Made for More: A Computer Science Journey - Feature Documentary

Made for More: A Computer Science Journey - Feature Documentary

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[ominous music] Hi, I'm Jonathan Lett. I'm associate professor of theology and the director of the Faith Science & Technology Initiative. As a theologian, I think about the big questions. Who is God, and who are we in light of the God that's created and called us in Jesus Christ? I've realized over the years that it's impossible to engage these basic theological questions without reflecting on our relationship to technology.

I think we face some serious challenges in our technological world today. There's maybe three currents that are driving technological change in ways that, you know, seem a little bit out of control. And one of those is a move towards utopia.

We think all of our problems are at bottom technological dilemmas that can be solved with technological fixes. People are doing things just because technology will let them do it. And that's not always good. So we need young men and women that are going into that field that are bringing in that moral compass, that idea of, you know, not everything is good just because we can do it. The last couple of years, we've seen the incredible power of AI, where from a secular standpoint, it can be very daunting and very concerning.

What's going to happen? What jobs will be lost? What can computers not do? You know, it's the big question. And if the computers can do this, what role do humans have in the future? And how incredibly smart and innovative and creative humans are going to have to be to surpass the power and the knowledge and the intelligence of machines. Dr. Lett: The second current would be the move to depersonalized, disembodied interaction.

I think it's really hard for us to appreciate how important embodied, face-to-face communication and relationships are. You know, all of our relationships really depend on connection through embodiment, through being in one place at one time, rather than, say, efficiency. And that's really the last very concerning current. And that is that the logic of technology seems to be whatever is efficient makes the world better. And I love efficiency.

Don't get me wrong, but we shouldn't be using efficiency as the ultimate metric for assessing technology. Efficiency has to serve some higher goal. So these three currents present quite a challenging context. And it makes me wonder, who's going to be able to meet these challenges head on? Hi, my name is Bruk Mulatu, and I am studying Computer Science. I was definitely always into technology. I didn't know I wanted to do Computer Science per se.

I didn't write any code until I got to LeTourneau. But I was always fascinated with what we could do with technology and how I could be part of that in the future. Not just in the US, but also back home in Ethiopia. We don't have as many technological advantages as the US. So one of my dreams is to actually bring some of the technology from the US back to my home country.

So we can have more stable businesses that run off software. Dr. Baas: Back in 2002-2003, I had the chance to teach in northern Ethiopia for a year.

I recognized what individual students there did with so little that they had access to. And I returned to LeTourneau with that unawareness of how incredibly gifted, supplied, provided for a resource our students are here. A number of years later, almost 20 years later, when Bruk shows up, coming from that setting, I had right away, I felt a special connection with him. His involvement on the campus, his engagement with other students, his interest, his passion for learning, and then also his encouragement of other students to take advantage. For me, it's been a blessing to have him on the campus.

Bruk: I love the idea of ministry, but I don't think he just has to be behind the pulpit or a church setting. I mean, it can, obviously. But my ministry is coding. So when I was in COVID, I wasn't able to go to church. I wasn't able to really talk to people in person. I was just stuck at home most of the day.

But through technology, there were online ministries. Like the Bible app is a great example. That's code. You don't really think about it, but every piece of technology has some code in it. So the way I see it as a ministry is we're using code and technology to further the gospel wherever you go.

Hi, my name is Lydia Busti, and I'm studying Computer Science. It really started with just kind of like being the family tech support person. My mom's phone would break.

We're like, I shouldn't have like tried to fix it, figure out like, OK, why is it not working? How can I make it work? Or how even can I make it work better? Like why I'm in Computer Science is I want to be the bridge between kind of the techie people and the non-techie people. I think there's a lot of people that are like Business people and understand that, but they can't communicate with, say, the Computer Science people. I think I have the people skills, and I'm in school to learn the computer skills so that I can kind of merge both of those together. Dr. Baas: Lydia is a special person as well, and one of those unique students that God continues to bring.

I know she's a blessing to her colleagues. How she inspires them shows them what a student can do. Her gifting is indefinitely in the interaction.

