Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Modern Field Has a Champion with a Rare Crown Privilege

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Modern Field Has a Champion with a Rare Crown Privilege

Article excerpt

Southampton scholar tells John Elmes about his pride in being appointed the first Regius professor of computer science

"I am the first Regius professor for computer science. That's a nice thing to be able to say," said Nick Jennings, who has been appointed to the post at the University of Southampton.

"Preparing for my interview, you look back at some of the older [Regius professorships] that started in 1540 or whatever and you think: well, in 100-200 years' time when people look at whatever Wikipedia becomes, they'll see the first Regius professor of computer science was me, and I think that's quite cool."

Professor Jennings, who assumed the role at the beginning of March, said that the benefits of having the title were numerous. "I'm really pleased that there is now a computer science professor. Obviously, when [Regius professorships] started, computing wasn't around."

A dozen new Regius posts were created to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, but before that only two new Regius professorships had been created in the past hundred years. Most Regius professorships are in "quite traditional areas, so it's great that there actually is one in the field, full stop".

"It gives you a platform to amplify and talk about the field on a broader stage. I could do it as Nick Jennings, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton - that's fine; that will gain some visibility. Or I could do it as Nick Jennings, the Regius professor of computer science at Southampton. It adds more cachet to it," he said.

Groundbreaking developments such as the internet, humans' increasing technological interconnectedness and the creation of "ever more data produced by lots of different means" are forcing businesses and governments to recognise the field's importance and to acknowledge that "manually processing this is just not going to happen".

"You really need the computers to be much smarter," Professor Jennings said. "I think [artificial intelligence] is now one of those natural technologies we need to be able to cope with [in] our modern everyday environment."

As such, it was not surprising that Southampton - home to computer science pioneers Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Dame Wendy Hall - lobbied for the position so keenly, nor that Professor Jennings applied for it.

"One of the things Southampton was keen to recruit, which came through very strongly in the way they advertised the [position], was someone who was a research leader in their field, who would not just sit in a dark room on their own and produce fantastic stuff," he said. …

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