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Computer Conservation Society.


Brian Randell


2:00pm - Refreshments and networking
2:30pm - Start of webinar and face to face event
5:00pm - End


Despite intensive searches during the last few years with Dr. Brian Coghlan, Curator of Trinity College Dublin’s John Gabriel Byrne Computer Science Collection, and his small team relatively little has been found out about the Irish computer pioneer Percy Ludgate (1883-1922). Indeed, all that has been discovered has been documented in just two papers and one edited book.

Prompted by the recent extensive publicity about the ChatGPT artificial intelligence chatbot, and claims about its suitability for use in historical investigations, we undertook an experiment to see whether it could help us find out more about Ludgate’s life and work.

In fact we learned nothing new about Ludgate from ChatGPT, but a lot about ChatGPT’s startling ability to produce very well-written and plausible but totally erroneous results – so-called “hallucinations”. In this talk I will detail our experiences with ChatGPT, and reactions to the report we produced recently describing our experiment.

About the speaker

Brian Randell

I graduated in Mathematics from Imperial College in 1957 and joined the English Electric Company where I led a team that implemented a number of compilers, including the Whetstone KDF9 Algol compiler. From 1964 to 1969 I was with IBM in the United States, mainly at the T.J. Watson Research Center, working on computer architecture, operating systems and system design methodology.

I was appointed a Professor of Computing Science at Newcastle University in 1969, where my main research interests ever since have been system dependability and security.

My active interest in computer history was sparked when, while preparing my Inaugural Lecture, I stumbled across Percy Ludgate. The information I collected on Charles Babbage’s successors, as I attempted to put Ludgate’s work into context for the 1971 Computer Journal paper that I published on him, led to my compiling the book The Origins of Digital Computers: Selected Papers (Springer, 1973), and to my investigating first Alan Turing and then Colossus.

Since then I have been only occasionally involved in computer history, until a few years ago when I joined Brian Coghlan’s small team intensively researching Percy Ludgate.

Additional Information

On this occasion, Professor Randell will not be physically present at the BCS offices in London, but will be using Zoom to give his talk from his home in Newcastle.

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This event is brought to you by: Computer Conservation Society

Hybrid event: ChatGPT’s astonishing fabrications about Percy Ludgate
Date and time
Thursday 12 October, 2:30pm - 5:00pm
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT
Ground Floor, 25 Copthall Avenue
This event is sold out