“I am the Livery Company Professor of IT at Gresham College. I have worked in the software industry for over 30 years, specialising in safety-related and other critical applications. I am a visiting Professor at the Universities of Oxford, Aberystwyth and Bristol, a Director of the Health and Safety Executive, and a former Director of the Serious Organised Crime Agency”.

Living in a cyber-enabled world

"Living in a cyber-enabled world" is Professor Martyn Thomas' current lecture series for Gresham College, held at The Museum of London. The series explores the state of software today, how we got to where we are, and what we shall need to do to shore up the foundations of a digital society that is increasingly built on sand. The lectures are designed to inform, to entertain, and to stimulate balanced discussions that lead to effective actions. It is hoped that these lectures may play a role in accelerating the transition of the craft of software development into a mature engineering profession.


Modern society is dependent on computers. Less than 70 years after the first successful program ran on the first modern computer, software-based systems are everywhere. Yet we are only at the beginning of the revolutionary changes that computers will bring to society. We are on the verge of the “internet of things”, where almost everything could contain intelligence and be network connected. This decade may see the first artificial life, where a whole organism is reproduced at molecular level as a software simulation. Several countries have started preparations to introduce driverless cars on public roads. Autonomous air vehicles with high resolution cameras and satellite navigation have already moved from military applications into toyshops.

But all this progress is dependent on a software industry that is still at the craft stage, 45 years after the phrase “software engineering” first came into common use. Most programmers lack even a basic understanding of computer science or of the disciplines that are fundamental to engineering professions. As a result, many software projects overrun in costs and time, fail to deliver real benefits, suffer reliability and usability problems, and leave users exposed to costly cybercrime.

This lecture programme will explore the state of software today, how we got to where we are, and what we shall need to do to shore up the foundations of a digital society that is increasingly built on sand.

This lecture programme has been designed to inform, to entertain, and to stimulate balanced discussions that lead to effective actions.

View all lectures in this series



Big Data: The Broken Promise of Anonymisation

This is the 6th lecture in the 12 part series “Living in a cyber-enabled world”

View all lectures in this series



20/10/15 - Should we Trust Computers?

Computers and software have transformed the world in 67 years and the pace of change is still accelerating. The achievements have been extraordinary: we have the Web, Google and GPS – but we also have viruses, spam and cybercrime. What can we learn from past triumphs and disasters to help us decide about Big Data, driverless cars, artificial intelligence and life in silico? Might the future be built on sand, metaphorically as well as literally?


Tuesday, 20 October 2015 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

12/01/16 - A Very Brief History of Computing 1948-2015

The world’s first modern computer, in Manchester in 1948, was followed remarkably swiftly by the first business software, but by 1968 software was in crisis and NATO called a conference. The problems were diagnosed, solutions were proposed – and largely ignored. A second Software Crisis was announced in the early 1980’s and again the effective solutions were considered impractical and the practical solutions were largely ineffective. Meanwhile as Moore’s Law predicted, hardware costs continued to fall exponentially, making software systems ubiquitous and leading to a third software crisis, this time of cybersecurity.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

09/02/16 - How Can Software be so Hard?

How can it be possible for teenagers to write smartphone apps that make them multi-millionaires when many commercial and Government IT projects fail, despite employing the skills and resources of international IT companies? What is software and how is it developed? How confident do we need to be that it is sufficiently correct, reliable, usable, safe or secure? What evidence would we need? The main reasons why software projects overrun, get cancelled, or deliver inadequate software will be explored, using examples of project failures and the litigations that often result.


Tuesday, 9 February 2016 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

05/04/16 - Computers, People and the Real World

Almost nobody wants an IT system. What they want is a better way of doing something, whether that is buying and selling shares on the Stock Exchange, flying an airliner or running a hospital. So the system they want will usually involve changes to the way people work, and interactions with physical objects and the environment. Drawing on examples including the new programme for IT in the NHS, this lecture explores what can go wrong when business change is mistakenly viewed as an IT project.


Computers, People and the Real World
Tuesday, 5 April 2016 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

03/05/16 - Cybersecurity

The current approach to cybersecurity is flawed. Effort is spent trying to “educate” users not to click on links in email or to open attachments, when this is exactly how those features were designed to be used. Similarly, users are expected to take responsibility for what their computers are doing, but every software product they use demands the right to go online, upload usage data and download updates, so how would you know that you have become part of a botnet? We need a new approach to cybersecurity.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

14/06/16 - Big Data: the Broken Promise of Anonymisation

It is often claimed that your personal data is safe because it has been anonymised, but computer scientists know how easy it is to re-identify the individual by matching the data against each other public datasets. Anonymised detailed personal data is a contradiction – a broken promise. We shall discuss the consequences and the alternatives.


Tuesday, 14 June 2016 – 6:00pm
Museum of London

Cybercrime, cybersecurity and the state of software today.