And so for our students to recognize how critical it is to develop the people skills, she's been a special joy. Lydia: Software problems are like real world problems that you would have solved using a computer. So it's like learning languages. So if you were learning like Spanish or Latin or something, you have to think in a different way to be able to do that.

It's kind of the same with computers. It is just a more technical language. Like even a project I'm working on right now in Excel, super easy for a human, I say, OK, go to the third tab, grab this thing, and write it down. It takes a human like 10 seconds to a computer.

It's taken us a couple of weeks to figure out how to tell it to do that. And so it just requires that out of the box. Like, OK, what's a different way of thinking about this? Translating some of that is really what I want to do.

Hi, my name is Chris Willis. I'm studying Computer Science and Game Development. It really started when I was playing Minecraft and I was like, what if I made my own mods for Minecraft? Because I loved Minecraft modding. And eventually I figured out kind of like just the very general flow of adding things to games. So it really took off when I started editing Cave Story, which actually had some scripting elements to it. And that was kind of where I first learned the flow of Computer Science, where it's like executing things in a sequence, right? And so then it just kind of evolved from there into, well, maybe I want to make my own game.

From there, I just decided to go for the Computer Science program at LeTourneau. Dr. Baas: Chris Willis has a special story when he initially came in thinking that he would be here just for a short period of time. And yet he took advantage of a special opportunity for scholarships. He has some natural leadership abilities. So it's been good to see him using that to encourage and also motivate other students.

Chris: I've had kind of much stronger attachment to the idea of us being made in God's image and almost wanting to reflect His creativity. Because I kind of see God as like a big game developer in a way, kind of making life and designing it and all the mechanics around life and just how the gospel works as well. And I kind of see that in a similar way whenever I'm making games. Not that I'm God, I'm just that while I'm making something that's kind of alive and interactable. And it was, I was the one who made it. Hi, my name is Micah McCloy.

I'm a Computer Science student studying Cybersecurity. Well, my dad actually is a Computer Science major. He went to LeTourneau as well. So he wanted me to get into Computer Science.

One of the reasons I really enjoyed the Cyber aspect is that it's very competitive. That's like a game almost, but like with like real stakes on the line. And well, I mean, it's also just a cool field. Who wouldn't want to be a hacker? Dr. Baas: Micah knew he was going to be working in security when he came.

He's one of those students who, when he was a freshman, he didn't realize he was a freshman. He thought he was a junior or senior. He thought he could do things just because he was in college. That other students pulled back from doing because they're only freshmen, but he jumped in.

And I think by his second year, he had already started the Cybersecurity student organization on campus. For the classes that I've had him in, from what I've seen him do, God has great, great plans, great things in mind for Micah. In Cybersecurity, the way I like to describe it, it's about protecting computers, networks, data, and the people behind it all. Because ultimately that's why you're doing the thing.

It's very tangible. Like if you don't do your job, this company will lose millions of dollars and that could directly impact all of their users' sensitive information. Government needs Cybersecurity. These private industries need Cybersecurity. But mission agencies need it just as bad, if not more so.

Because sometimes they might be going into sensitive countries, and if their cover is blown, people could get put in jail. They could get blacklisted from the country, never to come again. Their work would essentially be halted if they don't have good enough online security. And so I guess also like the protective aspect of it.

You're not just creating a product. You're ensuring that it's not corrupted because people will... Take good advantage. Take good advantage.

If you don't stop them. Technology is the dominant story of the modern world. We are more powerful than any human generation in history.

But we do not seem to be more happy, more healthy, more flourishing than any human generation. In fact, in parts of the world where technology seems to be the most advanced, we're seeing notable declines in physical health. Even in the United States, at least, life expectancy has actually started to go down, certainly in mental and emotional health. And among young people, the challenges for mental and emotional health are going up in recent years. So as we apply more and more of what we've learned about the good world, why is life not becoming better and better? I think this is kind of a very fundamental idea that if I know the right code, I could just force something to happen in the world without I myself having to grow or change.

When I can just press a button and something happens, and I really didn't have to work very hard, and that sensation of effortless power, of impersonal power, not needing other people to get something done, something is clearly not going quite right. All true power is relational. All true power involves growing in love of God and growing in love of our neighbor.

