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An Interview with Tim Roberts on National Advanced Semiconducters, Online Learning, Chalmers, Dennett, Hofstadter, and Becoming Wiser (Part Two)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/03/08


Tim Roberts is the Founder/Administrator of Unsolved Problems. He self-describes in “A Brief and Almost True Biography” as follows: I was definitely born lower-middle class.  Britain was (and probably still is) so stratified that one’s status could be easily classified.  You were only working class if you lived in Scotland or Wales, or in the north of England, or had a really physical job like dustbin-man.  You were only middle class if you lived in the south, had a decent-sized house, probably with a mortgage, and at work you had to use your brain, at least a little. My mother was at the upper end of lower-middle class, my father at the lower. After suffering through the first twenty years of my life because of various deleterious genetically-acquired traits, which resulted in my being very small and very sickly, and a regular visitor to hospitals, I became almost normal in my 20s, and found work in the computer industry.  I was never very good, but demand in those days was so high for anyone who knew what a computer was that I turned freelance, specializing in large IBM mainframe operating systems, and could often choose from a range of job opportunities. As far away as possible sounded good, so I went to Australia, where I met my wife, and have lived all the latter half of my life. Being inherently lazy, I discovered academia, and spent 30 years as a lecturer, at three different universities.  Whether I actually managed to teach anyone anything is a matter of some debate.  The maxim “publish or perish” ruled, so I spent an inordinate amount of time writing crap papers on online education, which required almost no effort. My thoughts, however, were always centred on such pretentious topics as quantum theory and consciousness and the nature of reality.  These remain my over-riding interest today, some five years after retirement. I have a reliance on steroids and Shiraz, and possess an IQ the size of a small planet, because I am quite good at solving puzzles of no importance, but I have no useful real-world skills whatsoever.  I used to know a few things, but I have forgotten most of them.” He discusses: test scores; never taking mainstream intelligence tests; correction of interviewer misconceptions followed by commentary on some work; National Advanced Semiconductors work; state of online learning; if online learning will become more or less important into the future; predictions having flaws; thoughts on the hard problem of consciousness; opinions about Chalmers, Dennett, and Hofstadter; becoming wiser; and critical thinking on grand claims. 

Keywords: America, Australia, Dan Dennett, David Chalmers, Douglas Hofstadter, intelligence, National Advanced Semiconductors, Tim Roberts, Unsolved Problems.

An Interview with Tim Roberts on National Advanced Semiconducters, Online Learning, Chalmers, Dennett, Hofstadter, and Becoming Wiser: Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems (Part Two)[1],[2]*

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*I assumed “Professor” based on an article. I was wrong. I decided to keep the mistake because the responses and the continual mistake, for the purposes of this interview, adds some personality to the interview, so the humour in a personal error.*

Tests taken by Tim Roberts

QuantIQ v2Ferrell09-Sep-1517/25178
INRC 2018Prousalis21-Jun-1828/30172
Numerus ClassicIvec28-Aug-1131/36172
NGT IIProusalis12-Aug-1524/25170
NSC (NPRA)Prousalis03-May-1541/50162
FREE FallIvec23-Nov-1423/30161

*Also, about half-a-dozen tests where Mr. Roberts exerted effort and scored less than 160. Please find P.D.F. link of the scores if this is easier for viewing.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Any commentary on some of the tests listed above, in particular?

Tim Roberts: Not really. I have respect for all of the test designers listed above.

2. Jacobsen: How do alternative/non-mainstream tests stack up against mainstream tests like the RAPM or the WAIS?

Roberts: I don’t know. I’ve never taken either RAPM or WAIS.

3. Jacobsen: As a professor in the department of computer science at Central Queensland University, what was the academic journey for you? How did you come to the distinguished position of a professor of computer science from undergraduate training to professorship?

Roberts: There are some misconceptions in the question. First, as already stated, I was never a Professor in the Australian system, only in America. I started off as a consultant in the computer industry, working for such companies and organisations as Logica, and the Greater London Council, and Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines, and National Advanced Semiconductors, and others. Easy, because computers were exploding in use at that time, and almost no-one was trained in the field, so one only had to be average (like me) to be in demand.

