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Veteran Computer Researcher H.T. Kung Arrives at Harvard

Descendant of Confucius Sees Science as Social Responsibility

By Haibin Jiu, Crimson Staff Writer

After more than 20 years at Carnegie-Mellon University, one of the nation's best-known electrical engineers has joined Harvard's applied sciences division.

McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science H. T. Kung is a veteran designer of so-called massively parallel computer systems.

The computer systems that Kung studies break down large problems into smaller pieces and employ a large number of processors to solve these sub-problems.

Because each processor can concentrate on its own task, the system as a whole can achieve extremely rapid computing speed. On Cambridge company, Thinking Machines, has built computers that can carry out billions of arithmetic calculations per second.

A 76th-generation descendant of the Chinese philosopher Confucius, Kung says he does not use his full name because no one seems to be able to get it right.

Kung, who was born in Shanghai and grew up in Taiwan, received his Ph.D from Carnegie-Mellon in 1971.

Kung was originally trained as a mathematician and has worked in a number of other fields besides computer design.

"I am a hardware person, but I have been changing fields almost every five years," he says. "It's interesting to try out in every major field."

Now that he is at Harvard, Kung says he intends to devote himself to the study of network technologies, a topic he began to explore at Carnegie-Mellon.

And he says he prefers to talk about his future plans rather than his past achievements.

"Harvard is a diverse place," he says, "and I want to take advantage of the strengths of this university."

Kung says he would like to see Harvard become a leader in computer science.

"We have to push the frontiers," Kung says. 'It takes some years to be the best, but it shouldn't take more than three years to get substantial outcome."

To begin bringing Harvard to the forefront of computer network research, Kung says he hopes to create a new laboratory dedicated to networking.

Most industrialized countries make extensive use of computer networks. Automated-teller machines (ATMs), national information services and Harvard's campus computing system are examples of such networks.

Networking also plays a vital role in the distribution of processing technology. Networks link hundreds or even thousands of individual computers or work stations and use each of them as a processing unit.

But Kung says that much work remains to be done in this field.

"Networking is where most of the future's computing will be," he says. "It's where all the actions are. Today we are still in the kindergarten level when we look at what networking has done for us."

In addition to improving high-performance networks, Kung says, computer scientists and electrical engineers must work hard to ensure that their products are reliable.

Researchers have managed to double the speed of fiber optic transmission every 18 months since its invention, for instance. But this has not translated into error-free operation, Kung says.

"We are not end-users," he says, referring to himself and his fellow computer researchers. "We are the ones who build these systems. So if we don't do a good job, society is going to suffer" in terms of costs and computer-related accidents.

Kung says that researchers' responsibilities are "enormous."

"Nobody can take this lightly," he says. "We have to be socially responsible."

Because he will continue researching at Carnegie-Mellon, Kung will spend just one week per month at Harvard this semester. During his time here he will help teach a computer science class on networking.

Kung says he plans to move to Cambridge in May and to become more involved at Harvard in the fall semester.

Paul C. Martin '52, dean of the division of applied sciences, said Kung's arrival signifies Harvard's commitment to remaining at the frontier of high-technology research and development in the United States.

"We've been very eager to find an outstanding person who does computer systems," says Martin.

"Professor Kung is one of the major computer architects anywhere,' says Martin. "We expect him to have a major influence in computer systems at Harvard."

"We view Professor Kung as a key appointment," says Martin, though he adds that the division intends to make further appointments in the field.

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