February 2020 sees a new podcast series from BCS. ‘The Gem of all Mechanisms: Computing in society’ is an interview series, where we talk to people in the know about the complexities of 21st century tech and how it affects us all. Brian Runciman MBCS reports.

The series was prompted by the success of BCS Insights 2019 (now officially award-winning too). The speakers we attracted were of a very high calibre and it made for a great day. So, for BCS Insights 2020 on 4 June at the Crystal in London, we thought we would interview the tech leaders, futurologists, influencers and innovators that will be onstage this year to whet our appetites!

In the digital world, the possibilities and challenges are seemingly endless. The lines in ethics and responsibility are blurred at best. Through Insights 2020 and our new Truth and Trust campaign, BCS is working to find truth and build trust by sharing experiences, debating what we know - discovering what we don’t.

To create a bright digital future for everyone in society, we all need to have a say, whether we’re talking data privacy or machine learning, workplace diversity and everything in between. The podcast will be asking key people about these issues.

Episodes 1 and 2 are available now - philosopher Luciano Floridi and incoming BCS President Rebecca George cover some fascinating topics. Listen on Spotify now (other platforms will soon be added).

What is the Gem…?

The title of the podcast is a reference to a remark attributed to Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), on seeing Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 1 - essentially a mechanical precursor of all computers - first created in 1821.

The intervening 200 years (nearly) have seen the computer hugely effect society. In this interview series, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT talks to people in the know from many different disciplines, to discuss the complexities of 21st century tech and how it affects us all. This is part of our purpose to make IT good for society.

A note about our music…

In 2017, to celebrate computing in general and BCS’s 60th anniversary in particular, we produced an aural ident as a piece of experimental music: ‘An aural journey through computing: pre-1957 to 2017’. As we didn’t in the end use this for our 2017 celebrations, we thought its geeky nature would fit well with our podcast.

The introductory few seconds portray pre-1957 computing - it’s a sample of the sound on the electro-mechanical computer, dubbed the Bombe, used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

The next six seconds, one second per decade, combine a rising tone to signify the increase in the number of transistors per chip, counterpointed with a dropping tone to show the decrease in transistor size over that time. The rhythm uses the same wave form as an individual note - with applied effects to produce a bass and snare sound.

For an outro, we have used a sample of the last ubiquitous sound in computing - the modem dial-up. Over this are two chords, produced from a scatter graph of available clock speed frequencies in 2007 and 2017, our 50th and 60th anniversaries. By correlating these to the frequencies of musical notes - for example 2308 Ghz clock speed has been co-related to wavelength 23.31, which is the note F#, two other notes in 2007 leads us to a D major chord.

A reverb effect on the fade-out points to the unknowability of the future...