Smarter Tech for the Next Reality - Tech is changing the world…

Smarter Tech for the Next Reality - Tech is changing the world…

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Hello everyone. I'm Professor Sue Black, professor of computer Science and technology evangelist at Durham University. Here to talk to you today about technology, the Internet and the cloud and how they've changed my life for the better and can change yours too. Technology really has changed my life. It's helped me to bring my family out of poverty and give me a great career where I've achieved so many things that I never would have dreamed of.

Things like setting up the UK's first online network for women in tech, BCS Women. That's the British Computer Society Women's Network back in 1998. So some time ago now. It's enabled me to run the

campaign to save Bletchley Park homes for World War II code breakers, to run programs to get mums into tech through my social enterprise, Tech Mums and our flagship Jobs Focus Tech Up Women program at Durham University. We retrain women from underserved communities into tech careers. Technology, the Internet and the cloud have completely changed my life.

So I'm now a professor of Computer Science and technology evangelist at Durham University. But 35 years ago, my life was very different. I was bringing up my three older children on my own on a council estate in inner city London. I'd left school and home at 16 because of my dysfunctional home circumstances. I'd worked a few jobs, got married and then had three children, all by the age of 23.

Unfortunately, after that, my marriage broke down and I had to run away from home one morning to a women's refuge on the other side of London. Then, age 26, I went back into education. I really wanted to create a better life for my children and thought about going back to work, but realized that I'd left school at 16. I didn't have many qualifications and so actually going back into the workplace wasn't an option for me. So I decided to go back into education.

I went to College and then University, gaining a degree and then a PhD in computing. I then became an academic, a lecturer in computing, and finally had enough money to provide a good life for my children and myself. Technology itself has changed so much since then. It's just incredible.

When I think back to when I was a teenager, if I wanted to keep in touch with friends in other countries, telephone calls were just too expensive or even regular letters. They just cost too much to send. I used to have to go to the post office and buy an airmail letter, a specific, very thin, lightweight preprinted sheet of paper that I then wrote my letter on and folded and stuck down and posted through the post box, sending over to my friend in Australia. How different is that to now, when I can call anyone with an internet connection for free through a variety of different online platforms. I can call from my phone or my computer. I can video call them, and we can chat in real time.

How amazing is it that we have the technology to be able to do that for free. And what a difference from all the trouble that I had to go to send an airmail letter and the time that it took before my friend would be able to read what I'd sent. When I started University in 1989, I got email for the first time. I found it absolutely unbelievable that I was able to type messages to other people who could receive them instantaneously. When I was at Uni producing documents on a PC in the labs there - my coursework - and needed to save those documents, I had to save them onto a 1.4 megabyte floppy disk, megabyte, not gigabyte, and then carry that floppy disk around with me until the next time I needed to edit it, and then finally print it off to submit to my lecturer for marking.

Sometimes, the files on the floppy disk somehow got corrupted and I'd lose my work and have to start all over again. Gosh, what a pain that was. When we were working on group projects, several of our students would need to work on one final document, which we would put together by emailing bits and pieces of the final document to each other with one person, then putting all of those pieces together into one final, coherent - hopefully - report.

It was a nightmare. There were so many things that could go wrong in that process with all the technology that was available to us then. These days, because we have the cloud, things are so different and so much better. Because we have the cloud, we can save anything that we produce in the cloud rather than on a floppy disk that may get corrupted and we might lose that document. This gives us so many advantages.

Because we have the cloud, many people can edit the same document at the same time. We don't have to email bits and pieces of a document to one person that then collates everything into a finished document. We can all add it at the same time, adding whatever we want in real time. Our students these days can work in groups on one document at the same time, being able to see the whole document the whole time with no regard to where they are in the world. They can be thousands of miles away from each other working together. In business, the facilities that cloud infrastructure gives us means that employees in offices all around the globe can collaborate in real time again to produce the reports that they need, something that we just never would have dreamed of being able to do back in the 80s.

And now as a computer science professor, writing research papers with colleagues, we can set up a document in the cloud and start working together on writing that paper straight away. We can keep track of who wrote what, where, and when, and even roll back to previous versions if we want to make some changes. The cloud has changed collaborative writing out of all recognition from just a few years ago. Of course, it's not just collaborating on writing documents that's changed.

There are so many ways which we can collaborate now, which we just couldn't do before, and they're making a real difference in the world every day. Back in 2008, I found out that the place where the code breakers worked in the UK during World War II, Bletchley Park, which is now a Museum, may have to close because of their financial difficulties. 10,000 people, 8,000 of whom were women, worked at Bletchley Park during the war, and the work that they did there is said to have shortened World War II by two years, potentially saving 22 million lives. When I found out that the Museum may have to close, I started a campaign to save it. I contacted all of the heads and professors in the UK by email, saying that we had to save Bletchley Park. I had a great response to my email.

