Interview with Professor Nigel Gilbert CBE

Professor Nigel Gilbert CBE holds a distinguished chair in Computational Social Science and is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Surrey.  Prof. Gilbert brings a fascinating insight into how IT can help us understand society. His prolific output includes Agent-based Models (Sage Publications 2008), an introduction to a technique used to model  clustering of populations, the dynamics of opinions in society and the operation of the housing market.   

Prof Gilbert is a polymath.  He wanted to do computer science at university but in the late 1960s nobody was offering such a degree and so he studied a general engineering degree at Cambridge with an option in management studies, Nigel Gilbert’s father was a biophysical chemist and used computer simulation (programmed by Nigel’s mother) to study how haemoglobin picks up and releases oxygen in the blood.  (This was around the time that Crick and Watson were building computer models; and note the parallels with Denis Noble). Nigel’s first program, written in the sixth form,  was to calculate the school timetable.

Nigel became a lecturer in sociology at the University of York and in 1976  joined the University of Surrey as part of its newly formed and small sociology department.  He made a name for himself  using a microcomputer to help claimants cut through the complexity of rules for social security benefits.  He then became part of the team working on the “DHSS Demonstrator” using Artificial Intelligence to assist in the administration of social security, one of the  Alvey programme’s major challenges. 

Prof Gilbert has been Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Surrey and sits on numerous research council advisory boards.  He has founded two online academic  journals and has a list of publications which stretches for 13 pages.  He is a director of CECAN, the Centre for Evaluation of Complexity Across the Nexus (see here), which applies ideas from  complexity science to the appraisal and evaluation of Government policies. 

Professor Gilbert was interviewed by Richard Sharpe for Archives of IT.