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Introducing our computer science courses: An interview with Dr Paul Sant

To celebrate the launch of our computer science courses, we spoke to Dr Paul Sant, our head of Computer Science at the University about artificial intelligence (AI), how computers can be used to solve complex problems, and how systems can be used to protect us. Read on to discover exactly what computer science is, how Paul’s own work has shaped the field, and what potential students can expect from the course when they study with us.

What is computer science?

From a practical standpoint, it’s how we can use devices (such as PCs, laptops, smart home thermostats, Alexa devices etc.) and technology to perform standard business tasks. From an academic perspective it’s about problem solving; programming devices to perform everyday tasks and answer some of the most interesting challenges, such as developing new drugs, helping people automate decisions, and keeping ourselves secure when using digital currencies.

How did you first become interested in computer science?

I’ve had an interest in computing and problem solving since my family bought an Acorn computer when I was seven years old. At secondary school we had PCs – I liked to make them solve problems – and it has grown since then. Now, I’m interested in computers and how they enable business across all sectors, most recently in law and healthcare, to make our everyday lives easier. At least, sometimes.

Can you tell us a little bit about the research you’re currently involved with and your work in cyber security?

Most recently I’ve been working in the field of AI, building computer programmes and systems to ‘think’ like humans and solve problems. In particular, how can we use AI to keep our systems (banking, aircraft, autonomous vehicles etc.) safe? As humans, we can’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, with technology we can use programs and computers to monitor, control and thwart adversaries from gaining access to information they shouldn’t be able to see. This is a growing field that encompasses computer science, the legal world and governance.

With many devices (e.g. sensors on oil rigs or tankers) being stationed in hard-to-reach places and harsh environments where machines are much better at operating than humans, we’re looking to build systems that can be automated, and can deploy solutions in the so-called ‘Internet of things’. The Internet of things is any device (computer, laptop, Hive smart thermostat, Amazon Alexa, Ring doorbell, smart plug etc.) which can be accessed using the internet. For example, changing the temperature of your central heating using your mobile phone, even if you’re not at home. It makes use of the same computer networks as the World Wide Web, and allows us to control millions of devices wirelessly and easily, using everyday devices such as a mobile phone.

What has been your most interesting piece of work to date?

Working with one of my co-researchers on how we can utilise sensor data to make information decisions in relation to energy generation, distribution, and consumption – very relevant right now. We worked on using energy sensors connected to a small microcontroller called an Arduino. This could measure the output of items in the home or office, for example the average consumption of electricity in an office building, to help people think about how energy is used and make suggestions about when to use devices in order to achieve the best price. All done in real-time. The work we did was in a simulated and protected environment, but the concepts and ideas could be deployed within people’s homes in order to help them save money, and to address, in their own way, the challenges of climate change.

Who are computer science degrees for?

The courses are designed for those who enjoy using computers. For those who are inquisitive and like to solve problems, and, importantly, can see how computers can be used to solve practical problems in many areas, such as, law, business, psychology, healthcare, biology, and a range of other practical subjects. As long as you have a passion to use technology to solve real problems, this course is for you.

What can students expect from our course?

Practical, hands-on problem solving, lots of fun, an opportunity to ask questions, and a course that will prepare and develop you for your future career.

What advice would you give to students considering a degree in computer science?

Be prepared to ask questions, solve problems, and don’t be afraid when something doesn’t work first time. Some of the most successful, and famous, problem solvers of all time failed many thousands of times before there was a breakthrough.

Look for a course that’s a good fit for you, one that provides lots of hands-on, practical skills, and builds your confidence, teamworking and time management skills. Think about courses – like ours – that also include an opportunity to gain professional certifications (e.g. AWS Cloud Foundations).

Most importantly, remember this course will set you up for starting your career. You won’t become the CEO of Google upon graduation, but we’ll help you achieve your goal in the long-term.

What does the future of computer science look like?

Computer science is becoming ubiquitous. It has applications in all walks of life, and this isn’t about to change anytime soon. Computing is the ‘enabler’ that is now solving problems outside of computer science; helping to track diseases and develop new drugs, assisting lawyers in verifying transactions and helping with contracts, controlling planes, trains and automobiles, and a whole lot more.

A computing degree doesn’t mean you have to follow a career in tech or become a coder for life (though you can, if you want). It’s so much more, and the opportunities and career diversity are wide-ranging.

 

Our computer science degrees launch in September 2023. Register your interest today.