In Conversation with: Bill Thompson

What do you get when you mix Philosophy, Applied Psychology, AI, Political activism and Unix programming with the Web?

In conversation this time is well-known BBC journalist, author and technology pundit Bill Thompson, who is surely an obvious candidate for the titles of both renaissance man and Web Scientist – he recently joined the board of Trustees at WST and we are delighted to welcome him. Ian Brown sat down to find out a little more about Bill’s road from Philosophy to Web Science and why he has been “thinking about the way the network is changing the world”.

Ian: Bill, you left Cambridge with a degree in Philosophy (with a side interest in Experimental Psychology) and decided to stay in Cambridge (post grad) to take a Diploma in Computer Science – how did that mix of disciplines shape your thinking?

Bill: I had initially been interested in the philosophy of mind and, from there, to how minds work (psychologically) and then whether it might be possible to build minds (machines that sense and think) using neural networks and artificial vision. From there I became interested in human-computer interaction and started to think more about how to build machines that might amplify our own minds.

Ian: What was the state of the tools available at that time to tackle those goals?

Bill: Well the technologies were starting to emerge – I joined Acorn just as someone was saying “what if we did something different and created a RISC processor..?” which was pretty interesting. As I moved through roles at Pipex and The Instruction Set I learnt more about programming, databases and networking and I attended the very first WWW Conference meeting Tim Berners-Lee (one of WST’s founders) in the process. Looking back I was on the periphery of some very interesting projects and impressive characters in AI and the Web throughout much of my education and early career.

Ian: Did you have a sense back then of how important these technologies were going to be and did you have a feeling whether the people were driving the technology or vice versa?

Bill: I think my views came together slowly over a decade between ‘84-‘94 culminating in helping to run a national body called the Community Computing Network through a growing sense of what computers could do for society and the social and political impact of technology. We wanted to help people see computing for what it could do socially as well as technically.

I think there was a sense of anticipation that technology could level the playing field between big businesses (or even oppressive states) and the rest of us – we were telling charities to embrace the same computing technologies as the big players with our slogan “If it can do it for them – it can do it for you! “. We realised we had to consider how technology is applied and not only the tools themselves. We wanted people to get engaged in owning/shaping their technologies for better social outcomes.

Whilst I had initially developed my thinking in the HCI world, I started to run into people (including Nigel Shadbolt – a fellow WST trustee) talking about Web Science – an approach that seemed to crystallise many of the things I had been thinking about in terms of interdisciplinary boundaries and adaptive models to describe fluid conditions and new technologies – in effect “thinking about the way the network is changing the world”.

Ian: I typically ask my “In conversation” guests which part(s) of Web Science particularly interest and attract them but I understand you’ve come up with a different definition of Web Science which addresses the moving target issue in Web Science.

Bill: I’ve really side-stepped the difficulties in defining what an ever-changing Web Science is by taking a cue from pragmatic Philosophy and focussing instead on what Web Science does* and, more importantly asking, “What do we need from Web Science?”. Web Science can usefully be defined by what we need it to do at any given point.

Ian: So let me ask you instead what do we need from Web Science now and is it the same as we needed when Web Science was founded over a decade ago?

Bill: Whilst its difficult to point to specific examples I think we need to understand (in a changing environment) where we can have most leverage to deliver the outcomes we think are most desirable for society as a whole. With 3 billion extra people coming online soon and technologies becoming more pervasive every year I think we are going to see a number of “step changes” in the Web we know today and a need to determine which aspects of this vast and growing system of interacting technologies that will need to be regulated. We can’t expect to build technologies with global reach and so many effects, both positive (e.g. economic) and negative (e.g. social/climate) effects and simply leave the world to cope. Web Science needs to research, reflect and advise on the impacts and (dis)benefits of these approaches, bringing a strong evidence-based historic viewpoint which will allow us to effectively learn from the past as we plan for the future – something which seems sadly lacking from the approach of some modern tech companies.

Web Science can help us to see that technology can be grounded in humanity and human processes in a rigorous and useful way. We can help people that aren’t really “noticing” these invisible/pervasive technologies by making clear to them that whilst society is indeed moulding the Web, the Web is also moulding society at the same time. I’ve been saying for the last 20 years that we need to stop thinking of “the Web” and “Cyberspace” as distinct places – they are simply new ways of expressing society and humanity with everything ultimately grounded in the real world with real-world costs and consequences.

There are many new freedoms (both positive and negative) that become possible on the Web. We need a level of rigour to balance those personal freedoms against the social responsibilities that maintain the Web as a viable and positive experience. Perhaps we need to be the “anti-poets” in this venture.

Ian: Bill, thanks for joining me in conversation – we look forward to another session soon.

Bill Thompson is an English technology writer, best known for his weekly column in the Technology section of BBC News Online and his appearances on Digital Planet, a radio show on the BBC World Service. 

He is a Trustee of the Web Science Trust (WST), an Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at City University London’s Journalism Department, He is chair of the Centre for Doctoral Training advisory board, a member of the main advisory board of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton and writes for BBC Webwise.

