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Sussex AI expert recalls her ‘light bulb moment’ for Radio 4
One of Sussex’s most influential and highly regarded academics will be profiled on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Life Scientific’ next week.
Professor Margaret Boden OBE FBA, a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence (AI), will discuss her life and work with the programme’s presenter Professor Jim Al-Khalili on Tuesday (21 October) at 9am (repeated that evening at 9.30pm).
Professor Boden, the founding Dean of the University's School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences (COGS), now the Centre for Cognitive Sciences, describes how her fascination with the big philosophical questions of life (the mind, how it works and how it is possible for the brain, a material thing, to be responsible for our minds) began when she was a schoolgirl.
She recalls how she used to go to the second-hand bookshops in London’s Charing Cross Road and read, voraciously, sitting on the floor reading the likes of philosopher Bertrand Russell.
Although philosophy was her passion, she didn't know that it could be studied at university. Intending to be a psychiatrist, she first went to Cambridge to study medicine. She subsequently spent two years at the Cambridge Language Research Unit. Work there, in the 1950s, was focussed on early machine translation and the structure of language - all without an in-house computer.
Just before starting her PhD at Harvard, she had a ‘light bulb moment’ in which she realised how artificial intelligence and computer programs would provide a way of thinking about the process of human thinking and decision making.
The programme features contributions from philosopher Professor Aaron Sloman, who credits Professor Boden with being one of the first to realise why AI would be vital for addressing old philosophical questions, and her Sussex colleague Dr Blay Whitby, who talks about her role in cognitive science and COGS – and her interdisciplinary approach. The computer artist Ernest Edmonds adds that her work on creativity has made the subject scientifically respectable at last.
Professor Boden says: “I’m thrilled that my ‘life scientific’ should be chosen as worthy of investigation. I'm lucky to have lived through a time when artificial intelligence has given us a way to ask clear questions about what exactly is going on when we think, choose, and act."