Lecture: Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, A journey through computer science

Public lecture

Public lecture by computer scientist Dr Andrew Chi-Chih Yao, 2021 Kyoto Prize Laureate for Advanced Technology

Andrew Chi-Chih Yao created new trends in computer science and made a great contribution to cutting-edge research in various areas, especially in security, secure computing, and quantum computation through establishing innovative fundamental theories for computation and communication. 

This is a hybrid event. When registering, please indicate if you will be attending in person or online.

Andrew Chi-Chih Yao will be giving the lecture remotely.


In this lecture, I would like to give a brief account of my journey through computer science. It is the story of a young physicist in the 1970s who, like Alice in Wonderland, stumbled into the world of computer science by chance and started a long magical journey thereafter.

I was born in Shanghai, China in 1946; later my family moved to Hong Kong, then Taiwan. My upbringing carries the traditional Chinese value and adores scholarship and culture. As a kid I loved math, science and history. Science, like history, gave me a sense of awe and magnificence with its stories of adventure, brilliance and courage. I dreamed that this would also be my destiny!

Andrew Yao
Image credit: Inamori Foundation

After obtaining a Ph.D. in Physics from Harvard in 1972, I by chance came across the then “novel” subject of computer science. Feeling an instant attraction, I decided to switch fields and obtained a second degree.

My research initially focused on solving open problems in algorithms such as minimum spanning tree, B-trees, etc. I gravitated toward developing new computing frameworks and theories after 1975. The research typically starts out by framing a question that interests me intensely. Indeed, I have come to believe that asking the right question is often the key to good research.

I will give a synopsis of some of my work by discussing three topics: minmax complexity, communication complexity and multi-party secure computation. I will also say a brief word about quantum computing, auction theory and AI. It is gratifying that these works have apparently stood the test of time: they are seeing continued strong research interest today and, in some cases, even having practical impact.

No doubt, the diverse and colourful subjects mentioned above reflect the blossoming of Information Science over the last 50 years, and its growing interdisciplinary connections today.

To sum up, I have had a wonderful journey in computer science with many twists and turns! Along the way, I have encountered many extraordinary talents, and made good friends. I am especially fortunate to have had two inspiring mentors, Professor Glashow and Professor Knuth. Scientific giants aside, they are also the kindest and most gracious human beings ever!