And that when we try to detach from that, we're actually in very, very dangerous territory. (soft music) Dr. Lett: In a world where AI chatbots are writing communication and essays. News Anchor 1: Chat GPT. News Anchor 2: Chat GPT. News Anchor 3: Large language model.

Dr. Lett: People don't know what's real or true, what's fake. News Anchor 4: Incredibly realistic deep fakes. News Anchor 5: Voices being generated through artificial intelligence technology.

News Anchor 6: We're CRISPR technology, where artificial reproductive technologies and gene editing, where we control the beginning of life. News Anchor 7: Revolutionary technology that can edit genetic mistakes. News Anchor 8: The groundbreaking gene editing technology known as CRISPR. Dr. Lett: We need Christian technologists

and Christian Computer Scientists to understand the significance of being a human person who's embodied and dependent on real human interaction. Dr. Baas: At the end of the day, as important as machines are, you're not gonna get lasting satisfaction from your interaction with machines. its gonna have to be people.

Dr. Lett: This is a pivotal moment in our society. I mean, anyone can learn to code and program, but we just can't create technology and say, well, whatever human beings wanna do to use it, that's fine, but that's not our responsibility. Because Christians know that human beings are sinners. But also Christian Computer Scientists know that human beings are made for fellowship with God and with neighbor.

These are like supreme values that should guide interaction. And so more than ever, we need Christians engaged in this field. The Facebook slogan, move fast and break things, push technology to the next level, worry about the consequences after the fact. And that's from a Christian perspective, just deeply wrong. Bruk: Technology has brought so much good in the world, but at the same time, it's brought a lot of potential risks and harm. So if you're in the Cybersecurity field, for example, you learn how to hack, right? But at the same time, you're learning to hack so you can build better defenses and not to infiltrate other people's technology.

So with this field comes a lot of knowing what you're supposed to do and what you're not supposed to do. Micah: Integrity is a key aspect of security. Without integrity, you would have a single person on the inside of an organization compromised by letting bad guys in through a back door. Lydia: If you cut corners in some areas, it could end up being disastrous for an entire company. Say you're working on something, like a program that's monitoring a well for like a third world country to make sure that that water is still safe.

If you wanted to poison an entire community, if you messed up the code or something to say like, oh yeah, the water's fine. On the flip side, if you use it well, you can say, oh, we've heard this program that's gonna monitor it so that they're not drinking water when it's gone bad. So I think one of the biggest things is training people how to use technology well. Chris: As long as there are sin and computers in the world, people need Cybersecurity.

Dr. Rouse: If you have somebody that's doing Cybersecurity that does not have integrity, doesn't have a moral compass, then basically you've given a platform to the bad guys. Dr. Lett: So in light of these complex social and ethical dilemmas, I think more than ever, what we need is a chance for Christian Computer Scientists to study in a Christian university.

And a university, you know, is a special time. It sets a framework and it gives you a foundation for launching into really the rest of your life. What's unique at a Christian university is that you're thinking about the big questions, really.

Who am I? What am I doing here? Who is God? What does it mean to be created and called to relationship with Him? And these are the big questions that in our society today, we really do not spend much time thinking about, and we don't do it with a group, a community. You start to practice living out your answers to these questions in the classroom environment, with Chapel, with friendship, with spiritual formation. That actually helps connect head and heart to hand. You're just living in the day-to-day, but there really is something grander going on.

You're becoming a certain kind of person, and after these four years, you'll be a different kind of person. Offscreen: So what does like an average day look like for you? Lydia: Ask your question over time, please. Chris: I wake up, go to class, Bruk: Get some breakfast in on days when I have time. If not, I just hit straight to class.

I usually have 8:00 AMs or 9:00 AMs. Micah: Get ready for the day, do my devotions. I'll go to Networks and Data Communications after Chapel. Bruk: Try to get some lunch, hang out with people.

Lydia: I need to go eat, I need to go spend time with friends. Chris: I'm gonna go in between classes. Micah: And then I'll pretty much work on homework. Chris: Homework. - Lydia: Homework. Bruk: Homework. Chris: Depending on the day, I'll start working on stuff for my club, as I run the Game Design club.

