Dr Ariadne Tampion CEng MIET

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Welcome to my web page. As I am a woman 'of many parts', you will have heard of me through one of many channels. So to keep things simple, I start my autobiographical account at the beginning. Please bear with me; it is not very long and you should soon find the information you are looking for.

*** Please Note *** The address of this page is http://www.ariadnetampion.info.

I was born and grew up in Reading, Berkshire, England, where I attended Caversham Primary School and Highdown School. After taking A Levels, I spent a year as a sponsored student at the English Electric Valve Company in Chelmsford, Essex, where I learnt a lot about basic engineering practice and high vacuum systems. Then I started studying Engineering at Cambridge University. After two terms it became evident that I was neither happy nor thriving, so I secured a job with a small local manufacturing company and left the university. That job lasted only a few months, after which, finding myself unemployed, I paid a visit to the Cambridge Citizens' Advice Bureau. I was soon helping out on the reception desk there, learning telephony from a former GPO Operator. Armed with my new receptionist/telephonist skills and RSA Stage I typing (without a doubt the most useful thing I learnt at school) I was then able to remain in work through a local temp agency until the following autumn, when I started the Electrical Engineering undergraduate course at Southampton University.

I completed the course at Southampton, graduating with First Class Honours in 1987. My final year project was entitled Development of a Digital Servo Drive under the supervision of Dr Richard Crowder. I remained at Southampton a further three years, producing a doctoral thesis entitled Double-frequency Stator Core Vibration in Large Two-pole Turbogenerators under the supervision of Dr Richard Stoll.

I then moved to Loughborough to join the Fundamental Development Group at Brush Electrical Machines as a Development Engineer. John Catt followed me and we married in March 1991. In the spring of 1993 I became Chartered with the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology, IET). Around the same time I fell pregnant with my elder daughter Sophie. I left Brush in the summer, which gave me some time to develop my interests in Labour Party politics and transport campaigning (focusing mainly on cycling and railway issues through the Loughborough and District Cycle Users' Campaign and the Railway Development Society, now Railfuture), as well as prepare for the new arrival. I maintained an interest in the engineering profession by joining the Committee of IEE Professional Group M2, 'Engineering and Society', on which I served one three-year term. After Sophie's birth I joined the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM), set up a breastfeeding mothers' support group and trained as a Breastfeeding Counsellor.

In 1995 I was elected to Charnwood Borough Council, on which I served one four-year term. For most of this time I chaired Plans Sub-committee 1 (dealing with small but contentious planning applications). Shortly after standing down in 1999, I gave birth to my younger daughter Isobel.

When Isobel started school I joined the ABM Training Team and took responsibility for marking a module entitled Breast and Nipple Problems. I also left the Labour Party at this point. The decision to do so arose from a combination of the ideological and the personal: the Blair Government had abandoned not only the green transport policies on which it had stood at the 1997 general election, but the much weaker ones which it had inherited from the Major Government; and the political career which I had been contemplating during my Borough Council days was looking increasingly unlikely to go ahead.

In 2005 I wrote the novella Automatic Lover, my first significant excursion into fiction since my teens, and published it on a website. It uses a combination of satire and fairytale with a space-age backdrop to examine some issues around robots and artificial intelligence (AI). While I was writing it, Rollo Carpenter's conversational AI 'Jabberwacky' (in the character of 'George') won the Loebner Prize for being 'most human-like' of the entries. I was driven by this coincidence to investigate Jabberwacky, and was thrilled when Rollo asked me to develop a new character, 'Joan', for the 2006 contest. Over the year I gave her 16,000 lines of conversation, so it was great to see her win. She reached the final again in 2007. She is now fronting the website of Icogno, one of Rollo's commercial operations, in avatar form. I continue to work on her very occasionally.

Inspired by my experiences with Joan, I followed Automatic Lover with a novel-length sequel, Automatic Lover – Ten Years On. My intention was to get the two published together in book form ready for launch in conjunction with the 2008 Loebner Prize, which was to be held in Reading where I grew up. After a brief spell trying to interest various publishers and literary agents in my work, I realised that, far from meeting my deadline, I could quite easily waste my entire life in this way, something I had no wish to do. So I proceeded to publish the book myself using author services provider Lulu. Presentation of a copy to Hugh Loebner at his Prize contest in October 2008 marked the official launch, as planned.

By the end of 2007, as a result of writing the Automatic Lover stories and my involvement with Joan, I had identified artificial intelligence research and development as the preferred direction for my career post-family. To broaden my knowledge of the field, I started attending the conferences of the Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence (SGAI) of the British Computer Society (BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT). The following year I joined the BCS as an Affiliate Member.

In early 2009 I completed a children's novel, Metal Molly, about a little girl robot who goes to school to learn. I wrote it primarily for Isobel, who was still too young to be interested in reading about lovers. However, I also believed that it could be attractive to other children of the same age, especially those who were finding mainstream children's fiction uninspiring and consequently falling behind their peers in reading skills, with all the unfortunate implications of that situation. My biggest obstacle was the need for an illustrator; a book for younger Key Stage 2 children is not viable without illustrations. Happily, in the summer of 2011 I secured the services of talented young art student Laura Buckland. I then went straight to Lulu, to save our work from rotting in a pile of manuscripts by J.K. Rowling wannabes. It became available in March 2012.