After a few years, I decided to relax and lecture at a University instead, intending my sabbatical to last a couple of years at most. But I am inherently very lazy, and highly intolerant to stress of all kinds, and spent the rest of my career in Universities.

My journey comprised nothing of note, perhaps partly because of the “publish or perish” orthodoxy, which meant that one had to publish works of little or no value on a continuous basis. I have over 1,000 citations on Google Scholar, mostly on the topic of online learning, but the only paper I am proud of was one outside of my sphere of expertise relating to the hard problem of consciousness. This has zero citations, I think, but inspired some Swedish psychologist to include my name and brief biography in a weird book entitled “Being or Nothingness, the Collector’s Edition”.

So my intellectual development took place almost entirely outside of my academic career.

4. Jacobsen: What did you do at National Advanced Semiconductors?

Roberts: I spent the first three years after University learning my craft at Kodak and then the Greater London Council.  Thereafter I turned freelance and hired my services out to a large number of companies, usually on three or six month contracts.  Some wanted me to write applications – I was proficient in COBOL and PL/1 and Assembler.  But most sought my advice regarding large IBM mainframe operating systems, such as OS/VS1, MVS, and VM/370.  During this time I worked on three continents.

5. Jacobsen: What seems like the current state of online learning?

Roberts: Oh, well, advancing all the time, so that one can now learn via ‘phones or laptops or mobiles, at home or on the train or at work. Developers of online learning course are themselves learning how to compile online courses of quality.

6. Jacobsen: Will online learning become more or less important into the future?

Roberts: More and more, of course. There will doubtless always be a demand for person-to-person courses, but this demand will shrink, as future generations base their lives around devices.

7. Jacobsen: Any predictions on timelines there?

Roberts: No. Predictions are fraught with potholes.

8. Jacobsen: What is current thought, for you, on the hard problem of consciousness?

Roberts: Please read my “Kim Smith” paper (almost no-one else has). Or, even better, read Thomas Nagel’s paper, poorly entitled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”. And of course one should read the works of Douglas Hofstadter and Dan Dennett and David Chalmers.

After doing all of the above, you will be a much better person, but wiser, I am not so sure.

No-one really knows what consciousness is, or what biological purpose it serves. Even given that the world has evolved such that individuals with intelligence exist, no-one knows why any of them should be conscious.

Or even, what qualia (essentially, basic sensations) are. A computerized robot can sense yellow from green. But does it “see” the colors in the same sense we appear to do? Or does it just take in binary digits, and process them? And if so, is this what we do too? These are all unanswered questions.

9. Jacobsen: Why are Hofstadter, Dennett, and Chalmers great philosophers? Folks who think good.

Roberts: Anyone who has not read Doug Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach” or “The Mind’s I” really should make sure they do so before they die.  Both are extremely erudite, and informative, and witty.  The latter was co-authored by Dan Dennett, who in my eyes stands alongside Richard Dawkins as two of the most prominent scientific authors least able to tolerate bullshit of any kind.  David Chalmers wrote the definitive guide to consciousness, “The Conscious Mind”, some thirty years ago, and so far as I am aware, nothing better has been published on this topic since.

10. Jacobsen: What will make someone wiser?

Roberts: Ah, you have picked up on my throw-away remark.  I’m really not sure.  The wisest people I know are so often wrong in their predictions that I suspect wisdom may be over-rated.

But I always relate to the story told of Paul Erdos, an itinerant but brilliant mathematician.  When a friend bet him he could not go for a month without artificial stimulants, Erdos took the bet, and won, but complained that the bet had set mathematics back by a month.

It is extremely unfashionable today to suggest that the use of psychotropic drugs may be beneficial to the pursuit of true knowledge and wisdom, but many cultures from across the world have in previous times believed this to be true.  And still some today, of course.  But hard evidence as to beneficial effects is scant at best…

11. Jacobsen: Any thoughts on those who claim to have solved any, or grandly, all, of those questions as a single mere mortal?

Roberts: Not really.  Most such claims can be seen to be erroneous within a few minutes.  Some take a little longer to reveal their ridiculousness.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder/Administrator, Unsolved Problems.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 8, 2020:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2020:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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