Dr. derek schuurman - podcast interview transcript
Announcer: 00:03 Welcome to the Purpose Nation Podcast, inspiring conversations with Christians in science, technology, and industries of the future. For more information in order to make a tax deductible contribution, visit PurposeNation.org.
Brad Cooper: 00:16 Hello, this is Brad Cooper with Purpose Nation and today we're going to talk robots... and automation and computer science and all kinds of really cool kind of cool and or Geeky stuff, whatever you consider it to be. But really the stuff that I get jazzed about anyway, so you know, robots and artificial intelligence, should we be afraid? Are they going to take over the world like we've seen in terminator and other movies or conversely, are they going to save us all from death and suffering or is the reality kind of somewhere in between? And how should Christians view these coming changes that robots and AI and automation and all this technology is going to bring us? Should we be afraid, are, should we kind of look towards a better future? And so my next guest on the podcast has been on the front lines with some of these types of questions and more, especially as these areas intersect with our Christian calling. And so I'm just super honored and blessed to welcome my next guest on the podcast Professor Derrick Schuurman. Professor Schuurman, welcome to the Purpose Nation podcast.
Prof. Schuurman: 01:18 Yeah, thank you Brad. It's a pleasure to be here.
Brad Cooper: 01:20 Yeah, likewise. Thanks for thanks for being here, in your summer and yeah, Professor Schuurman, obviously he's a college professor. And so taking time from your, what sounds like a very busy summer, to spend some time with us today and talk about some of these things. So if you could maybe just, so you've been in the fields of computer science and automation, robotics, things like that for many years, but just real quick, can you give us a quick summary of maybe the main focus of your current work?
Prof. Schuurman: 01:42 Yeah, just really briefly. I was a technology enthusiast in the early days of computing and I owned a Sinclair ZX 81, which maybe some of your listeners may recognize. But yeah, I have since I worked in industry and then spent some time in academia. I'm currently at Calvin College and some of my current work right now is dealing with questions of faith in technology. I'm a current book project that I'm working on this summer, is a book about engineering through the eyes of faith. So a book with the tentative title of "A Christian Field Guide to Technology" that I'm working on with two other authors. And what we're trying to do is wrestle with how do you connect the dots between your faith and your work as an engineer? And this is something that actually resonates with me because I worked as an engineer for about nine years. I sat in a cubicle farm, um, you know, designing circuit boards and uh, writing software. And the question would come into my own mind, like, what is my work as an engineer have to do with, uh, with my faith, or does it? And so, uh, so this book is written with an audience or will be written with the audience of sort of first year engineering students or practicing engineers and hopefully helping to guide them in thinking about those connections.
Brad Cooper: 02:58 Yeah, that's awesome. That's, yeah, I will look forward to that book. And then also Professor Schuurman has a book out that you can check out as well called, "Shaping a Digital World: Faith Culture and Computer Technology." And so we'll have a link to that book and then we'll definitely look forward on our podcast page there. You can check that out, and we'll look forward to the new one coming. Yeah, I mean that's a, that's a super important topic. Well, I didn't have the computer that you mentioned there, I forgot what it was there, but I think my first one was like a commodore 64. So there we go. We're dating, dating myself there. And I spent many years in the cubicles as well. More and more and more on that kind of a, so at Apple and other places, more on the, on the bu siness and operations and marketing side.
Brad Cooper: 03:38 But yeah, you know, in the computer industry and then spending many years in silicon valley as well. You know, it's, this is, that's really important, you know, to help folks make that connection to what they're doing, the work that they're doing and their Christian faith. And so, yeah, that's a, that's awesome. That's exciting. to hear that, that, that's coming in. And just real quick, can I fill in the gaps there a little bit, if it's okay, Professor Herman, on and your background there. So just a little bit of a quick bio here. You know, so Professor Schuurman, as he said, he's a professor of computer science at Calvin College, a great Christian college up north there in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And he received his BS and MS in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo and his PHD from McMaster University, both of those colleges in Ontario, Canada, as he said, he worked many years in industry and then has been kind of teaching. Prior to a Calvin, at Redeemer University College and Dortch College. And his, he mentioned the, you know, some of his interests, also include, robotics and computer vision, which is kind of cool, embedded systems, internet of things, you know, kind of wiring up all the different pieces of a, you know, our appliances and stuff for, you know, everywhere we look as well as the faith and technology issues he talked about yet. You have a couple of patents I think I saw as well. Is that right?
