Computer Science at the Movies

Computer science and computer scientists have been depicted in films as both heroes or villains, and a film can be a fun way to discuss how computing knowledge and digital skills could be used to help (or misused to harm) humanity.

Understanding Ultron

Understanding Ultron: A Turing test for world domination
AI is becoming ever present in our lives, at least in the form of software tools that demonstrate elements of human-like intelligence. AI in our mobile phones apply and adapt their rules to learn to serve us better, for example. But fears of AI’s potential negative impact on humanity remain as seen in its projection into characters like Ultron, a super-intelligence accidentally created by the Avengers.

Cyber security at the movies

Marvel Guardians of the Galaxy poster

Guardians of the Galaxy (Fail Secure security)
“…Electromagnetic door locks let you can program who is and isn’t allowed entry. Want to keep someone out – you can just cancel their keycard in the system. They are held locked by electromagnets: magnets are switched on and off using an electric current. That means computers can control them. As the designer you can make them either “fail safe” or “fail secure”. With a fail safe lock, when the power goes, the doors automatically unlock. With fail secure, instead they lock. Its just a matter of whether the magnet is holding the door open or closed. Which you choose when designing the lock depends on your priorities.

Fail safe is a good idea, for example, if you want people to be able to escape in an emergency. If a fire cuts the electricity you want everyone to still be able to get out, not be locked in with no chance of escape. Fail secure on the other hand is good if you don’t want thieves to be able to get in just by cutting the power. The magnets hold the bolts open, so when the power goes, the spring shut.”

NASA’s brilliant calculators

Hidden Figures: NASA’s brilliant calculators

Everyone knows the names of the astronauts, but behind the scenes a group of African-American women were vital to the space program: Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan. Before electronic computers were invented ‘computers’ were just people who did calculations and that’s where they started out, as part of a segregated team of mathematicians. Dorothy Vaughan became the first African-American woman to supervise staff there and helped make the transition from human to electronic computers by teaching herself and her staff how to program in the early programming language, FORTRAN.

More to come (of course)

This page was funded by UKRI, through grant EP/W033615/1.