The Horizon Memory Machine project is now in its third iteration. During the early stages of this particular phase, we identified the need for additional support from a developer, and decided this was a great opportunity to get someone involved from outside the land of academia. When we met Hugh Barnard, we invited him to join our team immediately.
Hugh told us:
“Originally I studied chemistry at Imperial College London and spent a year in a commercial drugs research laboratory. There were very few computer science degrees in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so I went immediately from chemistry to computer support and meanwhile taught myself COBOL from a teach yourself book. Actually, I’d been allowed to run a simple FORTRAN program to calculate Pi on a steel mill mainframe in Corby in about 1966, however it got stopped after about 10K iterations though, spoilsports! After working for a computer manufacturer in France, I was employed as an ‘expert en informatique’ for the European Commission and Parliament on a couple of big projects including Ovide for over a decade. I came back to the UK and worked as a freelancer in London, BBC, Lovefilm, and then worked in the City until my ‘official’ retirement. During this time I finished a computing MSc at the Open University, acquiring some useful theoretical experience to go with the practical. I did most of the coursework on Line 3 on the Paris Metro. More recently, I finished a philosophy BA at Birkbeck University, a retirement project, mainly political philosophy and logic.”
“I’d previously done some work on another Horizon project (Wisebox), so was already known in the Horizon eco-system. When Elvira (the Principal Investigator on the MeMa 3.0 project) approached me, I was very interested in finding out more. I am 72 and the project is about older people. I joined the team towards the end of 2022 and have since enjoyed tackling plenty of technical challenges. It has been fun and I feel that there are probably a few spin-off opportunities, in quite a few directions.”
We asked Hugh to tell us about his experience of working with the MeMa 3.0 research team. He told us:
“The main thing is that, as we say in my other language, they are very ‘sympa’. I’ve had a lot of shouty bosses in forty odd years of conventional work and Elvira and the team were not that.”
“However, since I have an industry, hard science and computer science background, there is quite a cultural distance between what I do, how I do it and the MeMa 3.0 team/social sciences. This is an interesting area in itself. So, some of my contribution may be ‘being different’ and ‘being aged’. In practical terms though, I proposed ideas and a different kind of approach to the MeMa 3.0 hardware and software, based on previous sketches developed in earlier iterations of the project. The hardware is not going to be a conventional computer-like artifact, but smaller and in an attractive box.”
“I did quite a lot of research into possible components, assembled a preliminary piece of hardware (see image below) and wrote a fair amount of program code in Python. The Python code takes and executes simple voice commands interpreted by an existing open-source front end. I have just handed all that back to the team.”
“Currently the MeMa 3.0 is a prototype, part of specific research and thus, for good reasons, a little close ended. However, I do believe that many of the ideas, ethical discussions, and elements of the technology will have a future impact.”
“For example, most of the consumer assistive technology (think Siri, Alexa and the unmourned Cortana) is privacy-averse, data greedy, and can be predatory, embedded advertising, incentives to buy/consume other products. Older people are especially vulnerable to this kind of manipulation and resulting loss of agency. Hence, any project that sets off somewhat in the opposite direction may well be useful.”
“Also, there is a lot of spin off in terms of authentic conviviality, rather than the cheery, commercial fake kind. Finally, it is a demonstration of what can be done with the power of open-source software and low power hardware. I quoted the title of this book ‘small pieces loosely joined‘ at the start of my involvement, some of the technical thinking behind my contribution.”
On a final note, we’d like to thank Hugh for his enthusiasm and commitment to MeMa 3.0. We thoroughly enjoyed working with you!
Tags: COBOL, computer science, FORTAN, MeMa 2.0, memory, Memory Machine, prototype