Prof. Schuurman: 04:45 Yeah, I worked in Silicon Valley north, which is a, what we'd like to call Waterloo, Ontario where a lot of uh, burgeoning, you know, small tech companies and bigger ones as well that are, um, kind of sprouting out of the University of Waterloo, which is a big, a big tech school there.
Brad Cooper: 05:00 Cool. Yeah. Yeah. Lots of, uh, you know, different sort of Silicon Valley's sprouting up all over the country, which is great. And I'll and Canada as well and he's participated in service projects in developing countries. He's written a lot of great articles and essays on a lot of the topics we're going to talk about. So please do check out our podcast page and on our, on our website where we'll have some links to some of his essays that he's done. So check out those articles. A lot of great presentations. He's done a lot of presentations in front of, you know, various churches and other audiences. Also, as I understand it, enjoys biking, Ham, radio, electronics, obviously digital photography. And along those lines I happen to notice that you have a collection of road crossing signs...
Prof. Schuurman: 05:40 Ha ha ha...
Brad Cooper: 05:40 ...that you've taken pictures of...
Prof. Schuurman: 05:45 A little esoteric perhaps when our family would go on vacation or our kids are sort of young adult college age now, but a one when our kids were younger, we'd go on family road trips and that was one of the things we collected along the way. No, we try to safely pull over and then take a picture of different types of crossing sides in the set of all crossing signs is quite a broad as you can well imagine. So I have a webpage where, where we posted dozens and dozens of these, a crossing signs for those who might be interested.
Brad Cooper: 06:11 Yeah, absolutely. What would, what would you say is your like most unique or might be most funny, a sign that you found?
Prof. Schuurman: 06:18 Yeah, I don't know. We, uh, we also found that the signs varied by province and by state and so on. But yeah, you know, you have a crossing signs for frogs and snakes and um, um, Moose and bison, you know, in a, in certain places. So it's, it's quite a, it's quite a, it's quite a range and yeah, we just, we, we, we took delight in just collecting them along.
Brad Cooper: 06:40 That's awesome. Yeah, I think we're going to start that collection in my family here. We don't, we don't go enough play. We don't have enough, you probably have so many unique ones in like in the north and in Canada there are that, you know? Yeah. Here in Orange County it's like mostly people crossing some mostly. Anyway. Good, good. Yeah. So check out, we'll have a link to the, to the road crossing signs as well. So you've, you've written a lot about where we're at, you know, in our journey with technology and you've talked about some of the extremes where we have people who are quote unquote, you know, Luddites maybe who fear automation and technology and robots and then, you know, maybe on the other extreme you've got these groups like transhumanists and people who think that technology will be our savior, you know, and things like that. So what's the reality, I mean the average folks that you meet, you know, Christians in particular, maybe where's the reality in terms of where people are at and their understanding maybe of technology and, and, and maybe their acceptance of it and what sort of your just pulse on, on where we're at in, in, in kind of those two different extremes that you've talked about.
Prof. Schuurman: 07:41 Yeah, no, I, I think those are sort of composites of, of different sort of approaches that you see. I think in the tech community, by and large there tends to be a lot of excess enthusiasm about, about technology. Although I do admit some of the recent news about how social networking is impacting people's relationships and politics and all those sorts of things has probably tempered some of that. I think as Christians, you know, when we look at any cultural artifact, you know, we need to recognize that everything sits within the wider grand, a biblical narrative and a, and I think that's a, are really helpful way of looking at the world, a set of lenses to sort of see the world. And, and the biblical narrative is you can summarized with the themes of creation, fall, redemption, restoration. And I think, you know, when we look at creation, that can be really helpful for us to realize that yes, technology is part of the latent potential in creation that God has established, something that he put there for us to unfold and develop.
Prof. Schuurman: 08:36 And so we ought not to shy away from it. We ought not to demonize it, but on the other hand, yeah, the Biblical story also tells us about the reality of the fall and how sin distorts and can pervert, misdirect things in ways that are disobedient and can lead to consequences for individuals and societies and so on. And so have we have this biblical narrative to kind of provide a set of lenses to see things that I think provides a corrective to those two extremes of either, uh, embracing technology un-thinkingly or on the other extreme, you know, sh um, shunning it. And of course the theme of redemption points too to our calling to be agents of reconciliation and renewal. Um, second Corinthians five talks about how we're called to be agents of reconciliation and that includes our work with culture and technology. And I think Christians are called to be salt and light in those areas as well.
Prof. Schuurman: 09:29 And to find ways to serve God and neighbor through, through our technical work. And so I think, I think the biblical story is one way to maintain a balance between not going to either of those extremes when we're dealing with the world of technology.
