2017 Turing Lecture

Beneficial AI for the Advancement of Humankind

The 2017 Turing Lecture will take place in London, Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast on 20-23 February 2017.

The talk is designed to inspire the next generation of IT professionals and will explore the cognitive computing revolution. It will be delivered by Dr Banavar, VP of Cognitive Computing at IBM Research.

‘The talk is going to be about the cognitive computing era,’ says Dr Banavar, addressing the topic of his lecture. ‘Over the past few years,’ he explains, ‘we’ve witnessed the establishment of a new era in computing - the age of machine learning. And, as we move into this new age, the resulting technical, professional and societal changes will be profound.’

Rounding off his summary, Dr Banavar says: ‘It means having a very different relationship with machines. We'll need to start getting used to having machines with us, to having natural interactions with them, and get used to the idea that they’ll be doing a lot of tasks in every part of our lives.’

Dr Banavar discusses cognitive computing, IBM Watson, his career and his 2017 BCS/IET Turing Lecture in the December 2016 issue of ITNOW.

The Turing Lecture's lineage

‘The Lectures cement Turing’s contribution to computer science and also, more importantly, they inspire the next generation of computer scientists,’ says Professor Jim Norton - the current BCS/IET Turing Champion.

This year’s lectures will visit four cities - London, Cardiff, Dublin and Belfast. ‘We’ve gone to Northern Ireland for the last two years and we fill the Belfast city hall with more than 450 people,’ he says. ‘The tech companies around the city - firms like Intel - bus young people to the event from across the province.’

The best questions the speaker receives, are from young people, Professor Norton says, and that is just as he likes it. ‘That’s where we want the lecture to be. And that’s really having an effect on how people perceive computing and a career in computing.’

The Turing effect

Turing statueTuring was a formidable intellectual force who worked across many different fields. ‘His work on neuroscience was brilliant and it’s absolutely central to what’s happening today - work like Google’s Deep Mind and, of course, IBM’s Watson - the subject of our 2017 Turing lecture,’ Professor Norton explains.

‘Indeed,’ he continues, ‘it would be very hard to find any area of our society or our economy which isn’t touched by computing and the internet. It’s very important that people understand where these things come from and how they work, not just how to use them. The Turing Lectures very much do that.’

An affinity with codes

Professor Norton’s association with the Turing Lectures isn’t entirely co-incidental. ‘I was sponsored at university by the Post Office,’ he remembers. ‘There was a Post Office College of Engineering Studies at Little Horwood, near Bletchley Park. From time to time we were put up at Bletchley Park. This was long before what Bletchley did became very public.’

Professor Norton - a mathematician at heart - is also, fascinated by cryptography. ‘I worked, for some years, as the link between BT - as it became - and GCHQ on matters of civil cryptography. One of my team pioneered the use of cryptography on satellite signals, for example. We did work for the Bank of England. I was a regular visitor to GCHQ when we weren’t even permitted to acknowledge it existed,’ he recalls.

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