CIR Diary

International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI 2018)

(*日本語は下にあります。)

On September 7th, we visited the Tsukuba International Convention Center where the 30th International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI 2018) was held.

The event is an annual international informatics competition where contestants from various countries come together and solve an array of computer science related problems and compete for a chance at a gold medal.

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The number of participants in this prestigious competition has been steadily increasing. This year’s IOI welcomed more than 900 participants representing 85 different countries. While the event is mostly focused on science, it also gives participants to enjoy multiple different cultures through their interactions with the other contestants and the staff.

According to the volunteer we talked to, most of the volunteers were exchange students from Tsukuba University, the rest is made of Japanese students and staff of companies around the area. Each of them was assigned to a team in respect to their mother language or a language they are skilled at. And the volunteer is in charge of showing their assigned team to the dormitory, food court, contest halls, as well as helping them get around in the city while providing interpretation. Of the couple volunteers we talked to, all of them were enthusiastic to share their experience with the foreign teams.

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“Showing the contestant teams around in Tsukuba city was really fun, it reminded me of my first culture shock after coming to Japan a few years ago. I made some great friends through this opportunity and we have made promises to meet again either in Japan or somewhere else in the world.”

“I felt very connected to be able to meet someone from my home country who lives in this city,” says one of the team member in regard to his assigned volunteer exchange student, “It gave me a sense of home while competing in a country I have never been to, and I was able to learn so much about the life here, makes me want to come back again in the future.”

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We had the opportunity to interview some of the contestants and staff to get their perspectives on the event and what brought them all the way here to Japan.

The Japanese national team was made of some of the most intelligent students one can ever meet, they are a little shy to speak at first, but when the topic is brought upon the contest itself, their eyes were filled with joy and excitement. They complimented each other on their respective results in different sessions and expressed how amazed they were by the talent of other foreign teams.

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“You never know how big the world, and how many greater people are out there until you really compete with them.” says the Japanese contestant Inoue Wataru, “I see them, just like regular students, and I didn’t expect how amazing they are when sitting in front of the screen.” Inoue Wataru won personal score of 6th place in the entire contest, we must say he is being overly humble with his words, as we felt the exact same about him and his teammates.

The Chinese contestants were no doubt the best in their team effort, all of the four members won the gold medal with personal results of 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 23rd place. Unlike the other teams who dressed very casually, they came to the event in matching suits and ties. However, when confronted about this, they laughed and replied with a blush. “Our coach teacher said that we should wear suits because Japan values those who dress formally to international events such as this one, so we thought we should follow the culture here. But turns out we are the most formally dressed, teams from the other countries just wore shorts and t-shirts like they would if they work in silicon valley.”

They explained to us the very strict selection process of contestants from China, the 4 of them were chosen through 3 stages of intensive selection tests and training camp, out of over 2000 students who signed up from schools all over China.

DSC_9403Finally, we were able to talk to the legend himself Benjamin Qi. Before attending the event, we had no idea who he was but once we arrived at the venue, he was all everyone talked about. “Have you met Benjamin Qi?!”, “We call him BenQ”, “His talent is out of this world”.

When we met Benjamin, he came out of an elevator and suddenly all the contestants had their heads turned towards him. “Oh, he’s here! He’s here! That’s BenQ!” That’s when we knew we had to make find out why this particular competitor was so famous.

 

As far as the first impression goes, Benjamin seemed like just any other regular high school student. One could not have imagined that he was one of the leading programmers of his age group. When asked about his fame at the event he was very humble about it and said he wasn’t a fan of all the attention. Benjamin Qi is a high school student from Princeton, the United States who made a name for himself at this event by achieving a perfect score on a problem that lasted for 5 hours. A feat no one has to come to achieve up until this year’s Olympiad. Benjamin gained interest in computer science while in 8th grade.

DSC_9411He said he self-studied until he entered high school where he took classes on the subject. To secure a spot at this year’s IOI 2018, Benjamin participated in a 6-day long competition in North Carolina where he and other high schoolers went head-to-head to become one of the United States’ representatives at the event. As the for the event, Benjamin noted that it was a fantastic opportunity to put his skills to the test as well as great exposure to a variety of global cultures. Benjamin won 2018 IOI personal best with 4 perfect scores and a big percentage gap with the 2nd place winner.

