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Max’s remarkably titled PhD "Representation of Knowledge for Chess Endgames: Towards a Self-Improving System" in 1977 was a testament to the excitement he felt at being around at the ground-breaking, if chequered, start of the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Applications of AI are now all-pervasive but at the time the entire field was viewed with great suspicion. Max is part of the generation born shortly after World War Two into a country devastated by war, still with bomb sites and air-raid shelters on display, inadequate housing for many and rationing of food, clothing and more. Like many of his contemporaries he was... able to take advantage of the expansion of grammar schools following the 1944 Education Act and also the expansion of the Universities after the 1963 Robbins report, with the opportunities for social mobility they gave. Like many of his generation, he was the first in his family ever to attend a university. After gaining a degree in mathematics from the new University of Southampton in 1970 he got a well-paid job in the computing industry, working at the Central Electricity Generating Board in London which had the country’s biggest computer at the time- with a whole megabyte of memory! In 1972, he gave up this secure career for a post as the junior member of a team of two producing one of the OU’s first computing courses, following his fiancée, Dawn, who had been working at the OU as a research assistant since 1969. As a staff member he could register for a PhD free of charge and with his interest in chess and computing, this early AI research topic was exciting and leading-edge. However, disaster struck in 1973 with the publication of the Lighthill report which, coming from a position of limited knowledge of the field, singlehandedly destroyed its reputation and those working in it. It was impossible to get research grants and the term "artificial Intelligence" could not be used in an academic setting for many years. Those still working in the field in Britain formed a small, if endangered, community and Max was able to meet the leading experts and establish a reputation for himself in a way that might have been impossible if the field had been booming.  Max was one of the few in this cohort who was able to attend his graduation, where he was presented by Walter Perry, the OU's first and founding Vice Chancellor, which he found to be an incredibly proud and emotional moment for him. In 1980, there was a resurgence in the field of AI, now trading under the name 'Expert Systems', in response to Japan’s much publicized Fifth Generation Computer Systems programme, in which AI was highlighted as a major area for development. As one of the few people expert in this area, Max’s career flourished and in 1989 he became Digital Professor of Information Technology and Head of the Department of Information Science at the, now, University of Portsmouth and is now an Emeritus Professor. He has around 200 publications in the field of AI, including an important textbook on Data Mining, and has given lectures in all parts of the world. He has been the chair of the British Computer Society Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the International Federation for Information Processing and was its Vice President for six years. He looks back at the challenging times for AI in the past with some sadness but also with positivity and fondness and remains a strong supporter of the Open University and its pioneering work in university education.
Metadata describing this Open University audio clip
Title: "once the first graduates came out at the end of '72, the whole situation changed"
Description: Max Bramer describes how it felt to work and study at the OU in the early 1970s.
Rights statement: Rights owned or controlled by The Open University
Restrictions on use: Contact the OU Archive prior to any re-use. Contact
Duration: 00:00:56
Master programe code and title: Professor Max Bramer Interview
Master programme start time: 00:12:55
Master programme end time: 00:13:53
Master programme recording date: 29-04-2021
Master programme production number: phd_004_001
Available to public: yes