Computation, Information, and Intelligence (ENGRI/CS/INFO/COGST 172), Spring 2007
1/22/07: Course Description and Policies

This webpage simply copies the "course description and policies" first-day lecture handout.

Contents: Fast facts
Enrollment information (prerequisites, "background check", requirements satisfied)
Course materials (handouts, books on reserve, etc.)
Coursework (philosophy; homework and exam schedules; collaboration, reference, and regrade policies)
Academic Integrity

"One of the strengths of this course is that computer science is introduced in a different and interesting way. The lectures take a look at the ideas underlying computer science, without actually trying to implement these ideas in a program. This appeals to a larger audience.... Overall I think the course has [achieved] what it was supposed to; it gave us an understanding of [Artificial Intelligence] and unfortunately with that comes illustrating how difficult AI can often be.... But [the staff go] to extraordinary lengths to help students learn *how* to learn."
– excerpts from the Fall 2005 anonymous course-evaluation comments
"Never, ever, underestimate a Cornell student. Remember that."
– "Memorare", Anthony R. Ingraffea, Cornell prof. and Weiss Fellowship recipient
"All satisfied with their seats? O.K. No talking, no smoking, no knitting, no newspaper reading, no sleeping, and for God's sake take notes."
Lectures on Literature, Vladimir Nabokov, ex-Cornell prof. and Nobel prize non-recipient

Fast facts

   Lecture time/place:  MWF 10:10-11:00am, Thurston 203
   Instructor: Prof. Lillian Lee
4152 Upson, gif with
email address, x5-8119,
Office hours: starting Friday January 26, Tuesdays 3-4 and Fridays 11:15-12 except during Spring break or otherwise announced.
   TAs: Jared Cantwell, Rafael Frongillo, Nick Gallo, Selina Lok, Anton Morozov, Ben Pu, Sean Seguin, Mark Yatskar, and Adam Yeh — a truly excellent bunch of people looking forward to helping you succeed in this course! Contact and office-hour information TBA.
   Course homepage:
Contents: handout archive (policy discussed in the "Course materials" section below) and, by the end of the second week of class, a "live" course calendar with office hours, homework due dates, and exam dates.
Note: the website will never be the first place that an announcement is made. This is so that you do not need to keep checking the website for announcements (without prior notification from us) &mdash one less thing you have to keep track of. You're welcome.
   Exam dates: in-class prelims Friday March 2 and Friday April  16  6, non-optional final Friday May 18th, 2-4:30pm, location TBD.


ENGRI/COMS/INFO/COGST 172 (henceforth "172") is an introduction to computer science focusing on current methods and examples from the field of artificial intelligence. It is not a programming course; rather, "pencil and paper" problem sets are assigned, for the focus of the class is on algorithmic concepts and mathematical models. Subjects range from classic topics to current research, as indicated by the following syllabus overview (specifics may be subject to change):
  1. Problem solving; or, Kasparov's defeat, Deep Blue's feat, and the myth of brute-force search: problem-space design and search; game playing, minimax, and pruning
  2. Learning; or, the van that learned to drive itself: neural nets, linear separators, and the perceptron convergence theorem
  3. Language; or, a computer that understands you like your mother: Boolean and vector-space approaches to information retrieval; Web structure, PageRank, and hubs and authorities; machine translation; statistical learning in infants; language models, context-free grammars, and hidden Markov models
  4. Computability; or, the unexpected hanging: Turing machines; the uncomputability of the halting function; undecidability for continuous paradigms; zero-knowledge protocols
  5. The Turing Test; or, the ultimate final exam: Turing's proposal; the Chinese Room; the Loebner prize

Enrollment information

Prerequisites: elementary knowledge of differentiation; freshman standing or permission of instructor. Programming skills are neither required nor taught; one can do exceedingly well in 172 without any prior programming experience.

Non-freshmen must apply for permission of the instructor to enroll (forms will be available at the first few lectures). The intent is to ensure as comfortable a learning environment as possible for first-year students in the course. The permission decision will be primarily based on applicant background in computer science (not computer programming), information science, and cognitive science; indeed, those with substantial prior experience in these areas would presumably be better served by courses that don't overlap with what they've already taken.