In the summer of 2009 I ceased all activity for the ABM. (I had given up running my group after a few years; but more recently, in addition to the marking, I had taken on the role of Mentor Co-ordinator and joined the Central Committee, while the volume of helpline calls coming into my home was mushrooming.) As with the Labour Party, my reasons encompassed the personal and the ideological: I was unhappy with both the direction of the organisation and the increasing demands it was placing on me, given that I no more saw my post-family career in lactation consultancy than in politics.

At the end of 2010 I joined the BCS SGAI Committee. I was initially made Chair of the SGAI Publicity Group and Publicity Officer for the SGAI conference, but quickly expanded my activities to include talent scouting for SGAI events and liaison with other AI interest groups. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique supporting role within the AI community but decided to stand down after one three-year term. It had failed to deliver the personal benefits I had expected: to kick-start my post-family career and stimulate widespread engagement with my books. Yet its demands left me struggling to keep on top of things at home.

In 2013, concurrent with my final year on the BCS SGAI Committee, I became involved with the STAARs (Safe and Trustworthy Autonomous Assistive Robots) initiative at the University of Bristol. The attraction of being able to make a valued contribution was enhanced by the attraction of seeing Sophie, who was by now a mathematics undergraduate at Bristol. I also started seriously planning and researching a new book for which I had conceived the idea in 2012.

I started 2014 with the hope that I could make progress on the new book, a novel exploring the application of artificial intelligence in the electricity supply industry. However, my priorities had always been first, to support Isobel through her GCSE and A Level years, and second, to sort things out at home to facilitate downsizing when she leaves for University. It soon became apparent that these two priorities, plus the relentless sequence of 'events', were leaving so little time for the book that the most sensible action would be to shelve the project for the time being, while remaining alert to sources of information which could help me when I pick it up again. I was then happy to agree to be co-opted onto the Committee of the East Midlands Branch of Railfuture, as it would give me one consistent focus outside the home. I am now their webmistress and responsible for their Twitter feed.

I continue to value my membership of my professional organisations: the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the British Computer Society (BCS). The IET East Midlands Local Network and the BCS Leicester Branch both offer the opportunity to meet people and hear interesting speakers at convenient venues. Within the IET I have joined four Technical and Professional Networks (TPNs): Robotics & Mechatronics, Electromagnetics, Power Generation & Conversion, Power Systems & Equipment. Within the BCS I have joined three Specialist Groups (SGs) in addition to Artificial Intelligence: Fortran, Green IT and Women. I value the window that all these sub-organisations give me on fields in which I am interested but to which I currently have little time to devote.

I am always happy to contribute to initiatives to inform youngsters about the joys and potential of careers in engineering, and to pass on my wider wisdom. Most significantly, in the summer of 2008 I spent two weeks working for the Engineering Development Trust, looking after sixth form students on university engineering taster ('Headstart') courses. It had been an ambition of mine to help out on one of these courses ever since I was a student on the girls-only version ('Insight') in 1980.

In my leisure time I enjoy nothing better than going out cycling. I have always enjoyed cycling in company, and rode regularly with Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) groups in Reading, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Southampton and Loughborough before starting my family. I met John in the CTC in Southampton. When our daughters were younger we cycled regularly as a family, but our family cycling became more intermittent as they grew older and acquired their own interests, not to mention large quantities of homework from school! However, 'getting to them young' obviously worked, as Sophie is now a regular rider with the University of Bristol Cycling Club. John, being now retired, also gets to ride quite a lot, sometimes with local social cycling groups. For myself at the moment cycling is a less regular pleasure. Isobel enjoys being out on a bike, but at her stage of education her studies must always come first.

I am a life member of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and am active within my local Humanist organisation, the Leicester Secular Society (LSS). For me, Humanism is not synonymous with atheism but a conclusion to be drawn from it: as there is no God looking after us, we have to look after one another; and as there is no afterlife, we have to make this life as pleasant as possible for everyone.

The most important thing I have learnt in life is not to plan the future too tightly. Opportunities drop when they are ripe, and unstructured wishlists of projects have an uncanny ability to slot into place when the time is right, as long as you keep busy but make time for people.

Contact details

You are very welcome to contact me. I continue to use an @ntlworld.com email address, despite new parent company Virgin Media's exhortations to change to one of theirs, as my long-term plan is to set up a genuine permanent one. Preface it by my first and last names in full, in lower case, separated by a dot. (Sorry, no live email link as I wish to avoid the SPAM this would attract.) My postal address is 32 Bramcote Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 2SA. The landline number at this address is 01509-211468. My mobile number can be made available on application. I have profiles on the IET and BCS Member Networks. I now have my own Twitter account @AriadneTampion, having familiarised myself with this facility as 'Tweetmistress' for BCS SGAI. If you want to read my Railfuture tweets, follow @RailfutureEMids. I have no intention whatsoever of joining Facebook.

Last updated October 2014

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