Improving the public perception of IT will be the theme for Nigel Shadbolt’s presidency of the British Computer Society. Shadbolt, who is professor of artificial intelligence at Southampton University, took over from Charles Hughes as president this month to take the BCS into its 50th year.
Southampton University is currently a hotbed of advanced internet technology research. Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee is a visiting professor and past BCS president Wendy Hall is professor of computing.
Shadbolt wants to revitalise IT’s image and encourage students to choose IT courses in schools and universities.
“Ours is an exciting and revolutionary discipline,” he said. “Sadly, the public does not seem to share this excitement. Our subject is seen as remote and inaccessible, populated by geeks hunched over computer terminals.
“The theme for my year is public engagement, changing the way the public regards and engages with our profession and its disciplines.”
Shadbolt intends to advocate the achievements and successes of IT more strongly than before.
“Our profession is often seen as a cause of failure, a nuisance and source of problems,” he said. “We must show the benefits of our work and present our achievements. At the same time we need to engage constructively in debating the problems in those IT projects that are so often in the public eye.
“We also need to widen the debate so that everyone understands that our subject is about the intimate interplay between systems and people, between technology and society.”
During the year, Shadbolt will announce a number of initiatives to revitalise this whole area.
The initiatives also aim to address the sharp decline in applications for computer science degree courses. Shadbolt warned that UK industry would not feel the effect of the shortages until the current crop of students graduate in 2009.
“The brightest and the best of our next generation do not see computing and IT as the innovative, dynamic and exciting place we experience. Failure to act now will lead to more than a decade of decline,” Shadbolt said.