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Sunday 20 January 2019

Surely the smartest redhead in Ireland - at 16

Miriam Lord

HE'S 16 years old and a computer genius. He's an expert on artificial intelligence and has formulated a new twist on an old language. From his hi-tech den on the shores of Lough Derg, he has nine computers on the go and pays a ?100 a month for a satellite broadband link via Germany.

Oh, and he plans to run his first marathon in May. "Copenhagen - apart from Rome, it's the only marathon that accepts entries from people under 18."

And last night in Dublin, transition-year student, Patrick Collison from Dromineer in Limerick, was named Esat BT Young Scientist of the Year.

The judges were hugely impressed by his project, entitled 'Croma: a new dialect of LISP'.

It carries on the magnificent tradition of recent winning entries - most of us mere mortals haven't a blind notion of what he's on about.

Young Patrick, surely the most intelligent redhead in Ireland, did his best to explain. "It's a new programming language for the internet that writes a code to instruct a computer to do something," he told us. Slowly. Apparently, his Croma is a new form of the LISP programming language, which was invented years ago. We have to take his word for it.

"He's been wedded to his computer for the last five years," said Dad Denis last night, after Patrick was presented with a cheque for ?3,000 and a Waterford Crystal trophy by President Mary McAleese. Her Excellency was so impressed by his achievement that she grabbed the microphone after the formalities came to an end and declared "He's a fourth-year student. A fourth-year student! Can you believe it!"

It's just as well they didn't tell her he came second in the competition last year, when he was just 15. He did a project on artificial intelligence called 'Emulating Human Response'.

Perhaps it was the combination of so many enthusiastic young people in the RDS, allied to the news that a probe had just landed on one of Saturn's moons, but the president was in a jubilant mood.

Ms McAleese told her audience she felt like she was walking on air. "If ever there was proof you don't need drink, you don't need drugs . . . just do science if you want a buzz," she told the cheering crowd.

Here's a bit more about Patrick's winning project.

"CROMA is a powerful, general purpose language which is being designed with web programming in mind. It has an integrated web server and allows web applications ('web-apps') to be designed intuitively and quickly. For example, a simple log-in and user management system, which requires upwards of 150 lines in a language such as Perl or PHP, only takes 20 lines of CROMA. The language has just 13 core elements and includes support for 'continuations', addressing the stateless nature of HTTP."

Hope that explains things.

Patrick is all very matter of fact about his achievements. One suspects he could make an awful lot of money from selling this findings, but that's not the way things are done in the techie community.

"I won't make anything from this - they'll be available to everyone," he says.

He loves computers, and intends to study computer science after he leaves school in Castletroy College. God help his lecturers.

Last night, Patrick was at pains to thank his teacher, Lisa Kiely, for her support while he was doing his project. Not forgetting his proud parents Denis and Lily, both of whom work in the science area. Denis is an electronic engineer, while Lily is a microbiologist.

Their son is the eldest of three boys - 14-year-old John picked up a prize last night in the Behavioural Sciences category, while 10-year-old Tommy will doubtless follow in the family tradition.

So, is Patrick Collison a geek? Certainly not. "If my friends and the people in my class think so, they don't say it. At least not to my face," he laughs.

After his win, Patrick was determined to have a word with sponsors Esat BT.

"I'm going to be pleading with them to get some dsl out in Dromineer," he told us, explaining how there was no broadband access at all in his village.

One suspects that, if they can, the company will be pulling out all the stops.

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