Think Centre
Draft Concept Document

Jim Austin

This idea has grown out of the idea of showing off the collection – but not in a museum style, but something really innovative.

Overview
There is a pressing need to encourage younger people to take a career in computer science. The current education in schools seems to fail to inspire students. Education is focussed on information technology for every day use, rather than computer science. Fundamentally, young people need to be shown how technology impacts almost every thing we do, and how complex and challenging this is. It needs to be shown how they can make an impact upon this, developing highly innovative ideas. In tandem to this, the public needs to be shown how computer systems are changing all our lives. This will help both enlighten them and help promote the subject in the eyes of others, including children.

To meet this challenge it is proposed to set up the Think centre aimed at inspiring people to understand, develop and exploit new intelligent technology. It would be aimed at educational use by the Universities, Schools and Businesses and would be partly open to the public.

The centre would have a very high technology but accessible look, making people expect some thing new, exciting and intellectually stimulating. The theme of centre will be on thinking machines rather than ‘computers’ to focus on the use of the technology rather than the technology its self, to make it sound different and exciting. In practice it would cover conventional as well as advanced computer systems, presented in a novel and stimulating way. This would span from basic simple computing systems (calculators and simple computers), to the mainstay of systems that help us work better, to more advanced systems such as robots, AI etc.

The centre will be themed on the past, the present and the future of thinking machines. The past is aimed at showing how we have got to where we are, showing how computers have developed, showing the growth in speed, size and applications. This will draw on historical collections at the science museum, private collections and others. The present is focussed on what we do now, allowing companies (at cost) to display and evaluate there latest technology. For example showing how current F1 racing cars use computers, how assistive technology is changing the way we care for people. Finally, the future will be a show case of current research in computer science and its application, from universities funded from the research councils and company research centres.

To make the centre a thriving, living, centre, rather than a dusty museum, it will undertake some research, in collaboration with universities and companies and have a business centre. The latter to get the buy in from companies who would, in part, sponsor the venture.

Jim Austin
austin@cs.york.ac.uk

Think Centre structure
The Think Centre would be structured into three main spaces as follows:

Past.
This would present the time line of the development, construction and use of computer technology for making intelligent machines. The centre would organise exhibitions based on different themes in the history of computers, showing how the systems have developed to aid human thought processes. All these themes would be mediated by extensive exhibition material based on Prof. Austins extensive collection as well as lending systems from other museums and collections.

Present.
This would show current and just new technology provided by technology companies developing intelligent technology.  It would show the latest and most innovative technology. The centre could sponsor awards for technology shown in the centre. It would draw upon many companies and there use of technology, from cars, to phones, from PC desktops to supercomputers. In particular, computer games companies could use this space to evaluate new game technology. Computer Graphics in films would be another avenue. Sponsorship of the centre and valuable income would be generated through sponsored exhibitions based on single companies or themes with a real commercial edge. The centre would allow companies gauge users reaction to new technology providing assistance with development of new computer systems

To support this element an expert team would provide support for infrastructure, this could be based on existing computer science and electronics technicians.

Future.
This would showcase what computer science and electronics are providing to the future of computer systems. Much of the work would emanate from the University departments, but would be placed in an everyday context to make it accessible to the public. Again, would gather support from companies to show what ideas they have and would like comments on.

First steps

The first steps for setting up a centre would be to find a location. Luckily, the University of York has a new campus with lots of space, so a new building on that site is a possibility. Alternatively a site in York would work, as there are many tourists in York which would find the centre fascinating. The funding for buildings, conversions etc. may be possible from grants, but running costs may need a boot strap.

If you have any ideas on how this could be created, supported or funded, please get in touch.

Jim Austin
austin@cs.york.ac.uk