Brad Cooper 09:43 That's great. And what would you say in terms of your sense of and having conversations out there and doing presentations and maybe some of the questions you had at some of these presentations you've done. Where are Christians at? Do you think in terms of this technology? Are we going to be taken by surprise, you know, over the next 10 years? And where would you, and just your sense of a word Christians are at?
Prof. Schuurman: 10:02 First of all, I'm, I'm encouraged by the fact that I think more and more Christians are starting to ask these questions. I think, I think we need to have much more conversations about this and uh, and, and there's much more work that needs to be done.
Prof. Schuurman: 10:15 But I find that when I speak to people, I think there's a wide realization among Christians and wider culture that, that technology is not neutral. That it's having a profound impact on our society. On, on our communities. On our personal lives. On work. And I think people are seeing these changes coming rapidly and are wondering, you know, how do we live faithfully in a digital age? And, uh, and so I find that there's a lot of, a lot of good questions that are coming up based on personal observations of how technology is affecting people's children, how it's affecting the church, how technology is being introduced to the church and how technology is affecting the marketplace. I think a lot of people are generally aware of, you know, technologies like AI and automation that are in the popular media and press, which, uh, um, which are making bold predictions about huge changes coming down.
Prof. Schuurman: 11:10 Um, so I think I'm encouraged that people are asking questions at least which is, which is sort of, yeah, that the first step, I think the time is ripe for, for Christians who, uh, who thought about these things. Christians who, uh, you know, have leadership positions in churches and, and industry to be able to think about, you know, how now shall we live in this context that we find ourselves. What does it mean to be faithful? What does responsible technology look like in, in our current context?
Brad Cooper: 11:38 Thanks. And yeah, so that's, that's good to hear. And I, I guess I'm sort of seeing the same thing as well. Definitely want to dive into that a little bit deeper. Just real quick. I'd love to learn though a little bit more about how you talked about your first computer and things like that. So I'm guessing you've geeked out on technology computers for a long time, but maybe give us a little bit of the, the, you know, the view into, into your background there as a kid. I mean, so it sounds like you've always kind of had an inclination in this area, but I mean wizard specific point where you really wanted to make this a career in engineering or technology. Give us a little bit of the background there.
Prof. Schuurman: 12:10 Yeah, I think I was blessed to kind of grow up in a time and place when the personal computer revolution was just taking off. And it really caught my imagination. I was an electronics hobbyist already as a young team, you know, kind of, you know, cobbling together a little circuits and mucking around with stuff. Got My ham radio license and I played around with that as well. But it was the new personal computers. You talked about the Commodore 64. For me, it was the Sinclair ZX 81, which was my first computer. You can Google it. It was 1k of RAM with a membrane keyboard. You plugged it into a television and you saved and loaded your programs from an audio cassette. And I expanded it to 16 K of Ram. But it was, it was the platform at which I did a lot of tinkering and learning and began to, I think my imagination was captured by the possibilities of what sort of things this tool could eventually do. So yeah, it was kind of an obvious next step for me to go and study engineering, electrical engineering. And from there I developed my craft, uh, and I, uh, then went on to work as a, as an engineer in industry working in mostly embedded systems for motion control and other things. But, um, but yeah, it was, it was the time and context in which I grew up, but I think a natural kind of passion for, for tinkering with these things.
Brad Cooper: 13:27 And then how about your, your Christian faith background? Can you give us a little bit of view view into that?
Prof. Schuurman: 13:31 Yeah. So I, I grew up in a Christian family. I had attended Christian schools for my entire sort of school career from you have grades one through 13 and Ontario. And so,my faith was always a part of my life and part of my journey. However, I think being sort of intellectually academically inclined as a young person, my faith was with somewhat cerebral at times. I think I was really interested in the ideas of Christianity and learning more about it. And I think it was only later on, as I matured, that I began to understand the importance of the heart and the work of the Holy Spirit in one's life. And Yeah, part of that too is understanding your context and figuring out what it means to sort of live faithfully in, in the world that you find yourself.
Prof. Schuurman: 14:18 And all of that was probably entwined with sort of the questions I began asking as I sat in a cubical farm, you know, so, but “what does faith have to do with technology?” My book Shaping a Digital World opens with the question, you know, “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” which is a, a question that, uh, an early church father once posed. And I think we can update that and ask the question, “What does silicon valley have to do with Jerusalem? And, uh, what do bites have to do with beliefs? Part of that book and part of the, my ongoing work is to try and help other Christians and my students think about that. To understand better about what it means to live faithfully in the world that we find ourselves.
