The Percival Lecture – Technology: a tool and a mirror at University Place

The Percival Lecture – Technology: a tool and a mirror
University Place
26th April 2023

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How has human behaviour influenced and transformed computer technology?

In the 75 years since the invention of The Baby – the world’s first stored programme computer – technology has transformed our lives. We often think of it as something ‘other’ than us – mathematical, logical, objective. In fact, our minds map themselves on to the technology we make in unexpected ways, not just at the user interface, but right down to the computer processor.

Understanding why this happens and how to capitalise on it is crucial to our ability to innovate effectively.

The ultimate power of this knowledge is exhibited in the Principle of Locality, which states that the information we need next when running a computer program is located near in space and time to the information we are using currently.

Whilst this rule is seen almost ubiquitously in computing – supporting everything from system architecture to web browsing – its origins, in computer scientist Peter Denning’s years of painstaking empirical work observing how programmers work, are rarely discussed.

Caroline Jay has spent the last 20 years studying the relationship between humans and machines. In this talk she will explore the complex and often hidden process of creating technology, and demonstrate, starting with Denning’s early work, how an understanding of human behaviour and society is just as crucial to its success as the use of logic and mathematics.

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