Like the old Apple computer slogan, Stuart Shieber could be described as a “think different” kind of computer scientist.
An expert in language processing (human, programming, graphical, and the dynamic intersections among all three), he weaves together AI and algorithms with anthropology and psychology to uncover how communication works.
He earned his A.B. in applied math at the College in 1981. (He’s one of five SEAS faculty in computer science who are one- or two-time Harvard graduates.)
Shieber headed West after college, pursuing his Ph.D. in computer science at Stanford University. Reflecting upon his return to Harvard in 1989, he said, “I got put on all these library committees when I showed up.”
As someone interested in the way words work, he took his duties seriously, and turned a side-job into a substantial part of his academic life.
“Stuart really knows and cares about libraries,” remarked Marce Wooster, head of SEAS’s Gordon McKay Library. Digging through Shieber’s CV you find a now-prescient article he coauthored with Craig Silverstein ’94 on “Predicting individual book use for off-site storage using decision trees.”
Silverstein is Google’s employee #1 and its current CTO. The search company has, of course, launched its own controversial effort to create a massive online book and content repository (See the Berkman Center workshop held July 31, 2009, “Life in the Shadow of the Google Books Settlement,” http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/2009/07/googleopening.)
Shieber has also taken a crack at entrepreneurship, founding two start-up companies, Microtome Publishing (a publishing-services company committed to open-access scholarship) and Cartesian Products (a technology firm offering a novel solution for viewing and compressing large digital files).
He also has a penchant for turning his passions into positions: he was the founding director of the Center for Research on Computation and Society, based at SEAS; he’s a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society; and he’s the first head of the Office for Scholarly Communication.