Brad Cooper: 14:56 That's great. Yeah. I like the way you talked about that in terms of, and I find this a lot as well, the folks that I talked to on the podcast and kind of people who are in science or technology, a lot of times it starts with the head and the the intellectual part kind of as you said, and sort of, yeah, the Christian faith starts with that and you kind of like to get deep in theology or maybe you know, Christian history or something like that. And then maybe the heart stuff, it comes later. And then I find with a lot of other people that don't gravitate and maybe necessarily these fields, it starts with the heart and then, oh, how do I evaluate, you know, all this technology and stuff. It's really interesting kind of the way different perspectives that people come at these things. And so you went to college. Did you find the other Christian students, especially in the computer sciences or you know, or what do they make of you? I mean, where you, where you sort of the uh, you know, odd guy out or,
Prof. Schuurman: 15:40 I was friends with others who were from a background of faith in Jesus and there were on campus Christian fellowship groups. I was part of a Christian reform fellowship group and um, was able to be encouraged and I lived with some other Christians for a time in terms of my housing situation. And I, I found that having a small Christian community around me was very helpful in terms of encouraging me and helping keep me accountable and so on in my classes and in my, you know, my interactions with others, I think in the technical fields that it's, um, doesn't always come up, you know, the, these matters of, you know, worldviews and sort of presuppositions or kind of just below the surface. And I don't think I was mature enough at the time to kind of recognize the sort of hidden worldviews and, and ideas that were sort of just below the surface.
Prof. Schuurman: 16:31 And I think those can be helpful things once you identify to spring forth the conversations, right. Task as sort of questions about why things are the way they are and what sort of presuppositions are behind certain ideas and practices. But it didn't come up much. And I think I'm, it wasn't until I was in industry that I began to wrestle with those questions more. I think without being thoughtful, it's easy to fall into this kind of dualistic mindset where there's this world of church and Christian fellowship groups and personal devotions and then there's the world of work and study. And I think that is a, um, a dualistic sort of a view to the world that you have to watch out for. That's a, that's a common pitfall I think that's easy to kind of slide into. And so that was also part of my, yeah, part of the things that I had to wrestle with as I began my career.
Brad Cooper: 17:18 Right. Yeah, I agree. It is great that you did have some other Christians in college and groups and things like that and, and there's lots obviously now and maybe in a minute we can talk about kind of Calvin and, and you and your folks there. But yeah, that is a definitely something you see in all areas at work and hopefully folks can can bring more and more of their faith into work and, and vice versa. And also kind of bring more of what they've learned in their work into church too. Um, so yeah, it kind of fast forwarding now a little, a little bit back to kind of your current projects and things that you work on and things that you think about in regards to and deep learning in robotics. What are maybe some of the promising things that you see, you know, kind of start off with the benefits here of, of some of these technologies that are coming that are going to impact all of us in profound ways. I mean, what are some of the benefits that you see maybe in medicine or other areas that that are going to be very beneficial?
Prof. Schuurman: 18:06 Yeah, no, exactly. That was one of the first examples that came to mind was medical technologies that I think are wonderful ways to show love for our neighbor and to employ technology in ways that helps people to flourish more. I think of technologies that are being employed to help with solving problems in the environment and climate; technologies that are being employed to do work that's dull, dangerous or dirty, uh, you know, robotics that are designed for anti mining, humanitarian anti mining or robots that are being used for space exploration, tele robotics used in, in surgery. I think there's, there's a whole wide array of possibilities in technology that can, that can contribute to flourishing. And I think, you know, for that reason it's, it's a legitimate area for Christians to be working in. It's an area that we're called to unfold and one that has a lot of beneficial potential that's embracing sort of the creational possibilities I was referring to earlier. God made technology or the possibility for technology and it's something that's good that we can unfold and that we can develop like any other area of culture.
Brad Cooper: 19:10 Yeah. And so, and you've also worked in computer vision, I think is one of the areas that you worked in. And it seems like it's something we take for granted, our vision, but as I understand it, it's pretty difficult. It sounds like to get computers to see like we do and understand what they're seeing, you know, where's that at right now in terms of, and I understand that, that as far as you know, self driving cars and all the different applications of that. But you know, is, is that as hard to do as it seems like it would be as to to teach computers to see,
Prof. Schuurman: 19:35 I did my graduate research in the early 2000s and that was still an early, early days of computer vision. In some ways a computer vision algorithms were notoriously fragile. You know, you change the lighting or ad occlusions or or or whatnot and or change the camera calibrations and things would just fall apart very, very quickly. It was, it was very fragile and I think if you had talked to myself or to any of the fellow researchers in our lab, I imagine that at that time if you said, will cars ever be able to drive, you know, using computer vision on a street and unstructured environments with all kinds of unknown obstacles and challenges, would that ever be possible? We would probably laugh at you and say, oh, that, that's next to impossible. Right? I mean, the sort of state of the art at that point, it was very fragile and little did we know, but you know, fast forward about 10 or so years after that and no, there were successful autonomous vehicles being used.