About 100 heads and professors then signed a letter which we sent in to the Times newspaper for publication. I contacted the technology correspondent at the BBC, Rory Cellan-Jones, who then interviewed me at Bletchley Park, the interview is being broadcast on BBC News and on the radio for Today news program. The story went across traditional media: television, the press, national radio. I got lots of emails from people wanting to help, but it wasn't until the following year when I started using Twitter and social media in general that the campaign started to really make a difference. Social media, enabled by the cloud, gave me access to everyone online and often in real time.

I set up a blog detailing what the situation was for Bletchley Park and why it needed saving. I managed to get in touch with celebrities like Stephen Fry who made a massive difference to the campaign. I was getting about 50 hits a day on my blog, which I thought was amazing. But then one tweet from Stephen Fry and I got 8000 hits on my blog and became the most retweeted person in the whole world on that day back in February 2009.

It was unbelievable. Social media enables us to connect and importantly, interactively collaborate with people all over the world. Using something as simple as a hashtag, I could find people across the globe that were interested in what I was doing.

I searched several hashtags like Codebreaker, Bletchley Park World War II, every day to see who was tweeting, and then got in touch with those people asking them to join the campaign. It was social media that really made the biggest difference in the Bletchley Park campaign. It created a step change in what we were able to do and the speed at which we were able to get everyone working together, to respond to opportunities that came up, as they came up, in real time.

Before the internet and the cloud, There's no way that we could have reached so many people so quickly and all collaborated with each other across the world, people that didn't know each other previously connected through social media platforms. It was just amazing. The Bletchley Park campaign lasted three years. Three years of hundreds, probably thousands of people, all connecting with each other, contacting each other, working with each other, working together with people they'd never met before and probably still haven't met to make a difference. We couldn't have saved Bletchley Park without those technologies.

It was really a case of the new technology, saving the old technology. I recommend you visit Bletchley Park if you can, to find out more about the incredible people who worked there and the incredible work that they did industrializing the code breaking process to save 22 million lives. There are so many things that we can now do because of the internet and cloud computing.

We use the cloud in so many ways as part of our Tech Mums program, teaching skills like app design, web design and coding to mums across the UK. As part of the program, I tell our moms to think of the cloud as a big filing cabinet up in the sky, which of course it isn't. And I tell them it isn't. It is, in fact, a massive amount of server farms all across the world, full of thousands of computers which store our data. It's amazing to think that any resource we are creating and storing in the cloud could actually be physically located on a computer anywhere in the world.

And how incredible is it that we can access and edit that resource in real time. It completely blows my mind. Even now. Things have changed so much, been made so much easier, enabled us to do things we never, ever dreamed of before because of the technologies that we now have at our fingertips.

I'm currently writing a book about software, which will hopefully, if I finish it, be published next year. How incredible is it that I started writing it on my computer at home. Then when I leave the house and get to work on the train, I can carry on writing into the same document from my laptop or my mobile phone. It's all saved and stored in the cloud. If I travel to another country, I can access the same document and carry on writing it on any other device that's connected to the internet.

I can even do that on a plane flying across the ocean. I can give access to my book to my coauthor, my editor, anyone, and they can add text or comments at the same time as I'm adding my latest updates. How different is that from my time at University when I had to carry around my documents on my 1.4 megabyte floppy disk. My book is probably more than 1000 times, at least, the size of that 1.4 megabyte memory on that floppy disk. It's just utterly incredible.

When I was at school, I had a few classes learning to type on a typewriter. It was back in the day. In those days, if you made a mistake on a page, you had to start again. And if you wanted more than one copy, you had to put carbon paper in between the sheets of paper to create those extra copies. How different is that from today, where we type a document on a computer which stores it in the cloud. It can be co-created with many other people, edited over and over again by multiple authors and shared immediately with whoever we choose.

There are so many facilities hosted in the cloud which enable us to have a virtual office, which we can access and edit from anywhere in the world. The cloud gives us the facility to meet with each other on video calls, saving businesses so much time and money. We also save so much paper now because we don't need to print much of the work that we do.

The cloud helps us to save the environment too. We can keep in touch with friends and family, share photos and videos, ensure that our relatives are safe and livestream family occasions. We actually live streamed our wedding on Facebook a few years ago for people that cannot be there in person. Technology, the internet, the cloud enable us to live better, more connected lives. We've seen that so clearly during the recent pandemic. How much more awful would it have been if we couldn't connect with each other in the myriad of ways that technology now provides us? Technology has improved my life, my career and my family's lives, immeasurably.

How has it improved yours? Okay, well, thanks so much for listening, everybody. I really hope you enjoyed what I had to say, and I'm really looking forward to your questions now in the Q&A. Thank you.

2022-06-22 03:17

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