Dr Sue Black is an internationally-known computer scientist. She is is a Senior Research Associate in the Software Systems Engineering group in the the Department of Computer Science at University College London and a Senior Consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates.
Dr Black visited Brazil recently and toured the country lecturing on Bletchley Park and Alan Turing – 2012 being the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Turing. The lecture series was organised as a part of the UKBrasil season, a series of events focused on enhancing the relationship between the UK and Brazil.
I caught up with Dr Black at her lecture in São Paulo and asked her about her visit to South America and the significance of the Turing anniversary.
MH: You visited several locations in Brazil – was there anything in particular that you noticed as memorable or unusual, this being your first time in the country?
SB: I LOVED Brazil! The most memorable things were:
• The trees and plants were incredible, I didn’t recognise any of them. I walked around outside with my mouth open amazed at how beautiful they were ) I particularly loved the Ipe trees and the bougainvillea. Gorgeous.
• The fresh fruit. Wow, I’ve never eaten fresh papaya or pineapple before, it was a fabulous experience, so fresh and tasty.
• The people were very friendly, relaxed and happy compared to me and I think most people around me in the UK.
• Sao Paulo seemed to be buzzing with activity around the tech scene, major companies moving in and lots going on.
• Most of my impression was extremely positive, on the negative side though, seeing armed guards escorting trucks on the main roads and the poverty of the favelas was worrying.
MH: Your talk in São Paulo was all about how social media saved Bletchley Park and the importance of remembering people like Alan Turing. The UK was clearly a major power in computing once with arguably the first computers and programmers. Is that innovative spirit still there?
SB: Yes! I think the UK has produced some great innovators like Alan Turing, Tommy Flowers and Steve Shirley to name a few and the innovative spirit is definitely still here. The most exciting innovation that I’ve seen lately is the Raspberry Pi computer, a credit card size computer that costs only £25. Incredible, and because of the price, accessible to most people.
MH: Do you think some form of computer science should be taught to very young children in the same way as basic maths and English? Do we need computer literacy in a developed society?
SB: Absolutely. Technology is the language of the future, if we don’t understand it we will be left behind. I think that children should be taught computer science in an age appropriate way from the time they start school. That doesn’t mean that we should be necessarily teaching kids coding at five, but why not teach them programming concepts and get them familiar with computer hardware and interface design?
MH: A decade ago tech globalisation was all about cheap offshore programming, but tech globalisation has become far more complex with countries such as the UK and Brazil offering far more to foreign partners than just low cost IT labour. What do you think makes the UK tech industry stand out compared to other countries you have been to or researched?
SB: We have a great history of creativity and innovation in the UK. I think we stand out because we use our creativity to innovate in many spaces, technology being one of them. We also lead in Ecommerce…so I guess we are still a ‘nation of shopkeepers!’
MH: What are you up to once you return to the UK?
SB: I’m busy writing a book about the various campaigns to save Bletchley Park, including the one that I started which really took off in 2009 after we started using social media, Twitter in particular. I’m also working hard setting up a non-profit organisation The Foundation which aims to get the general public a bit more tech savvy and hands on with technology. I believe that understanding of and familiarity with technology is critical for any country wanting to have a vibrant economy in the future. I’m very excited about lots of things that I saw and heard recently in Brazil and the USA. I’ve had an idea for a business that I’ve started talking to people about in the women/tech space. I’m very excited about it, i think it could be gamechanging and very successful, watch this space for more details!
Photo by Documentally licensed under Creative Commons