IT Futures

University of Edinburgh

Conference 2019

The University’s IT Futures conference was held on Friday, December 13th 2019 with the title:

 Automating our future: opportunities and threats


AI is developing fast: it’s in the news, and it’s in our daily lives, in ways we’re often barely aware of. More and more processes that we rely on are automated. It makes them faster and more efficient, but automation brings its own risks and concerns. Within the University, too, automation is upon us and will be increasingly inescapable. What does this mean for us, and for our interactions with our colleagues and our students? How will it change the ways we work? What are the risks, and what are the opportunities?

This year’s conference addressed questions around this theme. We were pleased to welcome as external speaker Charles Stross, science fiction writer, futurist, commentator on technology and culture, headlining what was a lively and entertaining, as well as highly informative programme.

See below a list of our 2019 conference speakers, as well as some of their accompanying slides.

Tweet the conference using hashtag #itfutures

All speakers are University of Edinburgh colleagues unless otherwise stated.


08:45 - 09:30

Registration, with coffee

09:30 - 09:35


09:35 - 10:00

Prof. Peter Mathieson

Opening address

We are delighted to have the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Peter Mathieson (MBBS(Hons)(Lond), PhD(Cantab), FRCP(Lond), FRCPE, FMedSci), open the conference this year.
10:00 - 10:40

Charlie Stross

Presentation and discussion

Charlie Stross is a full time science-fiction writer, living in Edinburgh. He has written six Hugo-nominated novels and is the winner of the 2005, 2010 and 2014 Hugo awards for best novella. As a science-fiction writer, themes within Charlie’s work include artificial intelligence and its potential future impact.
10:40 - 11:10

Coffee break

11:10 - 11:40

Alan Bundy

A brief history of artificial intelligence

Alan Bundy is a professor in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and is a fellow of several academic societies including the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Academy of Engineers. In this presentation, Alan will discuss a brief history of Artificial Intelligence, highlighting how the technology has developed and where it could lead in the future.

Alan Bundy Speaker Slides

11:40 - 12:00

Sanjana Tiwari and Anamaría Granada

The future and accessibility: a discussion on automated subtitling

Sanjana and Anamaría have both worked as media subtitle editors in the Information services Group at the University of Edinburgh as part of a pilot project involving students in the editing of automated subtitles generated for the University’s public facing media. In this talk, they will discuss their experience in this role, and why academic environments should employ similar technologies in the interest of improving accessibility.

Sanjana Tiwari and Anamaría Granada Speaker Slides

12:00 - 12:30

Jane Hillston

AI for social good

Jane Hillston is a Professor of Quantitative modelling in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and is the current Head of the School of Informatics. She has worked on stochastic process algebras, and in particular the development of Performance Evaluation Process Algebra (PEPA) and Bio-PEPA which is a language for the modelling and analysis of biochemical pathways.

Jane Hillston Speaker Slides

12:30 - 13:30

Lunch break

13:30 - 14:10

Kobi Gal and Hamish MacLeod

The AI revolution in learning; why Edinburgh matters

Kobi Gal is a Reader in Artificial Intelligence and Human-Machine Intelligence in the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Hamish MacLeod in is an Honorary Fellow in the School of Education and Sport. In this talk, they will discuss the role of Artificial Intelligence in education and learning practices.

Kobi Gal Speaker Slides

14:10 - 14:40

Burkhard Schafer

Demolition man, or the automation of legal compliance

Burkhard Schafer is a Professor of computational Legal Theory in the Edinburgh Law School at the University of Edinburgh. Prof Schafer works on the development of computer systems to help law enforcement agencies operate more efficiently across jurisdictions, with a wider interest in comparative law and its methodology.

Burkhard Schafer Speaker Slides

14:40 - 15:10

Michael Gallagher and Markus Breines

Initial findings from a speculative project on automated agents in teaching

Dr Michael Gallagher is a Lecturer in Digital Education in the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Markus Breines is a Research Associate also based at the Centre. I this talk they will discuss some early findings from their project investigating the attitudes towards the use of automated agents in teaching and learning, providing feedback on the on the impact on the student and teaching experience at the University of Edinburgh.

Michael Gallagher and Markus Breines Speaker Slides

15:10 - 15:40

Jarmo Eskelinen

Data Science, City Deal and the Data Future of Edinburgh and Scotland

Jarmo Eskelinen is currently the Executive Director of the Data Driven innovation Programme at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal. The programme facilitates collaboration between expert researchers and industrial partners on data-based projects for the public, private and third sectors.
15:40 - 16:00

Gavin McLachlan

Closing address

Gavin McLachlan is Vice-Principal and Chief Information Officer at the University of Edinburgh, and Librarian to the University. He is responsible for the overall management of Information Service Group, which includes Computing Services, Learning Technology Services, and Library, Museum and Gallery Services.
16:00 - 17:00

Reception with mince pies and mulled wine