The Bridge Between Hardware and Software

Ahmed Louri, left, and David Karlgaard share a moment following his installation ceremony.

 

Ahmed Louri arrived at the University of Southern California in the 1980s as a “shy graduate student,” his mentor says. But even then, Jean-Luc Gaudiot could see something special in the aspiring computer engineer standing in his office doorway.

In September 2015, Ahmed was installed as the David and Marilyn Karlgaard Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “I remember making a mental note that this kid was going to go far,” Jean-Luc said at the event installing his former pupil in this endowed professorship. “Today represents a goal of any good teacher: The student has now passed the master. [GW] really chose well.”

The position was established through a family bequest from active volunteer, member of the Board of Trustees, and former faculty member David Karlgaard, DSc ’74, and his wife, Marilyn. The Karlgaards have also established endowed scholarships for students of Computer Engineering and Computer Science. David’s doctoral research at GW focused on computer architecture, and he says he is happy to have the first Karlgaard professor be a world-renowned expert in the same field.

“The goal of computer architecture is simple: Combine current hardware elements, software elements and algorithms and make the fastest computers possible, handling large data volumes, all with modularity and redundancy, low power usage and small sizes,” David says. “But there are two dimensions I remember most: The objectives of the computer architect are to integrate with the world and impact all human endeavors.”

Those final pieces are critical to the future of computer architecture, Ahmed says. The field, which he called “the bridge between hardware and software,” has expanded rapidly since the 1950s alongside an evolution of computing platforms that began with room-sized mainframes and progressed to laptops and smartphones. Today, computer architecture, Ahmed says, “impacts every human activity,” including education, communication, transportation, commerce, health, and manufacturing.”

The next quantum leap in the field, he says, could exist at an intersection of big data, sensor networks and artificial intelligence.

“Imagine you get up in the morning and go down to the kitchen and the coffee machine says, ‘Do you want the same coffee as yesterday?’” Louri says. “I think the next big thing will be what I call an ‘aug-mentor’—a computer mentor that augments our human capabilities. Computer architecture is going to be the cornerstone for that vision.”

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