Prof. Schuurman: 20:32 And I think that was quite surprising to me just to see how quickly things developed. I was working on, on visual server wing and later on I did some, um, later research after my graduate work in computer vision for a sorting recycled, they'll get looking at different, you might be able to use computer vision to aid and something that I saw as clearly, you know, helping to steward the earth better. But computer vision of course can also be applied to things like, um, privacy invading facial recognition and it can be used in all kinds of other directions as well that, uh, uh, that are not so helpful. So, um, so again you see in, in even the field of computer vision, this idea that it can have a direction in that it can be pointed in ways that are, that help people in the planet to flourish more are pointed in ways that I would say are more disobedient or are more, uh, perverse in some ways.
Prof. Schuurman: 21:24 But I think some of the, the, the getting to your, your other question about, you know, where things are at. I'm less active in computer vision research right now due to some of my, a recent focus on faith and technology. But I am very impressed and yeah, delighted to see some of the progress that's happened with deep learning and how that has really, really helped make computer vision systems far more robust and capable of classifying things over a wide range of lighting conditions and situations. Um, that's actually quite surprising. Uh, the, the algorithms are performing very well. And I think this is where the whole question of of AI, it comes in in terms of, you know, um, we see the sort of these wonderful possibilities and potentials and, and capabilities. And the question is, you know, how do we use that in ways, ah, that are wise and responsible as we look at some of those possibilities.
Brad Cooper: 22:14 So deep learning, you mentioned, tell folks a little bit about what is that in, in a [inaudible] and why has that been so revolutionary? You know, as far as the advancements that you've been talking about.
Prof. Schuurman: I'll make it brief. The, the, the idea is to, uh, using structures called neural nets, building a computer program that can then be trained with a whole bunch of a sample images or sample inputs. And they use really, really nifty algorithms that can do something called, you know, steepest gradient descent and so on to, to find, um, uh, ways to tune this, the structure so that when new inputs are put into the system, it's able to classify them with, with, I think, quite remarkable accuracy. There's work that's ongoing of course. Um, when new inputs are placed in, in an artificial intelligence system, it's not always easy to predict how they're going to respond and sometimes they can be fragile too.
Prof. Schuurman: 23:06 There, there's a bit of an art to tuning these things, but as the datasets of samples sort of increases and as the different architectures are sort of fine tuned in terms of how these things are assembled, they're actually making remarkable progress in terms of showing, you know, really good performance in terms of recognizing objects or other types of inputs and being able to classify them with quite a high accuracy. Right. Um, so that, that's where a lot of the work is being done now. Okay. There's a whole other API called good old fashioned AI where there's been lots of work over decades, but it's this new approach, this sort of deep learning approach, which has shown some remarkable progress in the last couple of years.
Brad Cooper: 23:45 Right. As well as I understand it in sort of in layman's terms, it's kind of the computer is teaching themselves a little bit learning from the data and rather than you kind of hard coding everything that the computer needs to do and know it's going to give it more broad kind of for amateurs and then it's able to learn from the data, you know, and, and, and make up better over time.
Prof. Schuurman: 24:02 Yeah. And Computer Vision for instance, the one, one thing, um, you can think about is how would you tell a computer to recognize a cup, right? Like a cup is cylindrical, sometimes it has a handle to, it can be many different colors, it can vary in size and shape. Um, how would you code that into a computer? Well, that's very, very hard. What is a cup? What is cupness, right. And so the, the sort of deep learning approach is just to collect as many images of cups as you can and to feed them into the system. And then it trains itself on the statistically most significant features that can be used to recognize a cup and then kind of zeroes in on them and then becomes quite powerful at, um, discriminating know future images that come in. Yeah. That, that's where a lot of the novel kind of and interesting things come from with this new approach.
Brad Cooper: 24:46 Yeah. So we talked a lot about the benefits and there are many in terms of the, the changes that are coming in technology, what, on the flip side, what are maybe one or two of the things that maybe keep you up at night, if any, or that we should be, you know, thinking about, kind of concerned about or either concerned about or kind of thinking more thoughtfully about and being ready for?
