Artificial intelligence: It’s future and ours

Published on 12 Jan 2017

Life in the balance

Written by Jess Bartlet

Philosophy is often called the mother of all sciences, and never is it more evident than when we are faced with revolutionary jumps in technology. Each leap often provokes a reflection on human nature, our purpose and values; to try and better understand ourselves. They force us to consider questions such as “what makes us unique as a species?” Questions like these consistently resonate through historic technological breakthroughs.


In October I attended Artificial intelligence: It’s future and ours facilitated by an expert panel at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas*. The evening began with a discussion about Google DeepMind technology. If you are not familiar with the company; Google DeepMind is a powerful memory-augmented neural computer network with a formidable record of every single question anyone has ever asked the Google search engine. The technology works similarly to our minds, in that it is able to learn from previous responses and make decisions from its memory. The potential is momentous expansive knowledge. The panel and audience together started discussing social, economic, and political impacts etc of DeepMind and AI, including resulting human-human interactions. The curious conversations split into the ‘near’ term and ‘long’ term aspects, with the panel highlighting that even if something could be done, should it be done?

Considering the exponential rate of expansion in AI currently, increased understanding of technology and its implications are paramount for the general public. Education on our own minds and intelligence should be a priority to enter the PSHE school syllabus presently, with perhaps machine learning running alongside coding as a new subject in primary school. Computer science at secondary school could also include AI in the curriculum. At the moment risk reduction, privacy of big data, value alignment, machine learning, and stability of new technology are all significant concerns that need to be addressed in AI for potential future technology. There is also the increasingly alarming issue of autonomous weapons, remotely triggered and possibly on mass in military action. However, as with all technology there is the hugely promising positive use of AI as well, for example IBM have recently launched Watson Health, which has been used to help aid decisions and diagnosis in cancer.


In short, to quote Professor Stephen Hawking recently upon the opening of the Centre on the Future of Intelligence in Cambridge “the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.”

*The panel comprised of John Wyatt, the Faraday Institute; Adrian Weller, Machine Learning Group, University of Cambridge; Margaret Boden, cognitive scientist and author of Mind as Machine; and Jaan Tallinn, founding engineer of Skype and co-founder of the Future of Life Institute

Find out more about Google Deepmind here: https://deepmind.com/

Find our more about IBM Watson here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Xcmh1LQB9I

Find out about projects from the Leverhulme Centre on the Future of Intelligence in Cambridge here: http://lcfi.ac.uk/projects/

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