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Rushes Sequences - Nigel Shadbolt interview - London (Video)

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Dan Biddle Dan Biddle | 18:35 UK time, Monday, 5 October 2009

Nigel Shadbolt is a Professor of Computer Science at Southampton University. In 2006 he co-founded the Web Science Research Initiative, to promote multidisciplinary research into the Web.

This is one of several general 'talking head' interviews that were filmed on September 15th. The interviewer was Series Producer Russell Barnes.

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And please do comment here with your thoughts on what Nigel says. This interview will be edited into our programme; all insights will be helpful.


Intvr    03.12.18    So Nigel lets just start and talk about some of the issues of Programme 4, do you think that the social networking revolution erm has irrevocable changed our relationships, how we, how young people relate to each other?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.12.32    I think it's provided a means to stay connected at much closer quarters for much erm longer periods of time.  So classically the statement is that the kids bring the playground back with them in the evening.  So, in a sense, they're local friendship groups are more persistent, they last longer, and that brings benefits and diss benefits I think.

Intvr        What would you identify as the benefits and, and drawbacks?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.13.01    Well its clear that within friendship groups erm with teenagers and people at school there's a huge appetite for staying connected, to stay available through and beyond the school day.  Erm, but of also, some of the problems of the playground come back I suspect, into the home, into the kind of sanctuary they used to have.  So there's a sense in which they're space is sort of invaded, erm of course they're all willing participants and accomplices in this, but it gives them perhaps not as much opportunity for down time, where they're not erm
    03.13.34    sort of under those sorts of stresses.

Intvr        do you think erm what role do you think the web can have in education going forward, in terms of it's a sit forward technology, it encourages playfulness, I'm interested in those kind of themes.  Do you think it's going to make more intelligent students in the future?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.13.55    I think we already see, my experience of this is we already see students who have a very acute sense of the requirement to be critical about the material they're seeing, just because the web is full of a huge amount of material, some of questionable provenance and origin.  They have to take those lessons on board very early, so in a strange way, although there is more out there, its requiring them to be more self critical about how they should use those sources.  And I think that's a hugely important skill in
    03.14.27    thinking that we've always been trying to convey to students.

Intvr        How do you feel when you see new students coming through, do you identify them as being you know more curious, more intelligent, smarter, more critical?

Nigel Shadbolt        Well I'm a Professor of Computer science, so I see people who naturally want to get in and develop the systems, take them to the limits.  Erm, and they're whole interest in doing this and ability to do it is hugely accelerated by the presence of the web, because they can form communities, they can exploit open source software movements, they can be much more creative individually than they erm would be, than collectively than they would be on they're own.  The
    03.15.07    challenge is a little bit though that its, erm its quite easy for them to reach for other solutions, so we have to guard against that I think a lot in the way we teach and develop they're own research scales.

Intvr        So do you think the web, a huge opportunity, but also possibilities for distraction?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.15.23    Yeah distraction and difficult to be entirely original, that there's somebody out there who has produced a piece of code or a piece of research that can look quite similar or quite close to the work and the idea you've had, and its actually interesting then to say how distinctive is my own contribution, should I bother making it.  But it doesn't seem to have stopped people though I should say voicing they're opinions, voicing they're code and putting it out there.


Intvr        Do you think, just getting into you know we shoot programme 4, what are the benefits of the way we think.  What I'm teasing out, I know your very interested in collaborative intelligence, and your very interested and talk to me about, can you tell us a bit about in what ways you think .......... In what ways you think the web is enhancing intelligence?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.16.28    The webs enhancing intelligence in lots of ways.  And in ways we didn't anticipate.  Erm, I started out looking at artificial intelligence so we thought we would put all the smartness into the programmes.  There's a new kind of AI, we call it augmented intelligence and that's the product of lots of people collaboratively solving problems together, contributing material.  And that's producing really extraordinary new products.

Intvr        Can you give me some examples, we've talked about map and galaxies and?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.16.58    Yeah so erm, so when you look at the kind of products of this augmented intelligence, the obvious and well known one is Wikepedia, you know collective efforts to build a massive encyclopaedia that's current that's policed that's of high quality.  But you can take all sorts of tasks that humans are naturally good at, an interesting one is work where people have been trained up to use what they're extremely good at which is they're visual sense is to tell one object from another.  So they've been used on mass to classify different types of astronomical phenomena.  One type of galaxy versus another.  We're very quick to learn these things with a
    03.17.34    training set and then we can unleash a massive amount of capability and people connected together to solve a huge amount of data processing this way.

Intvr        That's sociology has identified the web is or its claimed that the web is somehow akin to the invention of the telescope its unleashing a golden age?

Nigel Shadbolt    03.17.54    The web gives us a new kind of instrumentation I think, it is a new golden age in the sense that obviously your joining people together, so on the end of all of these web connections are on the order of you know, hundreds of millions of neurons, whirring away with a life history that can be shared and pooled.  That integration of human intelligence has never been seen before on this scale, and what's happening with the web is one of its characteristics is that those communities, within the web, co-release, aggregate, come together to form particular interest groups.  So it seems to self organise in very interesting ways into co-ordinated groups of communities.

Intvr    03.18.39    In what way do you think the semantic ............. Will help to share or does share help to share and improve knowledge?

Nigel Shadbolt        So 20 years ago erm Tim Bernesley gave us a connected web of documents, before we had it it was hard to imagine what a world would be like with documents across the planet, material across the planet connected.  The semantic web is really going to emerge as a web of link data or information.  So the information inside documents, inside data bases and spreadsheets imagine if that was connected up seamlessly.  And we're seeing huge opportunities there where information sets that were sitting there in isolation can now be cross correlated, integrated,
    03.19.20    overlaid to produce a most amazing range of rich information, erm mash ups.  New insights, new erm discoveries all the time there.


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