Bruk: I help with some Bible studies around campus. Lydia: Had like a conversation about theology at like 11:30 on a Friday night, and that was like, that's what I want. Like this is so cool, like this is what people like wanted to do. Bruk: I'm also doing Multi-Culture Ambassadors. Micah: Take some breaks, like ping pong, or that might be like an intramurals game where we'll go play softball or Ultimate Frisbee. Offscreen: So like which projects are keeping you the busiest? Chris: Whew, there's a few to choose from, that's for sure.

Offscreen: So when you feel like just exhausted after a long day, what makes it worth it? Bruk: Oof... God. God makes it worth it. That's all I can really say. Lydia: One of the most meaningful parts of my time at LeTourneau has been serving as a Resident Assistant, which is a student leadership position designed to serve the girls in my residence hall. I'm a step ahead of maybe somewhere where the freshmen have been or even some of the upperclassmen, just to kind of help facilitate that experience. But then also if somebody's like, hey, I'm really stressed right now, and I don't really know how to cope with being stressed, I'm kind of there to like help them walk through that.

We're not supposed to have all the answers, which is something I've had to learn to accept. But I wanna learn about what's going on at campus, so I can say like, oh, I don't really know how to help you with that, but I do know who can. I can give you their email, or I can walk you over to their office. It's been so rewarding through this position to get to build community with the girls on my floor and to invite others into that community. One of the biggest takeaways that I've had from my time at Leturno is just a lot of the people.

Bruk: So I House is the international floor of South Hall, which is a dorm here on campus. So I House is designated for international students, missionary kids, or anyone who's just interested in living in a more international environment. When you're away from family, you're looking for a new community that kind of relates, because as much as I love my American friends, they don't really understand some of the challenges I go through.

So one of the reasons I moved to I House is that it's a community full of people that understand that struggle, right? You know, something about being so far away from home actually brings us all together. Although like on paper, we might not necessarily have anything in common other than that, it's such a strong force for us to actually be in community and hang out. Chris: I initially created it just because I wanted to, it was like, "It'd be pretty cool to hang out with people and talk about game design." And they kind of evolved into, I think, LeTourneau needs this club. It's about the blueprints, like laying out how game mechanics will work and all that.

So it's something you can talk about for a very long time. It's wonderful because it's kind of small and just kind of relaxed and low commitment. So we just go there, we talk about game design, maybe we'll play some Jackbox games. Although on a more, I guess, extreme level, we host the Super Smash Bros. Tournament every semester. We just have a lot of fun, we hang out, we talk about that and we eat pizza. I guess, yeah, getting a perspective from people who are doing things a bit different than you or taking different approaches and kind of learning how they approach problems has helped me in how I approach problems.

And I know a lot of people who changed their major because of stuff like that. They thought they would like something, they ended up not liking it, but because they're a college and I saw the experience of others, they're like, "I could do that." They found what they're passionate for. Micah: The classroom is what prepares you for like your job.

But really the connections and the people you form friendships with are really what matters to you most when it comes down to it. In my floor, it's really a brotherhood. There's all these guys who really want to support you and build you up. Our floor verse is Honor Everyone, Love the Brotherhood, Fear God, Honor the King.

And that really sums up our floor very well. You could have the entire world saying something like, you should care about this. But if this close group of people says, you know, I think this is more important to us, you're gonna listen to those close group of friends. The way that I act influences them and the way they act influences me more powerfully than a thousand people online. And that's really the power of having close friends like that.

And so I think it's super important to be surrounded by people like that. It's really so much fun to have those relationships that are pushing you to be more like Christ. And I don't know, I don't think I would trade anything for that. Dr. Lett: Something that's unique

about LeTourneau's setting is that it's a polytechnic university. Whereas most Christian universities are Liberal Arts fields with a little island of STEM, we're basically the inverse. We are in the technological arena, raising the questions from there. And so I think it makes a massive difference that we do this really on the home field, so to speak, of technologists. Dr. Baas: My philosophy of teaching is

practically problem oriented and question driven. Within the field of Computer Science, there's always new things going on. There's things that they're interested in that I don't have experience with. They drive a lot of the applications that we have in the classroom. Micah: You might not know how to approach this problem, whatever's in front of you. So you'll go to Dr.

