School of Computer Science

Computer Science at Birmingham dates back to the late 1950s; our School of Computer Science became one of the first academic departments in the UK to undertake research and teaching in this field. Some 50 years later, we now provide specialist teaching and conduct world-leading research in fundamental and applied computer science, artificial intelligence, optimisation, computer security, medical imaging and robotics. We are proud to deliver outstanding education that offers a range of exciting career opportunities for students from around the world.

PhD Programmes

Computer Science & IT (1)

About

Computer Science at Birmingham dates back to the late 1950s; our School of Computer Science became one of the first academic departments in the UK to undertake research and teaching in this field.

Some 50 years later, we now provide specialist teaching and conduct world-leading research in fundamental and applied computer science, artificial intelligence, optimisation, computer security, medical imaging and robotics. We are proud to deliver outstanding education that offers a range of exciting career opportunities for students from around the world.

What is Computer Science?

The term 'computing' covers every kind of digital technology that we use to create, store, communicate, exchange and use information. As such, it is the foundation for small and large businesses to build their strategies and grow.

It is also the key to making our personal lives easier and more fun: mobile phones, online shopping, MP3s... we owe them all, and a lot more besides, to computer science.

An overview

So, what is computer science? To answer this question, it is helpful to first consider what it is not. For despite the common misconception, Computer Science is not Information Technology. Information Technology (or IT as it is more commonly known) deals with the use of computers and telecommunications to retrieve, store and transmit data. This may involve running an IT network in a company, or learning how to use (or support users working with) applications on a PC or Mac, such as Sibelius, Office, Photoshop, etc. Computer Science on the other hand is about how to design and create such applications.

Popular examples of the creative work of Computer Scientists include:

  • The creation of popular search-engines such as Google and Ask.com
  • The development of well-known social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter
  • Advances within the worlds leading financial corporations to map customer profiles and expose credit card fraud o Work within the medical sector to develop software applications to identify cancers through the analysis of medical images In all of the above cases, Computer Scientists create; and studying a degree in Computer Science will equip you with the variety of skills needed as a foundation to create the applications of the future.

A detailed understanding

On a deeper level Computer Science has three dimensions:

There is a scientific/mathematical dimension

For example, looking at the theory which underpins complex algorithms, or the difficulty of implementing solutions to complex problems in a provably reliable way.

Computing has an engineering dimension

For example, ensuring that complex systems are built to appropriate standards, are properly tested, run efficiently, etc.

Computing also has a human dimension; both individual and social

At the individual scale examples might be ensuring that applications are easy to learn and use, and are well matched to functional expectations. At the social scale examples would include ensuring social impact is understood and supported (when desired) or moderated (when unhelpful) - automatic numberplate recognition systems would be an example here.

An example of the three elements of Computer Science at work:

Weather forecasting

Weather forecasting is a significantly difficult mathematical and computational challenge. When it is attempted using computers the programming becomes a significant issue - both scientifically and in terms of engineering. The code runs on huge/fast computers, but still has to be optimised and carefully written and tested; 'hindcasting' is sometimes used as a testing technique because the simulations are so complicated.

The human side to computational weather forecasting comes at two scales - individual and social. The individual scale concerns the human forecasters - the peole who interpret the output from the simulation and tell the story on TV as a weather forecast with a moving map, fancy graphics, and so on.

It also concerns individuals - 'should I take the umbrella today?', 'should I cut the grass today?'. The social scale relates to factors such as people travelling in large numbers (or not) to an outdoor sports arena; the holding (or not) of a major sailing event; the ordering patterns for salad foodstuffs in the supermarkets; the need to order extra salt for road gritting operations... One error in a single line of computer code could undermine the science, could make the program run slow, could mislead the forecaster, and could make the roads more treacherous at night in winter.

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