The BCS Needham Lecture took place on Tuesday 4 June 2019, at The Royal Society in London.
Professor Philippa Gardner of Imperial College London, the outgoing chair of the BCS Awards Committee, welcomed the audience, while Dr Iain Phillips of Loughborough University announced the winner of the BCS / CPHC Distinguished Dissertations - awarded to Miltos Allamanis of the University of Edinburgh for his paper ‘Learning Natural Coding Conventions’. His lecture with the same name elucidated the winning submission.
Professor Bart Jacobs of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, introduced former student, and BCS Roger Needham Award Winner 2018, Professor Alexandra Silva of University College London. Accepting her ‘mid-career award’, she took to the stage to give her talk ‘Modelling and Verification using Automata Learning’ at the BCS Needham Lecture 2019.
Alexandra Silva is a theoretical computer scientist, whose main research focuses on semantics of programming languages and modular development of algorithms, for computational models. A lot of her work uses the unifying perspective offered by coalgebra.
In her lecture, Professor Silva explains how Automata are one of the simplest and pervasive structures in Computer Science. Despite their simplicity, Automata play an important role in many tasks notably in modelling and verification of hardware and software systems. She describes how Automata learning algorithms can be used to model and verify different systems and protocols. As well as, discussing the challenges that society needs to overcome to bring this technique to mainstream hardware (and software) verification - and the resulting opportunities.