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50 Years of Computer Science at the JKU – Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

The moon landing, Woodstock, Vietnam War protests - 1969 was a memorable and defining year that changed the world in many ways. The Concorde jet broke the sound barrier and Harvard researchers succeeded in isolating a single gene. At UCLA, a small group of students and researchers sent a message between two networked computers, underpinning the Internet with a network known as ARPANET. 1969 also saw the birth of computer science studies in Austria - at the newly established "Linzer Hochschule für Sozial und Wirtschaftswissenschaften", today’s Johannes Kepler University.

50 Years of Computer Science
f.l.: Bernd Greifeneder (Dynatrace), Christoph Steindl (Catalysts), Helmut Fallmann (Fabasoft), JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas, Hanspeter Mössenböck (JKU) and Joseph A. Paradiso (MIT Media Lab, USA).

When looking at our networked world today, we can hardly imagine that academic degree programs in computer science have existed for just the past 50 years. The idea of introducing this kind of degree program 50 years ago was actually controversial. Critics argued that courses in the "Technical Mathematics" and "Communications Engineering" programs would suffice education-wise and no additional educational potential could be tapped by introducing an independent computer science degree.

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas remarked: "The pioneering spirit comes naturally to us here at the JKU. We are the first university in Austria to create a degree program in Computer Science and back then, few believed in the program’s success. The program’s success shows that courage, visionary thinking, and action are needed in order to teach in a more innovative way and conduct cutting-edge research. The JKU has internalized these values and has always looked toward the future, continuing to pioneer new academic degree programs such as Mechatronics and Artificial Intelligence."                 

Swimming Upstream
Appointed to the university as a statistician in 1966, Prof. Adolf Adam is also a dedicated obstetrician. He countered the criticism of studying Computer Science with facts and created the Linz Information Technology Program (LIP), paving the way to establish computer sciences as a recognized academic degree program. In the summer of 1969, the National Council passed the federal law pertaining to creating technical degree programs and it included a degree program in Computer Science. Starting in Winter Semester 1969/1970, the Faculty of Engineering & Natural Sciences opened its doors and for the first time in Austria, students could declare Computer Science as a major. 43 students proceeded to enroll in the program. According to the press release at the time, students in the program had their own “equipment” and "the necessary engineering prerequisites" at their disposal: an IBM 1130 with 64 KB of main memory.

Hanspeter Mössenböck, head of the Institute for Systems Software and head of the Studies Commission for Computer Science at the JKU, adds: “Computer Sciences in Linz has always been at the forefront: Austria's first academic degree program in Computer Science (1969), the JKU's first Bachelor's/Master's degree programs (2002), and the JKU's first English-language, mainstream Master's degree program (2013). Our efforts are not only appreciated by students and the Austrian business community, they are also internationally appreciated.”

Developments and Milestones
Over the past 50 years, the number of degree programs and related studies in Computer Science has increased to 20 undergraduate degree programs and 30 graduate degree programs. In order to strengthen the collaboration of computer sciences at Austrian universities, the Verein Informatik was created with the support of the OCG to create a so-called "permeability matrix" and provide an overview of the interaction between educational programs. Prof. Mössenböck added: "Since its inception 50 years ago, Computer Sciences in Linz has not only become an important partner to the local business community, but over the past 15 years, our researchers’ academic achievements have significantly boosted the program’s international reputation."

Success Stories: New, Start-Up Companies
Over the years, Austrian computer scientists have consistently demonstrated academic and scientific excellence. The JKU is home to four Wittgenstein Award winners and has been awarded 12 ERC grants. As the Computer Science program is application-oriented, students and faculty members collaborate successfully with companies such as the Software Competence Center Hagenberg, the COMET Center Pro2Future, ORACLE Labs, and spin-off companies such as Dynatrace and DICE.

Successful graduates are also part of our success story:

DI Helmut Fallmann, board member at the Linz-based software manufacturer and cloud service provider Fabasoft remarked: "I created Fabasoft in 1988 together with Leo Bauernfeind when I was still a computer science major at the JKU. At that time, we were able to combine our enthusiasm for new technology solutions with the exciting feeling of applying our university education toward creating a company. However, if we want to meet the challenges of digitization, we need to successfully educated many more technically gifted students, especially those who have a more international outlook. I hope that Computer Science at the JKU, which is so important for Upper Austria as a location of industry in particular, will continue playing a pioneering role in this endeavor."

Bernd Greifeneder, CTO Dynatrace, remarked: "The JKU gave me early access to the Internet in 1991. In combination with outstanding education and research, this access provided me with the basis for technologies that were much more difficult to access back then than they are today. Entrepreneurship is another area of interest I discovered through computer science and was instrumental when I left a NASDAQ-listed company. In 2005, Dynatrace was created together with two partners. Today, we employ over 2,000 people around the world and in August of this year, we were listed on the NYSE. Research & Development (R&D) at our company has the largest number of employees and is the fastest growing in the group is with a clear focus on information technology. In Linz alone, we currently employ approximately 450 experts, and the number is steadily rising. For me, the JKU is particularly important in the areas of research and educating talent for Dynatrace."

Christoph Steindl: "The JKU is responsible for the fact that I have been living in Linz for the past 30 years. I came to Linz in 1990 to study Mechatronics at the JKU. The JKU was the only Austrian university to offer the program. I benefitted greatly from the JKU’s pioneering spirit. In 1998, I met my future wife in the JKU’s University Orchestra and I have been in Linz since. The JKU environment is a diverse academic and scientific one and campus life exciting, including USI sports classes and music in the university’s orchestra. This kind of environment gives you space to grow and develop. I started my own business, Catalysts, in 2005 and am very happy about everything I have achieved in life thus far".

Looking Toward the Future
Computer Science at the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz celebrated its 50th anniversary on November 8, 2019, with a festive event. The program includes presentations, roundtable discussions, exhibitions about the history of Computer Science in Linz, and information about current projects. Joseph A. Paradiso, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT Media Lab in the USA, will hold a keynote speech titled “How We Will Connect to Our Networked Future in a Post-IoT-World”.

"We have already witnessed profound and often unanticipated developments as IoT is built out and the world is mediated via a mainly graphic wireless device held at arms length. But what will happen once the world is precognitively interpreted by what we term ‘sensory prosthetics’ that change what and how humans physically perceive, a world where your own intelligence is split ever more seamlessly between your brain and the cloud? Accordingly, I address the broad theme of interfacing humans to the ubiquitous electronic "nervous system" that sensor networks will soon extend across things, places, and people, going well beyond the ‘Internet of Things,’ challenging the notion of physical presence and the boundary of self. I'll illustrate this through two avenues of research – one looking at a new kind of digital "omniscience" (e.g., different kinds of browsers for sensor network data & agile frameworks for sensor/data representation) and the other looking at buildings & tools as "prosthetic" extensions of humans (e.g., making HVAC and lighting systems an extension of your natural activity and sense of comfort, or smart tools as human-robot cooperation in the hand), drawing from many projects that are running in my group at the MIT Media Lab and touching on technical areas ranging from low-power wearable sensing/robotics to cognitive audio and distributed sensor networks."

Now, exactly half a century after initial accomplishments by computer science pioneers of the past, a new generation of researchers is continuing the vision by launching another degree program of the future at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz: Artificial Intelligence. The AI program is the first academic degree program of its kind in Europe.