Skip to main content

Ian Watson – Four Way Interview

Ian Watson is a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Auckland New Zealand. His latest book is The Universal Machine: from the dawn of computing to digital consciousness, exploring the legacy of Alan Turing, the inventor of the computer. He is a keen blogger and is currently researching in Game AI.
Why science?
I’ve never felt it’s a matter of choosing science over something else. At school I specialised in Biology, Chemistry and English Literature for my university entrance exams. My school said, “You can’t do that! You’ve got to specialise in either the sciences or the arts.” I replied, “I can do that. The timetable permits it – I checked.” Going from a chemistry or biology lab to an English Lit. class or vice versa was constantly refreshing and stimulating.
Steve Jobs was often photographed in front of a mythical street intersection: Liberal Arts and Technology. He famously said “In my perspective … computer science is a liberal art.” I agree with him; to be inventive in computer science you have to imagine it first. It’s a creative act – computer scientists are not discoverers exploring reality and bringing back theories, we’re creative artists, imagining things and making them happen.
Why this book?
There are many books about difference parts of the history of computing from Charles Babbage to the present day. I’ve read many of them, but most are only for the real enthusiast: 600 plus pages on Steve Jobs or Facebook is not for everyone. I wanted to write one book that would cover all the basics from the 1830s to the present day and be accessible and easy to read. 2012 is also the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth and I felt that a book that put his legacy in its full context would be a great contribution to the Alan Turing Year celebrations.
What’s next?
I’ve now started work on a popular science history of artificial intelligence. AI is probably the aspect of computer science that most fascinates and even frightens people. I intend to look at the history of AI from the mythical creations of ancient history through mechanical automata to the birth of AI in the 1950s and to today. The book will then deal, in layperson terms, with the main techniques of AI and look at how AI has been applied in business and industry, health care, the arts and entertainment and the military. The final chapter will look over the horizon at what AI may have in store for us in the future.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
In computing it’s the power of the cloud to provide us with unlimited processing power and data storage where ever we are via our mobile devices. Soon we’ll no longer care how much processing power or memory our new gadget has – this will be utterly irrelevant. The advent of this will enable a completely new class of intelligent applications become feasible – I call it cloud intelligence, perhaps I should write a book about it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How to Drive a Nuclear Reactor - Colin Tucker ****

How To Drive A Nuclear Reactor does exactly what it says on the tin. The book is a general overview of nuclear reactors. From the basic principles that make them work through to what buttons to press in what order (and of course how and why they can go wrong).Nuclear power could be a good step on the path to a greener energy future, but there is a lot of understandable fear. This book can give some idea of what an incredible feat of both science and engineering one of these machines is and, hopefully, make anyone reading it feel far more comfortable about them.The book presents information about everything, almost down to the literal nuts and bolts, giving you a near complete understanding of how a nuclear works. From putting in the fuel to getting out the power and down from the control panel to the construction material. Everything you could ever want to know is here. By the end you'll likely feel ready to walk into a control room and get started (do not try doing this, nuclear …

Being Mortal - Atul Gawande ****

I heard recently that the local geriatric ward puts a photograph of the patient in his or her prime by each bed. The aim is to help staff to treat their patients as individuals, but it makes me uneasy. Do these people only matter because of what they were, not what they are? Because once they stood proud and handsome in their uniform, or looked lovely on their wedding day?

Professor Atul Gawande has the problem surgically excised and laid out for inspection in one of his unflinching but compassionate case studies:

‘What bothered Shelley was how little curiosity the staff members seemed to have about what Lou cared about in his life and what he had been forced to forfeit... They might have called the service they provided assisted living, but no-one seemed to think it was their job to actually assist him with living – to figure out how to sustain the connection and joys that most mattered to him.’

Gawande is an eminent surgeon. As a young resident he displayed little overt emotion when hi…

Twenty Worlds - Niall Deacon *****

This is a truly entertaining and informative book, but the reason I’m giving it the full five stars has as much to do with the refreshing novelty of the author’s style as anything else. There’s novelty in the subject-matter too – the wide variety of recently discovered exoplanets orbiting other stars – but even so this is the third book on the topic that I’ve read. The first two were a lot less fun to read, and (without naming and shaming the authors) it’s worth a brief diversion to explain why.The first author was a university professor with a vast knowledge of the subject, who seemed determined to convey the entirety of that knowledge without stopping to think whether it was interesting or necessary for a general audience. The second author – another academic – took a different but equally tedious approach, with a plodding chronological account that focused as much on the dull routine of the scientists involved as on their work.Niall Deacon doesn’t make either of those mistakes. He’…