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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Playing a negotiation game with a robot to see how may points you could win. Using your computational thinking skills to solve the  puzzles that will unlock a treasure chest. Or making music with code. These were just some of the activities visitors were able to try at our Cambridge Festival Open Day on Saturday 16 March 2024.

We opened the doors of the Department for a day as part of the 2024 Cambridge Festival and invited the public in to find out more about computer science and technology. Hundreds of people did.

Children took turns to play negotiation games with Pepper the robot and see if they could negotiate well enough to win points (and prizes). Others had fun trying our Hacker 'escape room'. We told them an evil hacker had created a computer virus that would destroy the internet. They had to use their computational thinking skills to find the hacker's computer and shut it down before the virus program could be run. 

Also on offer was the opportunity to learn about Sonic Pi, a free and beginner-friendly tool for creating music with computer code. Sonic Pi creator Sam Aaron, a former member of this Department, was here in person to run a live demo and a hands-on workshop.

I enjoyed talking to the PhD students about their research and seeing the demos of the robot cars and Pepper the robot.

Downstairs in Lecture Theatre 1, people dropped in for a talk by Senior Lecturer Carl Henrik Ek about where the dangers in AI really are, and why we need to better understand the difference between human and machine intelligence.

Upstairs, groups could visit the Prorok Lab where researchers are looking for new ways to induce artificially intelligent agents - such as robots, machines and driverless cars - to achieve common goals while working in shared spaces like warehouses and roads. They ran demos showing what happens when a group of robots, working in formation, have to interact with a human. 

The workshop on making music with code was fantastic. We really enjoyed it and will defo be downloading Sonic Pi tonight.

Many activities were hands-on. Children were able to learn about binary, the language of computers, through creating a bead bracelet. They chose their two favourite colours of beads to act as 'zero's and 'one's and used them to spell out their name or initials in binary.  Or they could solve the puzzles on 'Pirate Island' where Captain Jessie Croft had stashed her treasure in a chest locked with several padlocks, each with its own secret code. They had to use computational thinking skills (and some BBC micro:bits) to decipher the messages and work out the codes that opened the locks. 

I enjoyed making the binary bracelet because I loved how it was like wearing a secret code.

Among the activities there were several about solving climate challenges. Masters and PhD students in AI for Environmental Risk ran interactive sessions exploring the use of AI to predict earthquakes and floods.

And our Security research group ran an activity about how some 'Internet of Things' devices - like smart doorbells, speakers, light bulbs & baby monitors - are used as weapons to harass and harm victims and what we could do about this. 

We had great fun. And to judge by the pictures and the enthusiastic comments, so did our visitors. Thank you to everyone who came along. We look forward to seeing you next year!

Published by Rachel Gardner on Tuesday 19th March 2024