172 satisfies the introduction to engineering (ENGRI) requirement for students in the College of Engineering. It counts toward the mathematics and quantitative reasoning (MQR) requirement for students in the College of Arts and Sciences, and toward the Information Systems requirement for students completing a minor or concentration in Information Science.

Course materials

We are not aware of a text covering the breadth of the class syllabus at a level and currency matching the course objectives. In lieu of a required textbook, therefore, “lecture aid” handouts will be distributed at every lecture. These are used both to facilitate lecture and to serve as a supplement (not a replacement) for your own notes. Any extra copies will be available in the racks outside Upson 303 (Cornell ID card required for after-hours access to the building). Most handouts will also be posted to the class website, generally within a few days after in-class distribution (and certainly as soon as we can manage).

If you would like some opportunity to "look ahead" before a given lecture, you may wish to consult the handouts from the Fall 2005 running of the course, available at But look-ahead is definitely optional, and you should be aware that updates to notation, definitions, and content are planned for this semester; therefore, you definitely should not rely on the handouts from Fall 2005.

The following four texts, all on reserve at the Engineering Library in Carpenter Hall, are recommended for optional supplemental reading: they can be consulted for back-up or alternate presentations of the course material, and can be utilized for further exploration of the course topics. The standard artificial-intelligence textbook is Russell and Norvig's Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (second edition, 2003). Belew's Finding Out About: A Cognitive Perspective on Search Engine Technology and the WWW (2001) is organized around the theme of identifying documents that help someone learn more about a topic of interest, and thus touches upon classic and Web information retrieval, learning, and natural language processing. Some of our coverage of traditional information-retrieval topics is drawn from Frakes and Baeza-Yates, eds., Information Retrieval: Data Structures and Algorithms (1992). A recent text concentrating on natural language processing is Jurafsky and Martin's Speech and Language Processing: An Introduction to Natural Language Processing, Computational Linguistics, and Speech Recognition (2000).


Philosophy: The problems we assign will often develop your understanding by asking you to analyze the impact of altering initial assumptions, to apply techniques and algorithms from lecture in new settings, to extend them in novel ways, and so on. We believe that confronting these "what would happen if we changed ...?" challenges will guide you to a deep understanding of the original concepts, and will furthermore hone critical-thinking skills that will serve you well in future endeavors.

Homework and exam dates: There will be six problem sets, together comprising roughly 50% of the course grade, due at the beginning of class on 2/7, 2/21, 3/14, 3/28, 4/18, and 5/2 (all Wednesdays); each will be handed out at least a week in advance. Late homework will not be accepted (for emergencies, contact the instructor). There will also be in-class prelims on Friday March 2 and Friday April 6 (each roughly 15% of the course grade) and a comprehensive final on Friday, May 18th, 2-4:30pm (roughly 20% of the course grade). Note that, as the course calendar will show once we have posted it to the course webpage, there is never a homework due during the 8 days preceding each exam.

Collaboration and reference to outside material: You may and are encouraged to discuss homework problems and general solution strategies with other students, as well as consult books, web pages and other sources. As a matter of academic integrity (see below) you must list your collaborators and references consulted. Moreover, to ensure the development of individual mastery of the material, the following policies are in place. Discussions may not include specific solution details (working out the details oneself is an extremely valuable learning experience). Homeworks must be written up independently of other people and without the aid of collaborative notes. Even if you use outside references (including the books on reserve), your write-ups must be in your own words. If ever in doubt about whether a particular situation is permissible, ask beforehand.

Regrade requests: We will grade your work carefully. But should questions about grading arise that are not addressed by the course staff's solutions, then contact the relevant grader within three weeks after the homework was returned and solutions distributed. We reserve the right to make regrade decisions "off-line" (i.e., not immediately at the time requested).

Academic Integrity

Students should act in accordance with the principles and guidelines given in the Code of Academic Integrity (, helpful expanded version at and the policies outlined above. We will penalize violations — to do otherwise would, at the very least, be unfair to other students. Again, if ever in doubt about whether something is allowed, ask beforehand.

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