Baas and Dr. Baas will say, have you considered using this type of data structure, using this different type of data structure would involve a completely different algorithm to get the answer. It's like you're on a path and he opens up another path off to the side that was there, you just didn't see. Dr. Rouse: We have such a good relationship with other faculty over in Engineering, but guess what? They need our Computer Science students because there's code that has to be written.

That just prepares my students for even more opportunities. And the more my students can understand the other disciplines, the better programmer, the better software developer they're gonna be. Chris: So if I can say, hey, look, I worked with Python, I made this very object oriented, like well organized program, and I even used multiprocessing. And look at this, I was able to do probability calculations. That's even more just kind of proof, like look, I'm able to apply myself. Micah: One of my classes that I've really enjoyed is Pi and Python.

The class progression takes you through learning Python and then it takes you through learning how to use Raspberry Pis. And then you use these different concepts that you're learning about in different projects. Main projects I did for this class was a home automation, might say surveillance system, where there's a camera that you set up on the Raspberry Pi and it will monitor wherever space that you have it set up.

If it detects movement, it'll take an image and then send it to me. And then when I go back to my room and I can be like, okay, so what was going on? And then check the footage, things like that. Offscreen: So like, how did you get everything to work? (upbeat music) Micah: So I have this running in a single, well, just a Python script. And the Python script is kind of like running a big loop, you might say. I have it set up on a Raspberry Pi, so it'll automatically start as soon as the Raspberry Pi is plugged in.

So it'll start this process and then this process, the Python file, will wait for you to press a button on the Raspberry Pi breadboard itself. As soon as you press the button, the system is activated and you can also set a delay if you want. As soon as it starts monitoring in real, what it's doing is it takes an image, then we can do another thing where we subtract that image frame and the last movement frame. And we can do what's called an X and operation.

Basically what that means is any pixel frames that are in this one and this one only keep the ones that are in both. If you do that though, you'll get a lot of background noise, which you don't want because that doesn't really give you an accurate reading of true movement. And so there's a couple other things I do first of all, I blur the image. What that does is it kind of takes the average and it spreads it out. There might be like a lot of really low pixel values of just like a camera flickering or whatever that we don't want, we don't care about. We only care about, let's say, somebody walking in their room.

It'll take care of a lot of those. I've also converted to grayscale at this point. That'll also remove a lot of background noise.

And then finally, there's a threshold level where there has to be a certain amount of pixel value for it to actually keep. So let's say there's a strength of five out of zero through 255. Anything below that five will just get turned to zero. Anything above will get turned to 255. And then that'll get you a very black and white, very crisp image of the actual movement with all the background taken out. Once you have that, you can actually tell when there's real movement or not.

If, let's say, you start at a baseline movement right here, it'll stay here. If you have movement, it'll spike up. But if there's not continuing movement, it'll drop down quickly. And so if you can say, well, if the movement's above this line, then there's movement in the room. And we can be very sure of that. Once that happens, it'll send it through some email packaging protocols, log into a Gmail account that I created specifically for this to send my LeTourneau email an image of this.

And then I'll start recording the frames. And then that will be helpful for later on when I want to review what's going on. And then one other really neat aspect of this is I actually have the thing that sends the email in a different Python file.

So all this processing is happening in one. As soon as it wants to send an email, it'll call another Python file. Now, I could have just started another thread. The reason I didn't want to do that is because to log into the Gmail server, you have to use credentials. And so to have your credentials in a separate file, you can store that in a secure location. So if someone, let's say, saw the security camera and then they investigated, they found, oh, it's a Raspberry Pi.

What happens if I hook up a monitor and keys to this? Oh, OK, I can see this Python file. Oh, I can see the credentials. Oh, now I can access whatever Gmail account this is.

Well, if you store that Python file in a secure location that it's calling, they won't be able to access those credentials. That was kind of like a security edge to this in the software, which is a lot of fun. Dr. Rouse: One of the most exciting things for me every day is that I get to come and interact with these students. And I think that's exciting to be involved in God-changing ministry and healing, bringing restoration to these students' lives. Lydia: The faculty here really care about their students.