Prof. Schuurman: 25:04 I think because of these things, um, because of these developments that the number of things that we can do are going to increase. Remarkably. The question is, you know, just because we can do something, ought we to do it, you know, and I think of applications like childminding robots, elder care robots, you know, uh, lethal autonomous robots used in warfare, sex robots, I mean these are all the kinds of applications. Where are these remarkable sort of developments will enable people to contemplate doing these sorts of things with, with uh, with AI and with robotics. And, and the question of course is, are these responsible ways to proceed and, and what sort of, um, what sort of wisdom and discernment do we need to exercise in order to, during the value things that ought to be done by humans to think about what are normative ways of, of unfolding some of this technology.
Prof. Schuurman: 25:55 When you create a device, of course it has social implications and economic implications and aesthetic implications and justice implications, cultural implications. How do we, yeah, how do we think and discern these things in ways that are, that are helpful. And I think the Christian faith has a lot to say about this kind of stuff, those 2000 years of Christian social thought can say a lot when it comes to, you know, what does it mean to work in this cultural area in ways that lead to human flourishing. What sort of norms and what sort of principals can, can we apply as Christians or at least contribute to the conversation to help point this technology in ways that will, ah, that will benefit people and, um, and, and allow us to act responsibly. So those are some of the things that I'm worried about. Automation, again, you know, I'm leading to loss of jobs and these sorts of things. How do we navigate some of those social changes? The possibilities come with a lot of implications for, um, disruption in a lot of different areas.
Brad Cooper: 26:51 Yeah. I think in some of your talks you talk about the movie Wall-e, which is a great movie. If you haven't seen it, check it out. You know, it talks about, you know, sort of what may... It's a little bit more of a dystopian future, but it talks about, you know, how we can become sort of fat and lazy and watched sitcoms all day and the robots and the kind of the ones that are taking all of our jobs and things like that. I mean, uh, you know, I, I've kind of somewhat skeptical about some of these predictions. And you kind of said that earlier on too, is, you know, yeah, a lot of these tech folks kind of really have high hopes and dreams for, for stuff and it's gonna, you know, be our savior and take a, you know, take over the world and things like that. And I, I'm a little bit more measured in it sounds like you are too, but what are your thoughts should folks now we're entering the job market, be worried that their jobs are going to be gone in the next, you know, 20 years?
Prof. Schuurman: 27:28 Yeah. Well just, just uh, to comment on the movie, Wall-e, I, it shows a dystopian future at the beginning, but it ends with hope. Um, that was the interesting thing about that movie. I, and, and maybe this is a spoiler alert, I'm suspect most people, but yeah, the captain of that ship where all these sort of, you know, humans are kind of warehoused, you know, riding around on lazy boys and looking at personal screens and surfing, you know, slurping, no large drinks. Th These humans that the captain of this ship wrestles control back from the AI system or the automated system and then steers the ship back for earth, you know, this art collect ship w with a small fragile little green plant in, in, you know, uh, in hand and, and then they, they come back to earth and, and the, the, the movie, um, the movie leaves with I think ends with this, this sort of image of hope that people are going to be cultivating and planting things again, that they're going to be able to move and walk around like the people they were created to be.
Prof. Schuurman: 28:30 That there, there's this promise of a flourishing again, now that technology is put in its right place. Um, so I think it's also a parable of hope as well. And I think, I think I have a sim. I, you know, I try to maintain a similar posture that, you know, even though there's going to be consequences when we make poor choices, that the future is not, is not predetermined, technology does not determine our future. Let's put it that way. That's a better way to say it. I, I think, uh, you know, we, we have, I've been given the responsibility and the freedom to, to, to exercise, uh, choices and in terms of how we unfold things and that, that gives us the possibility of thinking about ways to use this that respond to God and obedient ways. I think that's where we need to begin.
Brad Cooper: 29:15 Amen. I agree. So you're a computer science professor at Calvin College. They're a Christian college. So what are you seeing in terms of a, you know, the trends there in terms of student enrollment and the types of folks that are coming into your program there. What types of careers are they then going off into, you know, do we, do you expect to see, you know, maybe the next Bill Gates or Steve jobs or mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk coming onto your, your group there, hopefully a w w talk about your, your department there a little bit. Maybe just a little bit about the trends in Christians entering the field of computer science.
