December 7, 2016
Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth’s annual lecture to be streamed live in video that offers virtual reality experience
By Simon Firth
Thanks to new virtual reality recording technology, viewers from around the world will be able to experience legendary Stanford computer scientist Donald Knuth’s 22nd annual Christmas Lecture as if they were taking a seat in the auditorium.
The December 8 public lecture, which this year explores what Knuth describes as “perhaps the oldest nontrivial combinatorial problem in the history of civilization,” will mark the first time that this educational event has been livestreamed in 360-degree, spherical video that supports a virtual reality experience.
Knuth is a revered figure in computer science, a Stanford emeritus professor, and the author of “The Art of Computer Programming,” a multivolume series of books that remains among the discipline’s key texts. He is also widely known for his “musings,” lectures for the general public on topics related to computer science and mathematics that include his annual Christmas Lecture series.
For many years now, the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) has recorded most of Knuth’s public talks and streamed them online to thousands of viewers around the world.
“This year, our Learning Innovation team is going to be piloting the use of a new virtual reality 360-degree video camera that will actually allow all those people tuning in over the internet to attend the lecture as if they were physically in the auditorium,” said Michael Rouan, managing director of Learning Innovation at SCPD, which is part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning. “The really cool part of this is that each of those individuals will be able to ‘control’ what they see at any point and ‘look around the room’ for a virtual front-row seat experience.”
In his talk, Knuth will explore “Hamiltonian Paths” both in antiquity and in more recent times. William Rowan Hamilton was a celebrated 19th-century Irish mathematician and scientist who invented the Icosian Game, which involves finding a route through all points of a network without retracing your steps.
“Variants of his game have turned out to be important in many modern computer applications,” said Knuth, who will exhibit Greco-Roman, Arabic and Sanskrit precursors that suggest that this is one of the oldest combinatorial math problems in existence.
Once delivered, Knuth’s Dec. 8 talk will be added to a new permanent video archive of more than 100 of his musings, lectures and selected classes. The archive, hosted by the Stanford Center for Professional Development, is free and available to all.
Professor Donald Knuth’s 22nd Annual Christmas Lecture, “Hamiltonian Paths in Antiquity,” will be streamed live on Thursday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m. from the Huang Engineering Center’s NVIDIA Auditorium.
Stanford students, faculty, staff and members of the public are welcome to attend the lecture in person.
The live stream 360-degree video will be available at: http://scpd.stanford.edu/free-stuff/live-webinars-lectures/donald-knuths-annual-christmas-lecture-360.
To watch the lecture remotely, viewers will need internet access, speakers and a screen. The lecture will be live-streamed in 4K spherical video (360 degrees) through an Orah 4i camera to SCPD’s YouTube channel. By using a computer mouse, or by tilting a smartphone or tablet, participants will be able to individually control the video angle and experience 360-degree viewing. By using an additional virtual reality headset, viewers will be able to sample a more immersive experience through the same live stream. The headsets that are supported for this live stream are Google Cardboard (or compatible), Samsung Gear VR and Daydream View.