*The Percival Lecture* – Technology: a tool and a mirror

Professor Caroline Jay

digital neural network concept illustration
This is a past event
Date and time
26 April 2023
6.00 pm
Free to members


How has human behaviour influenced and transformed computer technology?

In the 75 years since the invention of The Baby – the world’s first stored programme computer – technology has transformed our lives. We often think of it as something ‘other’ than us – mathematical, logical, objective. In fact, our minds map themselves on to the technology we make in unexpected ways, not just at the user interface, but right down to the computer processor.

Understanding why this happens and how to capitalise on it is crucial to our ability to innovate effectively.

The ultimate power of this knowledge is exhibited in the Principle of Locality, which states that the information we need next when running a computer program is located near in space and time to the information we are using currently.

Whilst this rule is seen almost ubiquitously in computing – supporting everything from system architecture to web browsing – its origins, in computer scientist Peter Denning’s years of painstaking empirical work observing how programmers work, are rarely discussed.

Caroline Jay has spent the last 20 years studying the relationship between humans and machines. In this talk she will explore the complex and often hidden process of creating technology, and demonstrate, starting with Denning’s early work, how an understanding of human behaviour and society is just as crucial to its success as the use of logic and mathematics.


Event schedule

Drinks reception for members and special guests: from 6.00 pm

Talk starts: 6.45 pm

Event ends: 8.00 pm

professor caroline jay

Professor Caroline Jay

Caroline Jay is a Professor of Computer Science and Head of Research in the School of Engineering at the University of Manchester. She is also a Chartered Psychologist and a Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute, using an understanding of human behaviour to improve the way we design Artificial Intelligence. Caroline is the Research Director of the Software Sustainabilty Institute, and a keen advocate for open and reproducible science.

She works across a diversity of areas, including creative media, medicine, and environmental science. In 2022, Caroline was named as one of the Guardian’s Top 50 Women in Engineering, for her work advancing health technology.

thomas percival first president of the manchester lit and phil

Thomas Percival

Thomas Percival was the Manchester Lit & Phil’s first President, and the Percival Lecture was established in 1947 to celebrate his legacy.

In 1780, Percival started hosting meetings at his house, attended by ‘literary characters’, the principal inhabitants and ‘occasional strangers’. This gang of characters, many of them radical reformers and slave abolitionists, became the ‘Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester’. The society’s first official meeting took place on 28th February 1781.

Percival himself was a remarkable physician, moralist and a non-conformist, responsible for sweeping changes to public health. He was on a mission to improve the living and working conditions in the city, establishing the Manchester Board of Health in 1795.

The Percival Lecture is hosted in turn by the University of Manchester, the University of Salford, and Manchester Metropolitan University.

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