This Saturday 15th June 2013, one of Southampton’s own professors, Nigel Shadbolt, was honoured with an ordinary knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list, for services to Science and Engineering. Since his new appointment, Professor Shadbolt is grouped with the likes of Ian McKellen and Elton John, as well as fellow University of Southampton professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Sir Nigel Shadbolt, as he shall hence be officially known, boasts a career of more than thirty years focused on computer and web science, specifically Artificial Intelligence, during which time he has published over four hundred articles –no mean feat by any academic standard. Currently, Professor Shadbolt is professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University, and head of the Web and Internet Science Group. However, as with all of the UoS’s academics, he has also delivered a vast amount of influential and innovative research.
On top of his services to academia, Professor Shadbolt has also headed and been involved in a number of instrumental projects, including being Chairman of the Open Data Institute, Director of the Web Science Trust, Information Advisor to the UK government, and a member of both the Public Sector Transparency Board and the UK’s Information Economy Council. Perhaps most notably, Shadbolt’s role as Information Advisor, working with fellow Knight and Southampton colleague Sir Time Berners-Lee, lead to the delivery of data.gov.uk. Just one year after the launch of this site, it provides a single point of access to nearly 6000 government data sets, thus enabling new commitments to media transparency.
Over his distinguished career, Shadbolt has gone beyond the realms of ‘traditional’ science by compiling and conjoining expertise from other fields such as philosophy, psychology and linguistics, in order to provide a holistic and insightful perspective on the ever evolving web, and its relations with society. One of Professor Shadbolt’s long standing desires is to create a better understanding of the interactions between the web, data, humans, and their behaviour. With a reported 1,319,872,109 people on the internet, Shadbolt’s contribution to this dynamic field of research will undoubtedly be significant for generations to come.
Shadbolt is also noted for his commitment to data transparency, as promoted with the site data.gov.uk. The Professor has stated: ‘We need to establish a constant flow of the information that government and local authorities hold’, which ‘enables citizens to be better informed and able to make comparisons within and between their locales’. The transparency of data in the media is becoming increasingly important in many types of journalism, as well as politics and democracy.
In terms of the University of Southampton, it is without question that the involvement of Professor Shadbolt (as well as inventor of the world-wide web Sir Time Berners-Lee) will prove beneficial; with Southampton currently ranking 3rd in the Guardian’s league table for Computer Sciences and IT. The University’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam commented: “I am delighted that the unique contribution Nigel has made through his research and advisory work is being recognised with this prestigious honour.”
With the web taking only 4 years to reach 50 million users, it is obvious that Shadbolt’s contribution during this critical period is, and will continue to be, crucial for society, not only in the understanding of the web and its influence on humanity, but also in the promotion of a positive impact. We at the Wessex Scene wish Sir Nigel Shadbolt a well deserved congratulations, and wish him every success for the future.