'A lot of interesting problems are at the boundaries of disciplines'

July 21, 2006

Nigel Shadbolt, new engineering fellow, sets his sights on interdisciplinarity and bemoans the 'info smog' age

Engineering has a lot to learn from biology, according to Nigel Shadbolt, new fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

As professor of artificial intelligence at Southampton University, he is studying nervous systems in nature and trying to apply the mechanics to robotic systems.

Professor Shadbolt said: "Our engineered systems are now so complex that actually looking into biology and seeing if thousands of years of evolution can give us any insight is often a fruitful place to be."

Much of Professor Shadbolt's research involves interdisciplinary work, which he sees as the future for engineering. "A lot of interesting problems are at the boundaries of disciplines," he said.

Professor Shadbolt, who is based in the electronics and computer science department, believes interdisciplinarity should extend to teaching. "We should think how to incorporate subjects, so people doing chemistry and biology have an insight into computational modelling," he said.

Professor Shadbolt, deputy president of the British Computer Society, also looks at the problem of information overload, or "info smog", on the internet. He aims to marry up ideas in artificial intelligence, hypertext and computational linguistics to produce a more intelligent web structure.

He is committed to publicising engineering achievements to inspire the next generation.

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