Natalie McLaren, a BSc Web Computing with a Year in Industry student, has launched a personalised newsfeed application that she developed with a colleague while on her placement year at digital marketing agency Cyber-duck.
While working at Cyber-duck Natalie learnt two new technologies, and with her colleague decided to develop a project in their spare time, using the two languages.
They developed a news aggregator website called Newscape by fusing PHP framework Laravel with React.js, which allows customers to personalise their newsfeed while also viewing their twitter feed. The site offers news articles in English and German and imports news from 70 news sites. They hope to expand and add more features as the platform grows and they receive feedback from users.
Natalie said ‘Initially Newscape was just a learning experience as we combined two tools which are not usually used together. Now we are really interested in hearing what users think of the website and what features they would like to see on there in future.’
Congratulations to our newest member of staff, Stefan Marr, who arrived at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday 24 September after cycling for 12 days from Linz in Austria to Canterbury, to take up his new role as lecturer in the School of Computing.
He is currently working on combining different concurrency models in a safe way. His goal is to ensure that complex systems can use the right abstraction for their various computing needs without introducing bugs caused by the subtle interplay of abstractions.
We welcome Stefan to the school.
You can find out more about his cycle ride at #bikexit17
The innovative Year in Computing programme has been awarded a University teaching prize. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Karen Cox, presented the award to Colin Johnson, Sally Fincher and Ian Utting at a ceremony on Wednesday 4 October 2017.
The Year in Computing programme is a self-contained year of study offered by the School of Computing to students from any other School in the University. Students who successfully complete the year graduate with their original degree title plus ‘with a Year in Computing’.
During the year students work exclusively within the School of Computing, learning and practising a wide range of fundamental computing topics using the Web as a unifying example and platform. Working with web technologies means that students are exposed to a directly applicable collection of widely used software and skills.
Students on the programme come from across the University’s schools and campuses. Unusually for a computing programme, 40% of the students on the course are women; this is more typically around 15%.
Programme director Ian Utting said: ‘The programme exemplifies the University’s aims to allow students to broaden their programmes in a flexible way. It promotes links between different areas of study and allows students with broad interests and ambitions to realise them. It also provides work-related skills to support students in their future study, research or careers and this aligns strongly with the government’s UK Digital Strategy’.
Further programme details:
The Year in Computing initiative
The Year in Computing programme is a self-contained year of study at Level 5, offered by the School of Computing to students from any other School in the University. During the year students work exclusively within the School of Computing, ultimately graduating (if successful) with their degree title augmented “with a Year in Computing”.
Who is this aimed at?
This Year in Computing is aimed at undergraduate students doing any degree in the University other than students registered with the School of Computing. It is delivered in Canterbury, but may be taken by students from either campus. Students may take this after Stage 2 of their degree, or any subsequent Stage including their final Stage. It is designed both for students who want to “convert” into computing for vocational reasons, and for students who want to integrate computing skills and knowledge into their home degree studies. It has an advantage for students over alternatives such as a conversion MSc not only because it forms part of their undergraduate programme for funding (and potentially visa) purposes; but also because the results from the Year do not affect the classification of their “home” degree, decreasing their risk. (Marks from the Year do appear in students’ transcripts, giving employers a detailed view of what they have achieved.)
What will students get from this?
Any child (or spouse) who has been scolded for their tone of voice – such as shouting or being sarcastic – knows that the way you speak to someone can be just as important as the words that you use. Voice artists and actors make great use of this – they are skilled at imparting meaning in the way that they speak, sometimes much more than the words alone would merit.
But just how much information is carried in our tone of voice and conversation patterns and how does that impact our relationships with others? Computational systems can already establish who people are from their voices, so could they also tell us anything about our love life? Amazingly, it seems like it.
New research, just published in the journal PLOS-ONE, has analysed the vocal characteristics of 134 couples undergoing therapy. Researchers from the University of Southern California used computers to extract standard speech analysis features from recordings of therapy session participants over two years. The features – including pitch, variation in pitch and intonation – all relate to voice aspects like tone and intensity.
A machine-learning algorithm was then trained to learn a relationship between those vocal features and the eventual outcome of therapy. This wasn’t as simple as detecting shouting or raised voices – it included the interplay of conversation, who spoke when and for how long as well as the sound of the voices. It turned out that ignoring what was being said and considering only these patterns of speaking was sufficient to predict whether or not couples would stay together. This was purely data driven, so it didn’t relate outcomes to specific voice attributes.
Interestingly, the full video recordings of the therapy session were then given to experts to classify. Unlike the AI, they made their predictions using psychological assessment based on the vocal (and other) attributes – including the words spoken and body language. Surprisingly, their prediction of the eventual outcome (they were correct in 75.6% of the cases) was inferior to predictions made by the AI based only on vocal characteristics (79.3%). Clearly there are elements encoded in the way we speak that not even experts are aware of. But the best results came from combining the automated assessment with the experts’ assessment (79.6% correct).
The significance of this is not so much about involving AI in marriage counselling or getting couples to speak more nicely to each other (however meritorious that would be). The significance is revealing how much information about our underlying feelings is encoded in the way we speak – some of it completely unknown to us.