Prof. Schuurman: 29:46 Yeah. Computer Science is a discipline that's growing and it's growing almost too fast in some ways. A lot of departments are just struggling to deal with sort of the, the increase in student numbers. And I think this is in a context where overall universities are sagging a little bit, that enrollments are generally down, that universities are competing with 'em, especially in the Midwest. There's fewer and fewer college aged kids, but in that context there's pockets of, of programs that are growing and computer science also here at Calvin College, it is a program that is, that is, you know, is steadily growing. We have a couple of hundred the students in our program and we see some, some really bright, hmm. Eager young students who are, who are in some ways a little bit like myself, you know, they, they sort of grew up with the computer and, and were really engaged with possibilities, you know, and want to continue working in that area.
Prof. Schuurman: 30:35 Our graduates go on to work for a whole wide variety of different technology companies. Some of them go to Grad school. Uh, some of our students end up in Silicon Valley and other places you, no, I see. Part of my job is discipling and training young Christians to be a witness and in a presence, a faithful presence, let's say in the world of technology. That's what we strive to do here. I think one of the things that's distinctive about Calvin and other Christian colleges, that there's a whole bunch of Christian colleges across the country and many of which have computer science and engineering programs. Well, one of the distinctive things is that we see that every square inch belongs to Jesus Christ. And that means every subject area, it can be taught with a, with a biblical Lens that we can be taught, you know, about what it means to be faithful Christians working in these different areas.
Prof. Schuurman: 31:21 Another advantage of Christian colleges is often the class sizes tend to be much smaller than it is larger public universities. Uh, we get to know our students and, and we make an effort to build relationships with them and to mentor and encourage them. And the other thing about most Christian colleges, including Calvin, is that we, we maintain a liberal arts curriculum, which I think is increasingly more important given the sort of context that we find ourselves. Some technical programs. You take almost all of your courses in a narrow, highly focused area, right? At Calvin, you know, we cover all the, that the main themes and we have specialized courses in computing, including artificial intelligence, but students also have to study philosophy and Western civilization and writing and communication and theology and social sciences and all of these things equip students, I think to think more holistically about their work as computer scientists and engineers. But when you create a new program, it has, like I said, social implications, cultural implications, economic implications, faith implications to them, the, there, there's a whole wide variety of things at play when we create a cultural artifact, it's not neutral. I think one of the pitfalls when you study in a highly professionalized focused, highly focused program without any other courses in any other disciplines, you developed this tunnel vision, right? You see the all the world in terms of bits and bytes.
Prof. Schuurman: 32:40 And I think what we need more and more are students that can think more holistically about what it means to develop technology that helps people to flourish...and the planet. And uh, and I think a liberal arts education is more necessary than ever and a lot of ways given the, but the amount of social change that technology is also bringing.
Brad Cooper: 32:58 Absolutely. Yeah. Amen. Definitely important to have. And as I said, you know, being in technology for many years myself, and even if you're not in technology, I mean, just in the business world in general, right? There's always gonna be moral, ethical kind of concerns to every decision you make. Just about, you know, to some extent, yes. With technology it's even more important because now maybe millions or even billions of people are going to be using the thing that you built. So, you know, having that kind of background as you said, you know, that you teach there at Calvin and that other Christian colleges in philosophy and kind of moral, um, you know, addressing kind of some of these moral questions and then maybe also being more up front with your faith too.
Brad Cooper: 33:34 I mean, that's a big aspect to encourage others miss, to not be afraid. My wife and I were both in Silicon Valley and some of the concerns that we've faced is, yeah, we're afraid to kind of come out more openly about their faith and for programmers who are inclined to be a little bit more reserved and kind of more quiet and not want to kind of pop their head above things, you know, see, I, I imagine it's a little bit of a challenge, but hopefully that's something you can instill in your students as well.
Prof. Schuurman: 33:59 Yeah, I think virtues, you know, cultivating virtues is one of the things that we need to do as, as all Christians and among those virtues is courage. You know, having the courage to you know, to ask good questions when you're sitting in a board room with other people talking about, you know, the direction of the technology. Courage to, um, to speak up for what's right. Courage to make sure that your products a, especially when human life and limb depend on them to make sure that they're designed properly and that proper testing and processes are followed. Courage to also share and give an account of the hope that you have to be able to share your own faith when in, in when the time arises and when the opportunity arises. I think, uh, I think that's one important virtue that Christians in these fields need to cultivate and to be able to do it with gentleness and respect as well.
Brad Cooper: 34:45 Absolutely. Yeah. And so if somebody in the audience, a parent, yeah. And it has a, you know, a young person who is maybe like you, you know, likes to tinker with stuff. And terraform and stuff of art or program and you know these days I guess is probably like programming mods and Minecraft or something.
