Editor's Letter

Hearts, Minds, and Algorithms

Our winter issue sheds light on both humans and machines.

White robot with large bright eyes holds a copy of the On Wisconsin Alumni Magazine

Though UW robots are increasingly sophisticated, they will never catch up with humans in fundamental ways. Bryce Richer

UW–Madison has been navigating a fall semester with students, faculty, and staff back on campus. Thanks to vaccinations and COVID-19 protocols, infections have been under control. And that’s meant the return of beloved traditions such as fans cheering at Camp Randall Stadium, not to mention students learning in actual classrooms.

We’ve reached this promising point through both human fortitude and technological wizardry. Fittingly, our winter issue focuses on people and machines. The cover story shows how researchers at the School of Computer, Data & Information Sciences are improving our lives with cutting-edge technology. “I, Food-Delivery Robot” follows one of the squat automatons that roll across campus like adorable toy trucks.

By contrast, our profiles of Avi ’59, MA’62 and Beth Nguyen suggest that machines will never catch up with humans in fundamental ways. These two talented writers capture the essence of who we are, in all our messy complexity. Try doing that, computers.

And the machines still haven’t mastered basic human kindness. “Let Us Count the Ways” traces the effects of the All Ways Forward comprehensive campaign — that is, the effects of your generous donations — on the life of one determined UW undergrad.

In short, this issue of On Wisconsin offers much food for thought. So sit back and scroll through the magazine with a sandwich and a cup of coffee — delivered by robot, if need be.

Published in the Winter 2021 issue


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