Southwestern Fights In the Battle of the Brains

Battle of Brains LogoWhat do you call a competition of tens of thousands of the world’s top computer science students? It’s nothing other, of course, than the Association for Computer Machinery International Collegiate Contest, also known as the “Battle of the Brains.”

This battle, sponsored by IBM, challenges students by requiring them to solve real-world problems using advanced computing methods and technology within a five hour deadline. Students come from 1,838 universities across 88 countries on six continents.

“The Battle of the Brains is one of the most demanding intellectual challenges,” said Alan Ganek, chief technology officer and vice president of strategy for business and technology at IBM Software Group. “These students possess an amazing talent to solve pressing issues involving transportation, energy, water, climate and health. They are a generation with the ability to change the very way of life on planet Earth.”

This contest began at Texas A&M in 1970. In 1977, the contest turned into a multi-tier competition and has since continued to grow. The 2009 finals took place in Stockholm, Sweden where a team from St. Petersburg, Russia won for the second year in a row.

“The Battle of the Brains is a melding of industry and academia, for the purpose of fostering excellence in problem solving,” said Katharine Frase, vice president, technical and business strategy at IBM. “These students are charged with solving real-world, global issues. It is our responsibility to encourage these students to discover new and innovative ways of solving the most pressing issues our world faces today.”

To be specific, teams consist of three people all huddled around one computer to solve around eight or more real-world problems. Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of the problems, deduce the requirements, design test beds and build software systems that solve the problems under the intense scrutiny of expert judges. The team that solves the most problems in the fewest attempts in the least cumulative time is declared the winner.

“It’s a competition that SU excels in,” SU participant Lane Hill said. “Furthermore, it’s an interesting contest that not a lot of people know about and rewards you for problem solving skills and not athletics.”

There are a few different ways to get involved here at Southwestern if you are interested.

“There is a class called Rapid Application Development that you can take for one hour, or you can simply talk to Dr. Rick Denman, who is the team coach, to get involved,” Hill said.

Hill said that Southwestern’s team usually succeeds at the local level and advances to the regional level. The next level is the finals in which 100 teams will compete for awards, prizes and bragging rights.

Creators and advocates of the competition comment about the impact that these brainiac students could have on the world in the future.

“The world faces some really daunting challenges. Problems of pandemic diseases, global climate change, finite energy resources, population density and congestion and urban development planning. It’s going to take some very bright, creative and innovative problem-solvers to tackle these problems, said Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM Software Group and sponsorship executive of the ICPC. “So we believe it’s very important for the industry and academia to work in partnership to promote excellence in problem solving.”

All of these problems in the world are puzzling politicians and scientists. If there are solutions, there is the problem of gathering a consensus of people who agree. The more minds there are helping to solve these problems, the more likely it is that the problems will be solved.

“The world is a little distracted by the economy. But it’s important we focus on how to use technology such as cloud computing and social collaboration to solve big real world problems like energy waste and environmental pollution,” said Frase. “It is important that technology students think about these big concepts and figure out ways to solve them.”

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