Brad Cooper: 34:57 But um, so it has it a, a student or if there, if a young person is listening, what would you say to them to encourage them to pray about and maybe pursue a calling in a, in a field of computer science?
Prof. Schuurman: 35:08 Yeah, I think you need to pray about it, discern your passions and your gifts, talk to your parents and your pastor and your wise mentors. And then as you discern your way, if you feel that your called to use those gifts and the area of technology, please do consider, you know, a Christian university or a Christian college. You know, you can Google "Christian college,computer science" and go on visit one nearby you or, or somewhere and learn about what's distinctive about studying technology in a Christian college, and how can that equip you to be able to serve more faithfully in those areas. Many of the Christian college programs are very good, academically, but as I mentioned that there's a whole bunch of other things that you'll benefit from in a Christian college education that will be harder to find if you're in a different setting. So check out a Christian college when you're thinking about computing or engineering. I think that's something to at least check out.
Brad Cooper: 36:01 Yeah, I agree. Professor Schuurman is up there in Michigan, Calvin College up there and here down here in Orange County and we have, you know, Asuza Pacific and Biola and when Cal Baptist and all of these colleges around here who have really, really growing, kind of exploding engineering and computer science for divisions and programs as well. Definitely check out the colleges in your, in your area and thank you. That's great. Great Advice. And you know, just pray about it and look for wisdom and maybe people who are in, you know, other Christians maybe who, you know are people from the church or something like that who are in these fields and kind of get there are thoughts and advice.
Brad Cooper: 36:31 Yeah. Great. And so we've been having an awesome conversation here, would love to go on for hours about this stuff if you're really excited about it with Professor Derek Schuurman, he has a great book on this topic and another one coming out. So, uh, please stay tuned. We'll update everyone and on our social media and when the new a book comes out, but some great articles, essays, presentations, there's also some video links from Professor Schuurman's, uh, you know, uh, talks that he's done or various audiences on some of these topics. So yes, since we'd have it time to go and really deeply and all of these things, please check out some of his talks there.
Brad Cooper: 36:58 So any other, uh, plans this summer or any, any new road signs that you plan to capture or in your travels, uh, over the coming summer here?
Prof. Schuurman: 37:05 Yeah, actually as it turns out, my wife and I are going to take a vacation out west, including the San Francisco area and we're going to tour along the west coast a little bit. And so that'll be part of our, an anniversary vacation for us. And so I'm looking forward to that. But you know, just to counter people's notions of what professors do in the summer, I'm also going to be as, as we do using the time for writing and for reflection and for, um, attending some conferences. The attending the American scientific affiliation conference, which is a Wheaton college and there's a Christian engineering conference as well that I'll be attending it. [inaudible] University. And that's a group of Christian college professors who teach engineering. And last month there was actually another organization, the Association of Christians in the mathematical sciences, um, had a conference and they have a computer science group that has discussions and papers that are presented on faith and computing and mathematics. And so for your listeners who are academically inclined or who are interested in connecting with other Christians in those fields, those are some organizations to check out among others.
Brad Cooper: 38:04 Yeah, definitely. And we just recently have on our website, our PurposeNation.org website. We've added, or at, I think it's called the resources of the check now, um, with some of the links to some of these organizations you're talking about. And so please do check those all out as well. And it's great. Yeah, it's great to see that those types of organizations focusing in on these areas. Um, we have a lot of folks on the podcast, you know, and physics and kind of more the physical sciences, the biology and chemistry and things like that, but really, really want to encourage more of these types of organizations also in the technology area. So computer science and like you said in and engineering and some of these other organizations. Yeah. And you know, on, across all the Christian spectrum, we have Catholic organizations as well and things like that.
Brad Cooper: 38:42 Blessings to you and your travels out here, out west, up north in Northern California there and wherever you may be going. So yeah, maybe in Silicon Valley, maybe one day you'll be able to snap a photo of a, of a robot crossing sign.
Prof. Schuurman: 38:54 Ha ha ha ha...Yeah, that I would, I would love to add that to my collection. So if you spot one please, let me know...
Brad Cooper: 39:03 Ha ha ha...I guess we know, we know the time has come...when we start seeing the robot crossing signs...
Prof. Schuurman: 39:10 ...also comes equipped with a good vision system...
Brad Cooper: 39:11 Yeah. Yes, absolutely. Well Professor Schuurman, thank you so much for all that you do and may God continue to bless you in your work and thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Prof. Schuurman: 39:20 Yeah, thank you for inviting me. It's been a pleasure chatting with you.
Brad Cooper: 39:23 Likewise, God bless and we'll talk soon.
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