Favourite Thing: I’m a Computer Scientist, so the most exciting bit in any experiment or project is pressing “Go!” and seeing the computer execute a program. Things light up, sounds play, and something happens on the screen, all because of some computer code I’ve written down somewhere. That still excites me after six years of programming!
Bournemouth School for my secondary school. Then I moved to London to attend Imperial College. I’m still there doing my PhD!
I’ve got a Masters of Engineering in Computing. I did A-Levels in Maths, Physics and Religious Philosophy (and a bit of English Literature!).
I worked in a Co-Op food store for a bit! Most of my jobs were at Imperial – I spent two summers while I was an undergraduate doing little bits of research to see what it was like. I loved it, of course!
I’m a PhD student at Imperial College in London!
Imperial College, London
Me and my work
I’m building a special computer program (an “artificial intelligence”) called ANGELINA and teaching it to design videogames!
I work in an area of computer science called ‘computational creativity‘. It’s all about getting computers to do things that normally we only think humans can do – things like composing music, painting beautiful artwork, or designing videogames. It’s a very exciting area to work in, because there are lots of unanswered questions. Some people don’t think computers can be creative – ever! What do you think? Would you ever call a computer as creative as someone like Mozart or Picasso?
My work focuses on videogame design – I’m trying to make an artificial intelligence that can design games! Making a game is a very hard thing to do – you have to do technical things like design levels, but you also need to do artistic things like compose music and draw pictures. I’m trying to build a computer program that can do as many of those jobs as possible, and produce videogames that it designed all on its own. I’m not quite there yet (there’s a long way to go, in fact!) but we’re making steady progress I think.
If you like you can play some of the games my software made on our website (check that it’s okay with your teacher first though!)
My Typical Day
My day is split between checking up on ANGELINA’s latest games, writing new code for ANGELINA to use in experiments, and reading up about human videogame designers (to try and understand what they do).
I do most of my work on my laptop, so I start my days sitting in a coffee shop with a big cup of coffee. The first thing I do is download games ANGELINA made the night before and see what they’re like. ANGELINA makes games about the news at the moment, so it’s exciting to try and guess what the games are about. Then I restart ANGELINA to make another game, and get on with whatever is the current order of the day!
There are lots of different jobs involved in my research. Some days I’m programming new bits of ANGELINA – for instance, right now I’m trying to make ANGELINA design new, bigger types of level. Writing code to make computers do things is a lot of fun, possibly the best part of the job! Last week I wrote some code that lets ANGELINA tweet to people, so that it can ask them questions while it designs games.
Other days I’m not programming, I’m writing instead. The most important thing about being a scientist is sharing your work with other people. So if I make a big advance with ANGELINA, or I’ve got some experimental results to share, I’ll write a scientific paper and submit it to a conference. Scientific papers are almost exactly the same as the science reports I wrote when I was in Year 8 science lessons! You describe your experiment, your hypothesis, you give your results, and you say what you think about them.
If the people at the conference think my paper is interesting and good quality, they might invite me to give a talk about my work! The picture above is from a paper I wrote last year that I went to present to people in South Korea.
If I’m not programming or writing, I’m probably reading about videogames (or other artificial intelligence programs!). Lots of people talk about videogames now – journalists, gamers, researchers, designers and so on. Reading about people’s ideas helps me think of new ways to make ANGELINA better! You can never read too much.
I also read other people’s scientific papers. It’s a bit like reading someone else’s homework and trying to understand the experiment from it. Other papers give you good ideas to work on, and they also let you know what people have already done. It’s very important that scientists always work on something new.
What I'd do with the money
I’m hoping to build an Android app that will host ANGELINA’s games and explain the science behind it, and I’d also like to donate some to helping Code Club get off the ground in UK schools!
My research group is buying an Android tablet soon (a bit like an iPad) and I’d like to put ANGELINA’s games on the Android app store. If possible, I’d really like to build a whole app just for ANGELINA and its games, with extra sections that explain how it works, what artificial intelligence is about, and so on. The money would help pay for licences, any help we need along the way, and possibly help port the app to the Apple App Store too!
I also want to donate some money to Code Club to help them get their new project off the ground. Programming is a really fun and important skill, but we don’t teach it people in the UK! Code Club wants to change this by making coding cool, and getting volunteers to teach it to primary school kids!
If you want to learn programming yourself, by the way, I highly recommend websites like Codecademy. Programming is great.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Beardy! Likes Coffee.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Right now I am listening to the latest Regina Spektor album. I also really like Ben Folds and The Divine Comedy.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Flying. I hadn’t flown in a plane before until last year when I had to go to a conference in Italy. It was very exciting and I still love doing it.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Oooh. I think I’d wish I could play a musical instrument (I never learnt, and now am useless at all musical things!); I’d wish I could speak Farsi perfectly; and I’d wish I knew how to drive. The London Underground makes me wish for that almost every day!
What did you want to be after you left school?
A journalist! I still like writing but I fell in love with Computer Science and AI, so I decided to stay in that area instead.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Not really… the odd thing would go wrong. My history teacher threw a book at me once!
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
I don’t know! I’m most proud of being mentioned in The New Scientist when they did a special feature on videogames. But I think the best thing so far has been talking to gamers about ANGELINA and hearing what they like and dislike about it. It makes the research feel real and useful!
Tell us a joke.
What’s blue, and smells like red paint? Blue paint! Pretty awful, eh?
One important part of being a scientist is travelling to talk to other researchers about what you do! Here’s me in Spain this year talking about ANGELINA (I look very serious for some reason…)
Here’s our actual office, in the center of London near the Royal Albert Hall! In this photo you can see some of the other people who work in the same research group as me. The painting we’re hanging on the wall here was painted by another computer program called The Painting Fool! (The man hanging the painting is leaning over my desk)
And finally, here’s how I share my work when I meet people to talk about ANGELINA. Each disk has a game made by ANGELINA on it! Floppy disks are getting old now though – I don’t think many people actually have the drives to read them! It’s quite fun to hand them out and see people’s shocked faces:
I’ll try and take some more photos of the lab next time I’m around!