Words written on a page or a screen have lexical meanings derived from their dictionary definitions. These are modified by the context of surrounding words. There can be great complexity in writing. But when words are read aloud, it is true that they take on additional meanings that are conveyed by word stress, volume, speaking rate and tone of voice. In a typical conversation there is also meaning in how long each speaker talks for, and how quickly one or other might interject.
Consider the simple question “Who are you?”. Try speaking this with stress on different words; “Who are you?”, “Who are you?” and “Who are you?”. Listen to these – the semantic meaning can change with how we read even when the words stay the same.
Computers reading ‘leaking senses’?
It is unsurprising that words convey different meanings depending on how they are spoken. It is also unsurprising that computers can interpret some of the meaning behind how we choose to speak (maybe one day they will even be able to understand irony).
But this research takes matters further than just looking at the meaning conveyed by a sentence. It seems to reveal underlying attitudes and thoughts that lie behind the sentences. This is a much deeper level of understanding.
The therapy participants were not reading words like actors. They were just talking naturally – or as naturally as they could in a therapist’s office. And yet the analysis revealed information about their mutual feelings that they were “leaking” inadvertently into their speech. This may be one of the first steps in using computers to determine what we are really thinking or feeling. Imagine for a moment conversing with future smartphones – will we “leak” information that they can pick up? How will they respond?
Could they advise us about potential partners by listening to us talking together? Could they detect a propensity towards antisocial behaviour, violence, depression or other conditions? It would not be a leap of imagination to imagine the devices themselves as future therapists – interacting with us in various ways to track the effectiveness of interventions that they are delivering.
Don’t worry just yet because we are years away from such a future, but it does raise privacy issues, especially as we interact more deeply with computers at the same time as they are becoming more powerful at analysing the world around them.
When we pause also to consider the other human senses apart from sound (speech); perhaps we also leak information through sight (such as body language, blushing), touch (temperature and movement) or even smell (pheromones). If smart devices can learn so much by listening to how we speak, one wonders how much more could they glean from the other senses.
Three academics from the School of Computing have been given recognition of their ongoing achievements by being promoted.
Laura Bocchi has been promoted to Senior Lecturer. Laura is a member of the Programming Langages and Systems research group and her research spans several areas, which include software engineering, concurrency and formal methods. Laura has also taken on the role of Postgraduate Research Admissions Officer.
Budi Arief has also been promoted to Senior Lecturer. Budi is part of the Security Research Group and his main research areas are cybercrime, computer security, and the Internet of Things, with a strong overarching element of interdisciplinary research.
Julio Hernandez-Castro has been promoted to Professor and is currently the Acting Head of the Security Research Group. Julio’s research is mostly based around computer and network security, particularly cryptography and crytptanalysis, steganography and steganalysis, data loss prevention and RFID security.
Head of School, Professor Richard Jones said, ‘I am so pleased that Laura, Budi and Julio have been promoted. They are all phenomenal researchers who share their love of their subject with our students. They all thoroughly deserve this recognition for their hard work.’
Organisations across Kent will be able to receive help and support dealing with cyber security threats thanks to a new offering from the Kent IT Consultancy (KITC), based within the School of Computing at the University of Kent.
The KITC brings together final-year and postgraduate students at the University’s Canterbury and Medway campuses and is designed to provide the opportunity to work with real-world business clients on various IT-related challenges they face as IT consultants.
Now, in response to the ever-increasing cyber security threats faced by businesses of all types, such as ransomware, malware, viruses and botnets, the KITC will offer a dedicated ‘Cyber Essentials Preparation’ service that considers how firms can improve their security protection.
This will be based on the government’s Cyber Essentials guidance that focuses on five key security areas: Patch Management, Malware Protection, Secure Configuration, Firewalls and Internet Gateways and Access Control.
The KITC is also launching a new Mobile Application Prototyping service, which will involve students helping businesses to assess, plan and design mobile applications, as well as looking at the marketing opportunities around any application that is developed.
Businesses interested in these services, or any of the other areas in which KITC can help, are invited to get in touch by email: email@example.com.
Learn more about our undergraduate programmes, have a chat with current students and attend sample lectures and demonstrations to see why our academics are the best at what they do. We are very proud of our campuses; they are great places to study and you’ll get a real sense if they are somewhere you could feel at home.
Although these Open Days are primarily for new undergradute students, you are also welcome to attend if you are interested in postgraduate study.
Kate Buchan recently joined the School of Computing as Employability Coordinator. She is based at the Canterbury campus but will also be regularly visiting the Medway campus.
Kate will be working closely with the placements team, the careers and employability service and employers to help all computing students improve their employability and get the career they want.
‘I am delighted to be working in the School of Computing and am looking forward to working with the students and helping them develop their career journey. Our students have a strong track record of securing a range of tech jobs across a variety of sectors. My role will be to coordinate all of the good work that is already happening within the School.’
Kate will be developing new initiatives including employability events, a blog and she will be continuing to send out weekly emails with job opportunities and events that are of interest to computing students.
If you have any questions about employability please contact Kate on firstname.lastname@example.org or pop in and see her in Cornwallis G01A, next to the placements office.