helps you enhance your perspectives on how to abstract, or it helps you model these sort of things, once you build these things. And I think that interaction of Turing with practice in general has weakened over time. Something like the Center can certainly help build up that connection again.