It's not just a job to them. They're kind of on a mission to teach us, but also to disciple us. And I think that's one of the things that sets apart is that our professors and advisors are willing to do that.

They're not just going to ask, how are your academics going? They're going to say, how's your walk with the Lord going? Dr. Rouse: Probably 25% of the students that come to my office is not academic. They have questions about life. They have questions about their relationship with God. They have something happen, and they want prayer for it. When a student comes into my office and says, can you pray for me? There's nothing greater than that.

Bruk: When we say, I love our neighbors as ourselves, it's like, God has shown me so much love here through the eternal. Now I'm able to show that to other people. Whether it's helping a freshman out with his code or just talking to someone about how their day is going. I've received so much of God's love through LeTourneau that I'm able to give it up more. You're not just supposed to receive love and do nothing. You also give it back to others.

Chris: I'm only here because of the providence of God. I mean, there's all these just kind of chain of things I did not expect in my life that brought me here. I would just like to say that I contributed to something much bigger. I'm just trying to reflect the one who created me.

Micah: The world needs lights in the darkest places. My values are not based in what the world says they should be. They're based in something much higher. Lydia: Even when you're writing code, you can glorify God. And I think not cutting those corners and writing in a way that's going to help people, are you using your talents that God has given you for good, or are you using them for evil? Bruk: On one hand, it's scary because you're worried that maybe people will go into the wrong end of technology. But at the same time, my responsibility is to educate people on how to use technology for good.

So as much as technology might have that risk, that's happened in times before. Every time there's something new coming to the world, there's risks that come with that. It's really in God's hands. I'm just a steward. I just put this seed down, and then God lets it grow. But I also have a bunch of peace knowing that I'm leaving it up to God to help that seed grow in their life.

Because at the end of the day, He's the only thing that gives I'm just here to do my part. Dr. Rouse: When you serve Christ, you don't have to be concerned that the world is going to go into chaos and everything.

Because we serve a God that's in control, whether it looks like it or not. And when you take that out to the world, it opens opportunities to really let people know, hey, this is why I'm not fearful. This is why I do the things that I do, because I serve a God that is in control. Micah: I'm doing this because I'm serving Jesus Christ as my Savior, and he is the one I'm doing this for.

Jesus calls Christians to every workplace, and that includes the cyber domain. Dr. Baas: Many people in the world, in this field, are incredibly stressed out, and will be more so, as they feel like it's their ability, their skills, that's going to be their success in the future, versus those who can entrust it into God's hands. They haven't been given a promise of a successful future but what they have been given is God's promise to be with them and to allow them to work in His will.

Dr. Rouse: He opens doors that no man can close, and He closes doors that no man can open, and He provides a way when there sometimes seems there is no way. If He does it for me, He'll do it for you.

Crouch: Right now, when people hear technology, they don't think love. How could we reconnect our technological practices to love with heart, soul, mind, and strength? I think this is like a multi-generational challenge. If in the future, our grandchildren, when they hear technology, will think love, and will think heart, soul, mind, and strength, it will be because institutions like LeTourneau actually did the work, the iterative, patient, and creative work of connecting those two things in a new way, and I think that might be an invitation from our Lord to connect those things again, and it would be a beautiful thing if we can move in that direction, and if we don't, our world needs it, and I don't know where else it's going to come from, if not from the followers of Christ who set themselves to this multi-generational work. Dr. Lett: We've seen the challenges and opportunities posed in our technological world.

We've heard from educators in the field and students who are in the middle of wrestling with these questions, and these challenges, they won't be solved overnight, and that's not the goal anyway. Instead, our task is to be faithful. I think Christians engaged in the technological fields have a really special opportunity to bear witness to the beauty and the goodness of the Gospel, to show what's particular and special about the good news of Jesus Christ. It might be that Christians offer hope as they relate to technology in ways that are different from the broader society, that they've got different purposes and end goals for technology, that they engage it in their daily life and order their family life in ways that don't quite conform to the larger trends in society. I think that God can use technology in this way to show the rest of the world what it takes to receive the good gift of technology and technological power to flourish as human beings and to build the kind of societies that God intends for human beings.

2023-09-06 12:53

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