• Professor Dan Rockmore

    Short Talks, Big Ideas: Daniel Rockmore on Machine Learning and Creativity

    Monday, August 2, 2021
    News Type

“Poetry…programming…they’re different, but there are ways in which they share a lot.”

Dartmouth NEXT is excited to introduce the next speaker in our Short Talks on Big Ideas series, Professor of Math and Computer Science Daniel Rockmore. In this episode, Professor Rockmore looks at the intricate and sometimes mysterious way machine learning and artificial intelligence interweave with human creativity. 

The Birth of BASIC

One of Professor Rockmore’s notable projects was his work with a documentary celebrating the 50th anniversary of the computer language BASIC.

The first version of BASIC was designed by Dartmouth’s John G. Kemeny and his colleague Thomas E. Kurtz and was released at Dartmouth in 1964. These two pioneers wanted to create a computer language that allowed all students to work with computers—not just scientists and mathematicians. 

“It’s a wonderful story—a story of collaboration between a leading scientist and a hungry team of undergraduates who, in the words of one of them, didn’t even know what a computer was.”

One of Rockmore’s favorite parts of making the documentary was seeing and hearing footage of Professor Kemeny discuss his vision for the role of computers in our everyday lives in the future. 

Focusing on Creativity

Rockmore’s most recent work takes a deep dive into the ways computers can analyze and generate text. How close are we to AI replacing humans as artistic creators?

By looking at enormous amounts of text throughout the ages, Rockmore studied the patterns and conventions of written language. He’s even spent time examining more subjective qualities like style by using computers to analyze vast amounts of text. Rockmore is also interested in using computers to write in particular styles of verse like limericks or sonnets.

“I’m kind of interested to learn if a machine can write a novel. That’s an enduring and fascinating question to me.”

Even though his professional interests center around machine-produced writing, Professor Rockmore hasn’t entirely discarded more traditional literature and written communication forms. 

“If a machine could [write a novel], I’d be interested in the next thing a machine can do. But it wouldn’t stop me from going home and reading books.” 

Hear From Professor Rockmore on Short Talks, Big Ideas

Professor Rockmore is beloved and respected by his students and colleagues in the computer science department. In addition to his post as Professor of Math and Computer Science, Dr. Rockmore’s academic appointments include:

  • Director of the Neukom Institute for Computational Science
  • William H. Neukom 1964 Distinguished Professor of Computational Science
  • Member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

You can meet this impressive teacher-scholar by tuning in to the latest episode of Short Talks, Big Ideas, which premieres Thursday, August 5th, 2021. You can learn more about the premiere and other ways to watch it by visiting the Dartmouth NEXT website. 

Dartmouth NEXT is a virtual forum of big ideas—developed to bring the best of Dartmouth straight to you. Each month we explore contemporary issues and engage in conversations around the world’s most significant challenges during virtual events streamed straight from campus ’round the girdled earth.