School of Informatics

Humans' relationship with machines in spotlight at Science Festival

A future in which people and computers interact ever more closely is to be examined in a talk at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

As personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa grow in popularity, a leading computer scientist is to consider how our relationship with technology might develop in the coming decades.


Recent developments in artificial intelligence are enabling computers to better interact with people, Professor Jon Oberlander of the University of Edinburgh will say. He will add that communication is being eased by progress in machine translation – in which computers rapidly convert speech or text from one language to another.

Such advances are helping to usher in a wealth of intelligent machines, many of which will make their way into our homes. We can shape our future relationships with computers by taking care in the design of such technologies, he will suggest.

Professor Oberlander will make his remarks in a lecture before receiving the University’s Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science.

The annual prize and lecture recognises an individual or group from the University for work such as hosting school visits, talks or public events or through publishing and broadcasting. The winner receives a medal and a grant of £500 for science communication activity.

The late Dr Dalyell, who was Rector of the University from 2003 to 2006, wrote a weekly column for New Scientist magazine from 1967 to 2005.

Professor Oberlander, of the University’s School of Informatics, said: “We are moving from a scenario in which computing takes place on a single easily distinguishable device to one in which machines are becoming part of the fabric of our everyday lives. With informed design, we can ensure that this works to our best advantage.”

The Tam Dalyell Prize Lecture takes place at 6pm on Easter Sunday, 16 April at the Playfair Library.

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Related information

This is the second time in a row that a researcher from the School of Informatics has received the Tam Dalyell Prize. Prof Sethu Vijayakumar was awarded for 2015.

Professor Vijayakumar awarded Tam Dalyell Prize 2015