In the end, we realized that we were only merely taking a slight peek under the curtains, the world of informatics and how important these skills are to the future society is unable to be valued.

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We live in a world where words such as “geeks” and “nerds” are still widely used as insults and mocking to people who have different interests than the so-called “majority”. It is sad to see students being bullied at school and called names because their talents are not being understood by the ignorant mass. However, the nerd discrimination is bound to disappear as leading figures like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk who are bringing significant changes to the world through technology. We hope that one day, the contestants will shine on the world stage with their great talent in informatics and the skills to push our society forward.

 

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This is the first time the IOI is hosted in Japan, and Tsukuba city was selected to be its hosting venue. The city of Tsukuba is also known as the Tsukuba Science City, it is now the most significant science technology accumulation site in the country, where more than 300 public and private institutions and enterprises are located. Many foreign researchers and exchange students who seek for high-level experiences and opportunities gather in Tsukuba. The city also offers various services in multi-language to support the living of foreign residents. While its foreign residents give back to the community by doing volunteer works, representing Tsukuba and acting as the bridge between this city they live in and the world.

2018

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From left: CIR Cedric (USA), CIR Gloria (Canada)

 

 

(日本語訳)

9月7日水曜日に,私たちは,「国際情報オリンピック(IOI)」の取材のため,つくば国際会議場を訪れました。

このイベントは,毎年開催され,数理情報科学を競うため各国からつくば市に集まった競技者は,数多くの情報科学に関する問題を解き,金メダル獲得を目指します。

この名誉ある競技会には,85の国を代表する900名以上の競技者が参加し,その数は年々増加しています。イベントでは,科学に焦点があてられる一方で,競技者の皆さんは,他の競技者やスタッフの方々との交流を通じ,多様な文化に触れているようです。

この大会を支えるボランティアのお話によると,彼らの殆どは,筑波大学の学生とのことでしたが,他の大学の学生や会社関係者も参加しています。ボランティアは,自身の母国語とチームメンバーが話す言語と同じか,あるいは,日常的にその言語を理解できるレベルにある場合,当該チームに割り当てられ,宿舎や食事場所,競技場への案内や通訳をしながら,市内の紹介も行います。皆さん,外国から来たチームと積極的に交流していました。

「競技者をつくば市にご案内することはとても楽しいことです。数年前の来日直後にカルチャーショックを覚えたことを思い出させます。この機会を通じて多くの素晴らしい知り合いができ,日本か海外で再会することを約束しました。」

「この街に住む,同国人の方と知り合いになれ,つながりを強く感じています。」と語るのは,ボランティアとして勤める交換留学生。「行ったことがない国と競うことで母国に想いを馳せます。ここでは,多くを学ぶことができ,また戻ってきたいという気持ちになります。」

私たちは,競技者とスタッフに,このイベントについての見解やどのような経緯で来日することになったかインタビューする機会を得ました。

日本代表チームは,とても知的な生徒たちで構成されています。初めは内気に話していましたが,競技の話になると一転し,彼らの目は興奮に満ちた様に変わりました。日本のチームメイトたちの結果に賛辞を送りつつ,他国のチームの才能にも驚きを隠せない様子でした。

「実際に対戦してみないと,世界とはいかに大きく,多くの優秀な競技者がいるということに気づきません。」と語るのは,日本代表の井上さん。「彼らはただの学生にしか見えませんが,一緒に競技をしてみると,彼らの優秀さに気づきます。」そんな井上さん自身も,個人得点で六位という成績を上げていて,かなり控えめに発言していることがわかります。

中国代表は,疑いなくチーム全体の力量としては最上でしょう。メンバー4人全てが2位,3位,6位,23位という金メダルを獲得しています。軽装で参加している他のチームと違い,彼らはお揃いのスーツで参加しています。このような事実について,彼らは笑えみ,顔を赤らげて返答します。「僕たちの先生から,こういう国際イベントにおいては,正装が日本では評価されると聞いていましたから,この国の文化に従っただけですよ。結果として,僕たちが最も正装になってしまい,他の国の競技者は,まるでシリコンバレーにでも勤めているかのようにTシャツと短パンでしたね。」