Posting: Rutgers

Tenure-Track/Tenured Faculty Position in Data Science and Organizations/Organizing

 The Department of Communication at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information seeks a full-time faculty member (likely assistant or associate level) in the area of Data Science with an emphasis on Organizations and/or Organizing. The appointment will begin Fall 2022.

 We seek a social scientist studying organizations and organizing who incorporates data science methods into their research. The ideal candidate will conduct theory-driven, empirical, communication-centered research that examines dynamic processes of organizing. We are looking for innovative and engaged communication scholars whose research foci recognize emerging issues, including but not limited to:

  • Organizations, work, and equity
  • The science of work groups and teams
  • Artificial intelligence and the future of work
  • Media and technology
  • Organizations and technology
  • Globalization and civil society
  • Organizing and collective action
  • Organizational networks

The ideal candidate will have expertise in core methods related to data science including, but not limited to, any of the following:

  • Machine learning
  • Natural language processing
  • Network science

Our faculty employs a wide range of empirical approaches in their research. We encourage candidates whose scholarship intersects with, and extends, one or more of the department’s research foci (organizational communication, health communication, communication and technology, interpersonal communication, and language and social interaction) and/or other areas within the school such as media studies and information science. For more about the Department of Communication and the School of Communication and Information (SC&I), see http://comminfo.rutgers.edu 

 We look forward to welcoming a new colleague who will contribute to our thriving undergraduate and master’s level programs and our highly-regarded interdisciplinary school-wide Ph.D. program.

 

MINIMUM EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE

 A Ph.D. or equivalent doctoral degree in a relevant field is expected as of June 2022 for a September start date.

 Applicants should have a demonstrated record or strong likelihood of top-tier peer-reviewed publication and evidence of or preparation for effective teaching. Applicants at the rank of Associate Professor should provide evidence of leadership in research, instruction, and service; a record of external funding is a plus. Responsibilities of tenure-track and tenured faculty members include undergraduate and graduate teaching assignments, an active program of research in the candidate’s area of scholarly expertise, and service contributions in accordance with the university policy for tenure‐track and tenured appointments.

 

OVERVIEW OF THE SCHOOL

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, is a leading national research university and the state of New Jersey’s preeminent, comprehensive public institution of higher education. Established in 1766, the university is the eighth oldest higher education institution in the United States. More than 70,000 students and 23,400 faculty and staff learn, work, and serve the public at Rutgers locations across New Jersey and around the world. An equal opportunity and affirmative action employer, Rutgers is committed to building a diverse community and encourages women, minorities, veterans, and individuals with disabilities to apply. We are currently in an exciting period of transformation and growth as we form a hub for data science across departments at Rutgers University.

 

The School of Communication and Information (SC&I) is a dynamic center of learning at the heart of the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus. Founded in 1982, SC&I research and teaching is delivered by three academic departments: Communication, Journalism and Media Studies, and Library and Information Science. Through five undergraduate majors and minors, three masters degrees, and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program, the school teaches over 10,000 students each year, of whom 2,500 are its own undergraduate, masters, and doctoral students. Geographically adjacent and closely connected to the world’s largest media and information hubs and supported by Rutgers’ vibrant scholarly community, SC&I embraces the university goals of promoting diversity throughout our networks and programs, and is committed to social engagement. For more about the school see: http://comminfo.rutgers.edu 

 Inquiries can be made to the search committee chair: Professor Matthew Weber (matthew.weber@rutgers.edu), Department of Communication, Rutgers University, 4 Huntington St., New Brunswick, NJ.

 Rutgers University is an AA/EEO employer – M/F/Veteran/Disability. 

For additional information please see our Non-Discrimination Statement.

TO APPLY

Review of applications will begin on September 27, 2021, and will continue until the position is filled. Candidates are required to submit a letter of application, CV, two sample publications and the names of 3 references. All applications must be submitted through the online job posting at https://jobs.rutgers.edu/postings/135500 

Guide to [US] Colleges & Careers for Women in STEM

There’s no denying the importance of those working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) occupations. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to imagine what our world would look like without the advances that have been made in these fields. They’ve brought us vaccines that have cured diseases, deepened our understanding of the universe and given us tools that make us more connected than ever before.

Job growth in STEM fields continues to outpace that of all other occupations, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in these industries are projected to grow by nearly 9% between 2018 and 2028, compared to an even 5% for all non-STEM occupations.

Unfortunately, due to gender biases, fewer role models and male-dominated industries, women have been historically underrepresented in STEM. Despite common sense and plenty of research showing no cognitive difference between men and women, the myth that women aren’t as good at math has broken the confidence of many young girls. It doesn’t take long, either – by 3rd grade, that misconception is already creating a gap and by college, it’s a chasm – women represent only 21% of engineering majors and just 19% of computer and information science majors.

Overcoming this gap is critical. Not only will it help open more opportunities for women currently in the field, but it will also create more role models, help shatter stereotypes and introduce new talent and fresh perspectives to these fields.

PLEASE NOTE study.com is a commercial site and the listed schools which accompany this article are

(1) limited to the US and

(2) include sponsored/paid listings.

Read the full article on study.com here