Let's meet the panel

12 March 2018

Interview with

Jeffrey Salmond - Cambridge University, Sophie Wilson - Broadcom, Tim Cutts - Wellcome Sanger Institute, Alan Blackwell - Cambridge University, Noa Zilberman - Cambridge University, Chris Folkerd - UK Fast

Chris Smith and Tim Revell introduced the panel of computer experts who joined us to unpick the bits and bytes of computers. First up, Jeffrey Salmond, a research software engineer in Cambridge University’s IT service, who works with a supercomputer. Chris asked Jeffrey what a supercomputer is...

Jeffrey - A modern supercomputer is pretty much just a collection of normal computers all connected together.

Chris - What’s your electricity bill?

Jeffrey - We use about a megawatt of electricity. I don’t know what that is in pounds...

Chris - Pretty eye watering! And what sorts of problems can you solve with it?

Jeffrey - We can solve some pretty large scale problems like of simulations of big physics problems like galaxies colliding or simulating any kind of physical things right down into subatomic particles.

Chris - So big thinking. Tim?

Tim - Also with us is Sophie Wilson, a computer scientist at Broadcom. You were involved in developing the ARM microprocessor, one of the most significant processors of all time. Why is that Sophie?

Sophie - We designed it back in 1983. In the intervening 35 years, we’ve gone onto to sell 120 billion chips powered by ARM microprocessors.

Tim - What sort of things are they used in?

Sophie - They are used in everything. You’ll know that they’re in your mobile phone but they’re everywhere else as well. They’re contaminating everything you touch!

Chris - I think the share price has probably just plummeted at that point, don’t you think Sophie? More from her later in the programme.

Tim Cutts is the head of scientific computing at the Wellcome Sanger Institute. Now that’s where a big chunk of the human genome was decoded. But Tim, what has DNA got to do with computing?

Tim - In order to study the human genome and its impact on disease and how we can help, we need to gather very large numbers of human genomes and compare them with each other, and that’s an enormous computational problem.

Chris - So it’s really just storage of data; how much information you have to pack away and compare?

Tim - Storage and analysis.

Chris - Big problem. Tim?

Tim -  Also with us is Alan Blackwell who works at Cambridge University’s Computer Lab. Alan, how good are computer graphics today?

Alan - They’re a lot better than they were when I started my career! My first graphics project involved the graphics coming out of the back of the computer on pieces of paper.

Tim - Amazing! What can they look like now?

Alan - Of course now, we’re very excited about virtual reality and augmented reality. Things that either make us believe we’re in a different world or make our world look different to the way it is.

Chris - Noa Zilberman is also here. She’s from the Cambridge Computer Lab where she specialises in networks and operating systems. Noa, how much data is the world moving these days and how much information is flowing through computers worldwide?

Noa - Numbers are really crazy. The fastest network devices today can process all the seasons of Game of Thrones in less than a second.

Chris - Is that a good thing? You presumably want to watch it at the same time?

Tim - Ha ha. And Chris Folkerd is the director of enterprise technology at Manchester-based UKFast. Chris, what is UKFast?

Chris F - We’re one of the largest cloud providers in the United Kingdom and we make massive amounts of computer resource available for businesses across the world.

Tim - What can they do with that computer resource?

Chris F- Anything the want really. It gives them the capability to do huge things with big computers that they couldn’t otherwise afford in their offices.

Chris S - Thank you very much. You’ve heard the panel of people that we’re going to be speaking to as we make our way through the world of computing, including it’s past, its present and, hopefully, its future.

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