Computer Science graduates return for Alumni Showcase

15 October 2016

Landscape image of professional teaching fellow Damir Azhar, doctoral candidate Asma Shakil, masters student Kreshnik Pireva and research programmer Dr Kai-Cheung Leung.
Professional teaching fellow Damir Azhar, doctoral candidate Asma Shakil, masters student Kreshnik Pireva and research programmer Dr Kai-Cheung Leung were chatting with visitors to the Computer Science stand.

What would Darwin want his computer to do if he were alive today? How easy is it, really, to erase ourselves from the internet?

These were just two of the questions posed by Department of Computer Science academics who presented their research at the first joint Alumni Showcase, a collaboration by the Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics departments that took place on Saturday 15 October in the new Science building at the City Campus.

The day aimed to strengthen links with graduates by presenting seven short talks on current research in the three departments, providing information stands on departmental activities and guided tours of the computer history displays, and a lunch over which graduates had the opportunity to renew relationships with their former lecturers and forge new connections.  

Two computer science staff gave talks. It would appear, from listening to evolutionary biologist Professor Alexei Drummond, that English naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin would have liked a computer loaded with BEAST (Bayesian Evolution Analysis by Sampling Trees), the software package Drummond and colleagues have been developing to understand, from an evolutionary perspective, the vast amounts of molecular sequence data available. BEAST is used by scientists all around the world, and has already contributed to more than 10,000 scientific studies.

Dr Rizwan Asghar posed the question “Can the internet forget?” He was referring to a landmark 2014 court ruling in Europe that means people can ask Google to remove damaging material about them from its European indexes. But the form Google asks them to use, says Dr Rizwan, is manual, asks for too much private information and any subsequent content removal is also largely manual, leading to massive backlogs.

In response, Dr Rizwan and colleagues have developed a prototype software, Oblivion, that can automatically locate and tag personal information on the web. One test showed that the programme could churn through 278 take-down requests per second.

The Alumni Showcase proved a success, says Professor Robert Amor, head of the Department of Computer Science. The most valuable aspect of the event for him was meeting graduates: “I think we have a duty to alumni – that doesn’t stop when they graduate – to keep them abreast of new directions in computer science.”

Photos from the Alumni Showcase 2016 are available here.