Enter the maze

Conjuring, cognition and computing

Magic is about entertainment. It is also about psychology, mathematics and computer science too.

Areas marked out on a head

To be a good magician you need to know more than just the secret of how a trick works. Great magicians also have a flair for cognitive psychology: they have a natural understanding of people. They manipulate where you are looking and what you see, what you forget and what you remember... and that includes making you remember things that didn’t actually happen.

Scientists are exploring these same issues. They talk about studying attention, memory, cognition and perception. Their experiments manipulate these things to work out how the brain works.

A magician aims to keep secrets, whereas a scientist wants to bring things into the open, and present them for all to see.

Research scientists aim to work out precisely what is causing the effects observed rather than just watching, and to preserve this knowledge for future generations.

Science is about working out how the world (or even the universe!) works. Understanding how our brains work is perhaps one of the most fascinating areas right now. It turns out things we take for granted about what we see and remember are not always as straightforward as we think.

What does this have to do with computing? Well, computer scientists use those same scientific results to create better computer systems, using their knowledge to help make lives better. Human-computer interaction (HCI) is an important area of computer science. It is the study of how to design computer systems so that they work for people. Just as magic draws on psychology, so does human- computer interaction. The rules that psychologists uncover are turned into design principles for program designers to follow, allowing wizard computer scientists to conjure up programs to change our world.