Nick Webb, associate professor of computer science, is originally from Leicester in the United Kingdom. He still hasn't come to terms with Leicester City, the English football club, winning the Premier League in 2016.
He attended the University of Essex in Colchester to study computer science, focusing on artificial intelligence long before it was cool. He stayed at Essex to complete his master's combining computer science and linguistics, then working as a research scientist creating a natural language interface to the Yellow Pages.
Webb joined the Natural Language Processing group at Sheffield University in 2000, one of the largest speech and language research groups in Europe, and started his Ph.D. at the same time. While in Sheffield, he worked on many European and national research projects, including running the AMITIES project. It was the first jointly funded project by the European Commission and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in the U.S. to build spoken dialogue assistants in collaboration with the University at Albany and General Electric.
UAlbany recruited him to work at the Institute for Informatics, Logics and Security Studies research center. He wrote and managed research projects for six years, working closely with the intelligence community. One of his first U.S. research grants was an NSF-funded project to look at using social robotics as a way to do computer science education. He worked with Valerie Barr, then professor of computer science at Union, who ultimately invited him to apply as a visiting professor at the College in 2011.
Webb lived in the Stockade neighborhood in Schenectady for several years, before moving to the Berkshires. He returned to Schenectady two years ago, and lives just off campus in the GE plot.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING:
Reddit, followed by the Washington Post and the New York Times. And lately Babbel. I have very limited Italian, and I always wanted to learn more but never set my mind to it. I try to do a lesson each morning.
ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:
There are many. People fall into two camps. Those that can only ever read a book once. And those who treat certain books like old friends, to be read time and again. Some classics for me are Tolkein's “Lord of the Rings,” “Shogun” by James Clavell, and the pulp fiction detective novels of Rex Stout. There are more than 70 of them, and I have read them all several times, even though I already know whodunnit.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:
It's not as important to know what you want to do, as it is to figure out what you don't want to do. From my Dad, who never ever knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, even long after he retired.
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS:
I love Memorial Chapel, and I like looking at the reflection of Steinmetz, where my office is, in the windows of the Integrated Science and Engineering Center (ISEC). But really, it's the Nott Memorial, inside and out.
Either homemade egg bites, or yoghurt and honey. Mostly because I want to start the day off with a healthy choice. There is an unsubstantiated rumor that when I fly back to the United Kingdom to visit family and friends, I deliberately fly through Dublin just so I can have a full Irish breakfast and a pint of Guinness at 6 a.m.
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD:
I wish I were more fluent in languages. My vocabulary is passably bad in several languages, but I always have a hard time with grammar. I wish I could play the guitar. Or the piano. I had one piano lesson and then my piano teacher passed away. Allegedly, these two events are unrelated.
LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOU:
I'm not Australian. Many people guess that as my nationality before guessing British.
THREE DINNER PARTY GUESTS (living or deceased):
I'd want a party with plenty of wine to talk about the foundations, promise and the future of artificial intelligence. What's hard is choosing just three, but I'd go with Alan Turing, for his pioneering work both on practical computers and on thinking machines in general. Margaret Masterman is someone I never personally knew, but as the founder of the Cambridge Language Research Unit at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s, I am familiar with her work. Margaret was a student of Ludwig Wittgenstien, and a pioneer in Computational Linguistics. I agonized over the third invitee, but decided that it's hard to overestimate the impact of science fiction on the direction of AI, and so I'd invite Arthur C. Clarke, writer of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
Prince, in 1990, at Manchester City Stadium.