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Dr Juliet Webster

Uninspired by her teachers, Dr Juliet Webster left school to take a secretarial course. She also signed up for A’level sociology — a subject not then on the school curriculum.

It was the beginning of a lengthy and prolific academic career studying the gender dynamics of job automation, digital labour, and how employment has evolved since technology began to appear in the workplace.

“What drew me in was the sociology of industrial relations and the Marxist theory of capital,” she says. “I was really interested in the lessons for the twentieth century from the early introduction of machinery.”

Topics she has examined in her many academic papers include virtual work, the gig economy, equal pay, people skills and social sustainability. She is particularly interested in how technology has impacted women’s lives.

Juliet’s career has also spanned practical action in NGOs, and policy making, including for the European Commission Directorate General for Employment. She currently has her own consultancy in London,Work & Equality Research, and is Adviser for the Gender and ICT Programme, IN3, at the Open University of Catalonia.

Juliet does not discourage young women from careers in technologies such as computer science. But she is concerned about the current trend towards flexible working, which includes an increase in short-term contracts, content farming and offshoring. “These practices blur the boundaries between work and home life, and can erode pay and conditions,” she says.

Dr. A. Michael Noll

Dr Noll has been active in the Internet and Computing industries for over 60 years and a theme of this conversation is that there is nothing new under the sun. Michael is an entertaining speaker and a great communicator: I am indebted for his kind and clear explanation that his birthplace of “Nork, New Jersey” is not be linguistically confused with our town of “New-Ark on Trent.”

He started his career with an incisive paper in 1961 about the opportunities and dangers that computers might bring and has seen much of it come to pass. Michael’s career has spanned a huge range of technologies and it is fascinating to see that many big ideas were conceived in the very early days of commercial computing but had to wait to realise their potential. Michael, for his PhD, built a haptic or force-feedback device (and patented the concept) 50 years ago and still has a vision of how more could (and will) be done with the technology. He can cite at lease two false starts to the realisation of what we now know as the Internet, to which he made his own contributions as well as being an acute observer of its potential and use.

Michael is an outstanding scholar, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, an enthusiast for the Arts, including his own role in them, and a world-renowned pioneer of Digital Computer Art.

Mischa Dohler

Mischa Dohler is now Chief Architect in Ericsson Inc. in Silicon Valley, USA, having previously been Professor in Wireless Communications at King’s College London.

He was born in Germany, into a family of scientific academics, who were also talented in music and business.  He has continued the family tradition, as academic, entrepreneur and musician.  Mischa brings all those skills and interests to bear on his approach to technology, speaking eloquently of its relevance to diverse aspects of our lives; industrial, personal and cultural.

He demonstrated the power of 5G communications to enable collaboration over the Internet in a real time duet with his daughter 1000 km away and looks forward to medicine, industry and culture developing with 6G and the Internet of Things, Skills and beyond.

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting

Professor Sir Martin Sweeting has been fascinated by telecommunications since childhood, and a love of science fiction, particularly the writings of Arthur C Clarke, fostered his enthusiasm for technology.

At school his best subjects were English, French and Latin, but in those days it was hard to combine sciences and arts. So he did A’levels in chemistry, maths and his favourite, physics, going on to gain a degree in electronic and electrical engineering at the University of Surrey, and a PhD.

In 1985, Sir Martin set up Surrey Satellite Technology with about £100 and four employees. The company pioneered rapid-response, low-cost and highly capable small satellites, on which much of our modern life depends. In 2008, SST was sold to Airbus Defence & Space for £50m, but Sir Martin is still executive chairman. The company now has 400 professional staff, annual revenues of more than $100m and total export sales in excess of $1bn to 25 countries. Among its many focuses is clearing up the increasing amount of space debris, which represents a significant threat to the next generation of satellites.

Sir Martin was awarded an OBE in 2002 and won the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2016, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and listed by Sunday Times as one of the 500 most influential UK citizens.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Professor Sir Ian Diamond first encountered a computer as a student at the London School of Economics the mid-1970s. He learnt Fortran and submitted programs on punched cards. “But we never actually used computers to analyse data,” he says.

Computers are now crucial to Sir Ian’s role as the UK’s national statistician, and principal adviser to the UK Statistics Authority and the Government. The task involves using the latest AI, machine learning and textual analysis to tackle some of the thorniest current social and economic challenges.

From the beginning, Sir Ian was interested in the application of statistics to social science, demographics and survey data. Statistics have had a bad press, he says, but when they are rigorous and well put together they are increasingly reliable and powerful. For example, they have recently helped discover how the coronavirus is impacting people disproportionately in different ethnic groups.

After an MSc at the LSE, Sir Ian took a PhD at St Andrews, where he received “outstanding supervision” looking at the problem of relatively high drop-out rates among Scottish students compared with their English counterparts.

His career has included being chief executive of the Economic and Social Research Council and vice chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. In 2019, he did not take much persuasion to apply for the post of national statistician.

“It has been a total thrill every day since,” he says. “We need to produce data that the public can trust, and to reflect the economy and society at a time when it is changing very quickly.”

Massive technology change has made it possible to think increasingly radically about all kinds of data, and to produce ever more timely and accurate statistics. But it is really important to have a social theory about what you are doing, says Sir Ian. And to communicate properly, explaining assumptions and ensuring that people can understand the level of uncertainty and margin for error.

For those interested in studying statistics, there can be no better career, he says, and the UK has some of the world’s strongest institutions.

Professor Jim McLaughlin OBE

Professor James Mclaughlin OBE is working on portable / wearable diagnostic devices that will transform personal healthcare with automatic monitoring of heart rates, blood sugar levels and the like, reporting the results and triggering alerts over mobile . He worked on the team that developed the first external defibrillator and is now the director of the Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre at the University of Ulster. He holds over 30 patents including for the world’s best-selling disposable medical electrode. He has successfully co-founded a set of spin-off companies while raising over £100 million of research funding.

Professor Peter Dobson OBE

Prof Peter Dobson OBE was born during WWII in Liskeard,  Cornwall and led a “net zero carbon existence” for his first 14 years without mains electricity or water. 

After Grammar school, he chose a GPO (General Post Office, now BT) scholarship to take him to university and worked alongside Tommy Flowers.  His broad career has covered a wide range of disciplines from physics and chemistry to materials science and engineering and bridged industry (Philips) and academia (Imperial College and Oxford).  Peter was responsible for creating and building The Begbroke Science Park for Oxford University.

Peter has successfully spun-off numerous companies. His latest, Oxford NanoSystems was formed in 2012. He is currently on the advisory board of several companies involved in nano-materials, healthcare and energy. He was awarded the OBE in 2013 in recognition of his contributions to science and engineering.

Sir Michael Brady Part 2

Professor Sir Michael Brady is Emeritus Professor of Oncological Imaging at the University of Oxford, having retired in 2010 as Professor of Information Engineering.  He was co-director of the Oxford Cancer Imaging Centre.  He is distinguished for his work in artificial intelligence, applying his work to a wide range of medical programmes, particularly breast, liver and colorectal cancer.  He combined his work in oncology with a range of entrepreneurial activities including Deputy Chairman of Oxford Instruments, and the founder of successful start-ups such as Guidance, Mirada Medical, Optellum, Perspectum, ScreenPoint Medical, and Volpara Solutions among others.

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