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Herts BCS meeting, October 2015; Ada Lovelace Day

adanewseventsimages Me and Megan (daughter, 17, got A* for maths and further maths at GCSE… just saying… :D) went to the BCS lecture on Tuesday night at the Lindop Building, University of Herts. I particularly wanted Meg to go as it was the Ada Lovelace Commemorative Lecture to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, and I’m always keen that she gets to hear about great role models. She never believes a dam’ thing i tell her, so it’s best she hears this stuff from someone else.

The main lecture was delivered by Professor Dr Kersten Dautenhahn, of the Adaptive Systems Research Group at UH. It was a (too) brief overview of “social” robotics – that is, robots in society, rather than a twitterbot. She discussed two particular areas of interest – robots that we care for, such as Aibo (RIP) and Pleo, and robots that provide care for us. The lecture focussed largely on the work being done at UH in the latter field. In particular, three projects – the Care-o-bot and the robot house, which explore systems for the care of the elderly, and KASPAR, article-1364585-0D852328000005DC-103_468x315a “minimally expressive” robot, were discussed. I found the work being done with KASPAR and autistic children fascinating. Autistic children may find the unpredictability of human behaviour confusing and frightening. The minimal expressions and predictable behaviour of KASPAR, whether acting in a semiautonomous mode or under the remote control of a parent, teacher or even another child are reassuring and allow for enjoyable interaction. I’d urge you to watch the video here.There are now 32 KASPARs, including twenty of the latest model, working with two hundred children, and the University is looking for new partners in their research. 

Like’say, i really enjoyed Professor Dautenhahn’s lecture. I wasn’t so keen on the short eulogy to Ada Lovelace; don’t get me wrong,  i am extremely keen on Ada, ever since reading her (fictional) adventures in “the difference engine” by Gibson and Sterling twenty years ago, then discovering her life was actually far more interesting. However this short talk was not great. i don’t think it would have done much to inspire any young ladies present. luckily, the only young lady* present in need of inspiration was Meg, and i can lend her my copy of the fantastic book by Sydney Padua, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. despite much of the book being fictional steampunk, the first part is a well researched, brilliantly written and fantastically illustrated biography of Ada, Countess of Lovelace. There are copious footnotes, fitting for a subject who is mostly famous for producing a work where the notes were by far the most substantial part. It doesn’t even dwell on the opium addiction, the inveterate gambling, the unhealthy interest in mesmerism or any of the other peccadilloes that make her so fascinating.


*this is a bit of a shame. Most Herts BCS lectures i go to are heavily attended by men nearing retirement, and male UH computing students. An Ada Lovelace Day lecture delivered to year 9 would be something far more useful… or possibly even year 6.


illustrations copyright Sydney Padua. hopefully, seeing as I’m plugging her excellent book, she won’t mind…


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