Following two research degrees in Artificial Intelligence, Mandy Haggith changed tracks and now splits her working week campaigning to save the world's forests and lecturing in creative writing.
|MSc then PhD in Artificial Intelligence
|Year of Graduation
1988 then 1996
Your time at the University
I went to Edinburgh to study Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a postgraduate after graduating in Mathematics and Philosophy. In the eighties and nineties Edinburgh was the best place in Europe to study AI, and as I’m Northumbrian, it was a capital city I felt I belonged to.
I was (still am) really interested in the mind and was intrigued to explore which mental aspects could become computer-based. As a musician and poet with a very rural, outdoors, creaturely and creative approach to life, I was always sceptical that machine-intelligence would get close to human wisdom and sensibility, but I was fascinated by the science and the underlying philosophical questions. It was a bit like an atheist becoming ordained in order to understand the workings of the church and to engage in theological debate!
At Edinburgh I learned a lot of scary things about AI – who funds most of the development, how male-dominated the culture of the AI scientific community is and what kinds of intelligence are most amenable to automation.
As an environmentalist I wanted to see if AI could help us to build useful decision-support tools for our planetary management. I used to joke that my research question was ‘Can AI save the world?’ and after a decade I decided that the answer was most definitely ‘no’. At that point I left academia and pursued a career as an environmental activist and writer.
My research degrees at Edinburgh helped me develop the ability to do research, to think, to work in a team and to communicate well. These skills are applicable to many different topics.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving the University
I live in the woods by the sea in the northwest Highlands of Scotland and consider myself to be the luckiest person on the planet. My research degrees at Edinburgh helped me develop the ability to do research, to think, to work in a team and to communicate well. These skills are applicable to many different topics.
I have worked as a freelance writer, researcher and activist for twenty years and my work has taken me all over the world. These days half the week I’m an environmental activist, co-ordinating a global network of campaigners trying to save the world’s forests. The other half of the week I work as a University lecturer in literature and creative writing, and write poetry, novels and plays.
My latest book is the first volume of a historical novel trilogy called ‘The Walrus Mutterer’. It’s set in the Iron Age (that’s AI backwards!) and it is about a real explorer, called Pytheas of Massalia, who was the first Mediterranean to circumnavigate Britain as part of an extraordinary journey in 320BC.
It’s not what you know, but how you go about finding out what you don’t know that matters.
The Walrus Mutterer (external website)