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Kevin McCarty relaxing in an office

Kevin McCarty

Student’s Logic Fuzzy, Yet Sound

Written by Ken Kingery

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – For twenty years after graduating from the University of California, Riverside, with a degree in mathematics, Kevin McCarty kept himself busy with three kids and a full-time job computer programming.

And yet, he didn’t feel challenged.

While some might fill a similar void with hobbies like photography or biking, McCarty worked through a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Idaho, Idaho Falls Center. While some people might consider the logic in his decision fuzzy, he was learning about fuzzy logic.

“It’s been an interesting ride,” said McCarty. “I don’t have much free time for anything right now, but I’ve learned to balance work, school, and my family. You get better at time management as you get older.”

In just a little over a year, McCarty worked through all of his master's degree courses in addition to a pile of undergraduate “deficiencies.” Additionally, he has published five papers – one a potential book chapter – and travelled to Poland for five days to present his research at an international human systems interaction conference. Thanks to his prowess in computer research, the man who never before had need of a passport, now has friends scattered throughout Europe.

Before he began his master’s degree, McCarty held many jobs including stints in the army, sales and marketing, real estate, and his own consulting firm. McCarty who has three kids aged 16, 18 and 20, is a good role model demonstrating the importance of higher education.

“My son is going to college soon and it’s interesting to talk about school to him,” said McCarty. “We talk about study habits and teachers, we have a very different outlook because of our age difference, but it’s a lot of fun to listen.”

McCarty’s next step is now working on a Ph.D. at the University of Idaho, Idaho Falls Center. He believes he can accomplish this quest in under two years. He’s hoping to take the theory he has worked on, and extend it into software development and make his work into something practical.

“My research actually is very useful in many business and science applications,” said McCarty. “It can be used anywhere from robotics, to data mining, to control systems.”

McCarty’s research centers around a concept called fuzzy logic. The theory is used to help computers mimic real-world conditions that are ill-defined in the same way humans do. For example, a computer can interpret the volume of a stereo in only two ways – on or off. But humans think of volume in terms of varying degrees from off to soft to loud, with many different levels in between. Fuzzy logic attempts to deal with similar dilemmas.

More specifically, McCarty is applying fuzzy logic to data mining. To predict the way data should behave, one has to know the context in which it sits. McCarty likens it to a snake attacking a bird. The bird should fly away, but if it is protecting its young, it won’t. If an observer did not see the young, the bird’s behavior would appear irrational. McCarty is designing systems that can recognize different contexts to help make sense of apparently strange data.

If this sounds difficult and complicated, that’s because it is. But McCarty has been more than equal to the task.

“Kevin brings insight to problems and devotes a very high level of energy to his research efforts,” said Milos Manic. Manic is a full-time professor of computer science at the University of Idaho’s Idaho Falls Center. “His capabilities are well-rounded and have been very appropriate for our research. But, what is most impressive about Kevin’s accomplishment is that he has done all of this while working full-time at Melaluca, and with family obligations.”

For McCarty, the opportunity has been more than just academic. He has taken delight in proving that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.

“I was glad for the opportunity to prove this ‘old’ guy is capable of producing at a high level,” said McCarty. “You don’t always get that chance in the real world.”

Article & photo courtesy Idaho Falls Magazine, for more information visit http://www.idahofallsmagazine.com