About the BCS Belfast Branch

The Belfast Branch of BCS was formed in the 1950s. At that time there were three computers in Ireland all of them in Belfast, an ICT 1201 at the Department of Finance and two DEUCE computers - one at Queen’s University and the other at Short Brothers and Harland. (Computer memories today are measured in thousands of millions of bytes, the first computer at Queen’s had 384 bytes). The staff from these three organisations observed that a new society, the BCS, had been formed in London in 1957 and came together to form the Belfast branch of the society.

During the 1960s the number of computers increased rapidly throughout the island of Ireland. The Belfast branch serviced that community until 1968 when the Irish computer Society was formed as a separate unit. Computer Science departments then emerged at a number of universities in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, covering a wide range of disciplines from data processing to robotics and artificial intelligence.

In 1973 the Science Research Council commissioned a report from Sir James Lighthill which regrettably was highly critical of basic research in the foundation areas such as robotics and language processing. Lighthill's report provoked a massive loss of confidence in Artificial Intelligence by the academic establishment in the UK, including the funding body. It persisted for almost a decade.

Meanwhile Japan launched a major project in Inference Computer Technologies for knowledge processing and Super-computers for scientific calculation. The aim was an attempt to leapfrog existing computer expertise and create an entirely new computer technology. Japan invited computer experts from all over the world to come and join in this Fifth Generation Project. The UK government feared the loss of significant computer expertise and in 1979 set up almost simultaneously two groups.

The Alvey Committee (which included two future presidents of the BCS) was established to bring together research in the university, industrial and government areas which hitherto were primarily separate activities. The focus was in four areas that seemed particularly relevant at the time - Software Engineering, Intelligent Knowledge Based Systems, Man Machine Interaction and Advanced Microelectronics (VLSI Design). Funding was substantial, £350M at 1982 prices.

The Benjamin Committee was established to promote awareness among the public and small and medium sized enterprises of the benefits that would accrue from the convergence of computers, communication and television. This committee coined the phrase information technology and the acronym IT was born. A national program IT82 was established, covering nine regions of the UK and the Belfast branch led the Northern Ireland campaign.

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