Aberystwyth Science café talk, December 10th

January 6, 2013 - Geekiness

Back in December, I spoke at the Aberystwyth Science Café (that link goes to their Facebook page, and they do most of their organising via FB). Science Café meetings are places where you can hear a talk about science and discuss it in an informal atmosphere, and happen all over the world (you can find a map on the cafe scientifique website here: map of worldwide cafés). I’ve been going to Science Café events intermittently for years now, they actually started in Leeds where I used to live, so I’ve got quite a history as an attendee but before December 2012 had never performed at one.

My talk was on CCTV and Artificial Intelligence, and was loosely based upon a lecture I gave to last year’s first year on research and ethics. I won’t put the slides up here, as they are fairly word-light and image-heavy. For a public talk I try to make the slides less like lecture slides and more entertaining, which means they’re less useful after the event but hopefully a bit more fun whilst the talk is going on.

The aim was to introduce some statistics about current CCTV and surveillance, with plenty of anecdotes about the control rooms I’ve visited over the years, giving a backdrop to an overview of surveillance research within computer vision. Computer vision is perhaps understandably obsessed with surveillance – the task of working out what is going on in video streams is basically the computer vision task, and if you’re looking at streams of video, the most interesting streams of video feature images of people. There’s also a funding motivation; CCTV and security are probably easier to get funding for than more blue sky/less applied areas of computer vision. I discussed the nature of crowd and scene analysis, behaviour understanding, and face recognition (which naturally feeds into ideas of identity). I think I succeeded in showing some progress that’s been made in this area, and also managed to get people to think about the ethics of research – would you be happy working on automated behaviour analysis?

Feedback on the talk was really positive – I found it a scary audience to talk to (60 members of the general public are for some reason much more frightening than 200 first year students) but the people who’ve talked to me about it afterwards have all been lovely. Which is nice. In particular I met up with Anne & Richard Marggraf-Turley who were giving a talk on surveillance and romantic poetry in Germany couple of weeks after my science café talk – hopefully the technical background I provided was useful:-) You can read Richard’s blog about the romantic hackers talk here.

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