Nigel studied for his undergraduate degree at Lancaster University, initially doing Maths and Philosophy before switching to Computing and Philosophy, being particularly attracted to the logic side of Philosophy. He moved to – as it was then- Oxford Polytechnic in 1985 to undertake a PhD in Medical Diagnostics Systems and upon completion in 1989, became a lecturer. Whilst he never set out with the explicit intention of becoming an academic, he has followed his interests – logic, philosophy and computing: “the career path emerged from this, if you like”. Over the following 20 years he moved through various positions including Reader, before deciding to take voluntary severance in 2008.
His intention at this point was to go into full time church work as he is extremely interested in the field of apologetics. This was “a difficult decision to take because you are stepping out of security”. However, he realised that this was in fact not quite the right path for him, and that in fact his faith would best be served inside the University.
He thus decided to switch course and took a postdoc position at the University of Oxford on a European project for two and a half years which he describes as “fantastic”. Nigel then returned to Brookes as Head of Department in 2011 and early in 2017, took on another department head role. So, he found himself “heading out of the door of the University and then…coming back in”.
During his time at Oxford, Nigel was inspired by Professor John Lennox, who was a Professor of Maths there.
"He’s one of my heroes really, he’s been successful as an academic and also been able to follow this apologetics route in a difficult environment."
It inspired Nigel himself to want to be in a position where he could talk about his faith in contact with his work. This period was a real eye-opener, he says it: “inspired him to think big. It’s only since coming back and into this role that I can see that it is possible to do this stuff and it’s not beyond reach”. Coming back, his focus is more on his own research whereas earlier in his career he was aspirational in terms of status- becoming reader, for example.
Nigel put a lot of thought into how he could best combine his faith with his research, reflecting on how his academic expertise might enable him to marry the two. He realised that AI and apologetics were asking many of the same questions, particularly regarding what and who human beings are. Now he is lucky that both his main interests are coming together. Over last six months he has realised that he can combine his theological perspective with his AI work, in how to develop Robots with moral character. This speaks to questions at the heart of both his religious and academic interests.