彼らは,中国国内での厳しい選考過程も説明してくれました。4人は,3次に渡る,過酷な選考試験と合宿を経て,国内2,000人の応募者の中から選抜されたのです。

遂に私たちは,ベンジャミン・クイ,その人と会うことが叶いました。私たちは,今日ここに来るまで,彼のことを知りませんでした。しかし,会場に到着するや否や,競技者の皆さんが,彼の話をしていることに気づきます。「ベンジャミン・クイにもう会った?」「彼の才能は並外れているよ。」

私たちが,ベンジャミンに出会ったのは,彼がエレベーターから降りてくるところで,皆,彼の方を見るのです。「彼が来た!ベンQだ!」そういう声を聞いてようやく彼がどれほど有名なのか気づいたのです。

最初の印象では,ベンジャミンは,普通の高校生にしか見えません。彼が世代を代表するトップのプログラマーだとは誰も気づかないでしょう。私たちが自身の名声についてどう思うか尋ねると,そういう注目はあまり好かないと,とても控えめに話します。ベンQは,5時間にもおよぶ問題を完全回答した米国プリンストン出身の高校生なのです。これは,今年の情報五輪まで誰も達成していない快挙なのです。彼は,中学二年生の時にコンピューターサイエンスに興味を覚えたのだそうです。

この科目は高校に入学するまで自己学習をしていたそうです。今年の情報五輪の参加権を得るまで,彼は,ノースカロライナにおいて6日間に渡る他の高校生との競争に打ち勝って米国代表になっています。彼は,今回のIOIについて,異文化を体験しつつ,自分が培った技術で競技に臨めることは素晴らしいことだと言い,自己ベストで,第2位に大差をつけ優勝しています。

最後に,私たちは今回,数理情報科学の世界を垣間見たに過ぎませんが,これらの技術は,私たちの将来に計り知れないほど重要だと気付かされます。

世間では,限られた特定の分野に興味を抱く人たちを未だ「おたく」という言葉で嘲り,彼らの才能が,凡人には,およそ理解できないとの理由で,嘆かわしいことに,学校でいじめられたり,誹謗中傷を受けたりします。しかしながら,「おたく」と言って差別する行為は,技術革新で世界を変えたスティーブ・ジョブスやイーロン・マスクのような才能を消し去ることにもなりかねません。私たちは,今回の競技者の皆さんが,将来,情報科学の世界で,その比類ない才能を発揮し,世界を動かす原動力になることを期待してやみません。

今回のIOIは,日本で初めて開催され,つくば市が開催地として選ばれました。つくば市は, 300もの公的,民間両方の科学関連施設が集積する日本で最も重要な科学都市として認知されています。高いレベルの研究を求めて,多くの外国人科学者や留学生がここつくば市に集まってくるのです。市では,外国人居住者に対する様々な多言語によるサービスを提供しています。一方で外国人居住者たちは,世界との橋渡し役として様々なボランティアを提供しているのです。

 

今回のIOI開催を契機として,つくば市,ひいては茨城県がより国際的に飛躍することを願ってやみません。

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Tsukuba University Plastic Arts & Mixed Media Exhibition

When: November 3 – January 29
Where: The Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki (666-1 Higashikubo, Senba-cho, Mito)
Museum Hours: 9:30am – 5pm (last entry 4:30pm). Closed on Mondays and from December 29 – January 1st. Open on Monday January 2nd and 9th and closed on Tuesday January 3rd and 10th.
Admission: Adults 980 yen, High School and University Students 720 yen, Elementary and Junior High School Students 360 yen
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At this unique exhibition, works that defy what we think of art by graduates of Tsukuba University’s Plastic Arts & Mixed Media program will be on display, and a number of artists, including former instructors from the Plastic Arts & Mixed Media program will be giving lectures and running workshops.

See the website (Japanese only) for more details about events during the exhibition.