Huma Shah

Favourite Thing: Practical Turing test experiments: asking human judges to distinguish human from machine from hidden text-based chatter.



Reading University; Westminster University


PhD in Cybernetics; BSc(Hons)1st

Work History:

RoboLaw-EU funded project

Current Job:

Research Fellow


Coventry University

About Me

Love cricket, attending concerts (latest Jean Michel Jarre), passionate about inspiring girls into science.

Really hard to know what to say! Okay, ummm, oh yes! I have four nephews whom I absolutely adore 🙂 Currently got into the new TV series Westworld about a theme park populated with humanoids. It’s very dark and raises all sorts of social and ethical issues about the treatment of future robots. My favourite movie Directors are James Cameron (Terminator 2, Aliens 2; Avatar), and Chris Nolan (including Inception and Interstellar). I’m looking forward to seeing Dr. Strange at the BFI IMAX, Waterloo London – it has the biggest screen in the UK so special effects movies are worth experiencing there. What else? I love cakes and chocolate 🙂  Tomorrow there is a Chocolate exhibition at the Olympia, Kensington – I went to one in 2014 which was incredible, featured a fashion show with models wearing dresses made of chocolate, heaven 🙂  I guess this tells you I live in London, which is far from my place of work at Coventry University,  but it’s okay, I don’t have to attend every day, like many other staff, I am a location-independent worker (LIW), so can work/take meetings from the university’s London campus and work from home.

My Work

Use the Turing test to find if humans can tell if they’re talking to another human or a machine.

Develop research projects; design science experiments; write up and present results for journals and conferences.

Develop research proposals: I’m currently collaborating on two project proposals for EU Horizon2020 grant calls. One proposal is being led by a Professor at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona, and is planned in the area of ‘science with and for society’, in the topic of ethics in technology. The other proposal is for a project on social robotics, including gesture and human language for human-robot collaboration.

Conduct original research: With a Linguist in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in my university we are investigating the application of conversational collocation tools to transcripts of conversations I’ve gathered from a series of Turing test experiments.

Plan PhD programmes: I’ve prepared three areas of research that are for doctoral candidates. I’ve recruited one potential candidate, they work in industry as an R&D engineer so completing a doctorate for them is a personal goal. Supervising PhDs candidates is part of being a Research Fellow.

Disseminate research findings: This involves writing papers and submitting them to quality journals for peer review, or presenting results from experiments at international science conferences.

Teaching: This term I’m not delivering classes but in the past I have led/coordinated modules on AI degrees and created practical lab exercises for Tutorials.

Outreach: This kind of activity: persuading school pupils and college students to continue with science, technology and engineering in higher education, because the careers are varied, exciting and rewarding. I love the questions school pupils ask, they inspire me to become a better scientist 🙂

My Typical Day

No typical day or week, that’s why the work is exciting :)

I don’t know what a ‘typical’ week or day would look like. For example, so far this week Oct 10-14 my activities have included:

Monday: Reviewed academic article for journal ‘Computers in Human Behavior’ – this is part of peer-review process in science. Took part in Skype meeting with co-organisers of 2017 Human-centred computing (HCC) conference in Kazan, Russia. I am organising two special tracks in this conference on a) gendered robots, b) human enhancement. Liaising with Cambridge University Press in relation to promotion of my co-authored book, Turing’s Imitation Game: Conversations with the Unknown. A brief Q/A about the book is here:

Tuesday: Continued promotion of the book. Organising flight to Moscow in November, this is to present an invited talk on artificial intelligence at Skolkovo Robotics.

Wednesday: Attended meetings on campus, including first term School of Computing. Electronics and Mathematics updates on teaching and research.

Thursday: Writing journal paper for submission to International Journal of Robotics Research – the paper emerges from an academic panel, on, gender, agents and artificial intelligence’ I chaired at a conference in Rome in February.  Organising a meet-up with scientists at Reading University to plan a Neuro Turing test experiment. Accepting meeting with external visitor in later in November.

Friday– today: Taken a Skype meeting with my Line Manager, Professor Kevin Warwick – first human cyborg:  and now I am writing this 🙂 Later I will continue with writing the robotics paper, the aim is to submit it for peer-review at the end of October.

What I'd do with the money

Use it to organise a public debate with school pupils on benefits and risks from artificial intelligence.

Future and emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence techniques (machine learning from instruction and experience) used in driverless vehicles, or in developing carer/companion robots, should be democratised. By this I mean everyone should have a say, not just funders of research, on how and why sophisticated technologies should be developed.  For example, will we be mindlessly creating stereotypical robots with female embodied humanoids working as receptionists – there is one already at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore:

Fears about artificial intelligence are taken seriously: the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk to humans is housed in Cambridge University and is led by entrepreneurs and renowned scientists, including Elon Musk (Tesla cars), Stephen Hawking and Emeritus Professor Lord Martin Rees:

The money would be used to pay for an accessible venue and refreshments so that school pupils could come along and debate for 1/2 a day, air their concerns, ask questions and seek answers about artificial intelligence.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Driven, hard-working, organised.

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What's your favourite food?

Depends what I want to eat on a particular day :) could be a jacket potato with chilli con carne.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Met my cricket hero, Imran Khan, at a dinner party in Lahore/Pakistan :)

What did you want to be after you left school?

Wasn’t that clear back then, now opportunities are greater, I’d have got into AI earlier.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Of course :) but I learnt not to repeat the behaviours that got me into trouble :)

What was your favourite subject at school?

Pure Maths

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Designed experiments based on the ideas of brilliant mathematician/code breaker Alan Turing.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Terminator! And HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey – basically, talking robots, why don’t we have them in reality.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Cricket photographer, or working in a Science Museum :)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Job security (I’m on fixed term contract); visit Petra in Jordan once; good health for as long as possible.

Tell us a joke.

I can’t think of one! I like Milton Jones’ one-liners, he makes me laugh:

Other stuff

Work photos:

Please select the YouTube link below for an animation created by a friend of mine – Harjit Mehroke, he also drew the Turing test image on the new book cover (images 2 and 3 below). The animation illustrates the purpose of the Turing test: can you tell if you are talking with a human or a machine, if all you have to go on is their text based chatter?