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Associate Professor Grant Dick

Information Science

There are many ways to solve a complex mathematical problem. You can do it the old-fashioned way, using pen and paper. Better still, you can program a computer to solve the problem for you. Or even better still, as Dr Grant Dick has discovered, you can program a computer to program itself to solve the problem for you.

Grant, an Associate Professor in Information Science at the University of Otago, has completed a PhD in a field known as evolutionary computation, developing software that mimics natural selection in order to find multiple solutions to complex problems.

Grant explains the inspiration: “Basically, the idea is to think of the world as one big computer, and the resident organisms as computer programs that share information and work together to solve problems (ie survive!)”

It is an idea with applications for finance, engineering, medicine and a broad range of other fields in which complicated decisions play a major role. “Say we want to place one hundred cars at auction,” says Grant. “A system incorporating evolutionary computation could use information such as a car's details, transportation costs and market trends to suggest which auctions, worldwide, will offer the best return for each car.”

As someone with a keen understanding of the competitive advantage that computer technology can offer businesses, Grant is pleased to be able to pass this knowledge on to every student who studies Commerce or Information Science at Otago, lecturing on core first-year papers in both of these subjects.

“Whether your degree is in Marketing, Management or Economics, you are going to be using information systems,” he says. “The challenge at 100-level is to give these students an awareness of the importance of ICT in their day-to-day lives. I find it very rewarding being able to get that message across.”

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