Featured in Five is a monthly section where we pose five questions to a Computing Reviews featured reviewer. Here are the responses from our November featured reviewer, Alasdair McAndrew (Victoria University; Melbourne, Australia).
Q: What is the most important thing that's happened in computing in the past 10 years?
A: I think that crowdsourcing and distributed computing are the most remarkable things: to use either volunteers from the world over to search for patterns in data in their spare time (which humans can do very well but computers can't, at last not with the same ease and correctness), or to devote spare CPU cycles to problems requiring intense computation. Two such projects are the Zooniverse (which is really a collection of projects), and the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. Both have been enormously successful.
Q: By the end of your career, where do you think computer science will have taken us? What are you working on that might contribute toward that?
A: I'm looking at education. Most uses of computers in education are still trying to shoehorn old paradigms into new technology. As I see it, there's a lot of talk and rhetoric, but nothing that is incredibly exciting and innovative. Most "online" courses consist of lumping material online for students to go through in their own time, and then answer a test at the end. The underlying pedagogy has not changed for 2000 years. We are beginning to see changes here, though, and I think that the increasing power of AI and expert systems, combined with modern power and ubiquitous computing, could create a huge shift in how education is perceived, and how it might work. I have research students working in this area now.
Q: Who is your favorite historical figure? Why?
A: I was going to say Alan Turing, but I see he's already been chosen by lots of others. So I'm going for Euclid of Alexandria, author of "The Elements." This book is an astonishing tour-de-force of codifying mathematics, and after 22 centuries it can still be read for pleasure, and for learning. In terms of all the science that it underlies, this is one of the most remarkable books ever written, and I see its author--a shadowy figure about whom not much is known--as one of the most important people in scientific history.
Q: If you weren't working in the computer science field, what would you be doing instead?
A: I think I'd still be in education somewhere--maybe teaching high school. Other attractive uses of my life would be to be an artist (a poet or musician--in fact I'm not much good at either), or precision carpentry (cabinet making or furniture making). I also have a vague yearning to run a brewery.
Q: What is your favorite type of music?
A: Instrumental music from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods of Western music, in which my favorite piece would probably be JS Bach's "Goldberg Variations" (played on a harpsichord of course!). I also love solo music for the great highland bagpipe, in particular piobaireachd ("pibroch")--airs and variations that are considered to be the "classical music" of the bagpipe.