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Where will AI take us?

Intelligent Sourcing has been out – this time attending a seminar by the Times’ Red Box bulletin in which Matt Hancock, secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Timandra Harkness of BBC Radio 4’s “Futureproofing” series and Wendy Hall of the University of Southampton were joined by Times journalists and an audience of around 200. The topic was “who rules the robots” and although the brief was much broader than the business focus of Intelligent Sourcing, there were items of importance to our readers.

There were cautions. Self-driving cars might never work but flying vehicles would be better, said Harkness, as there were no pedestrians to hit; attendees might have wondered whether there was an element of wish fulfilment in there somewhere. The point that this stuff wasn’t science fiction because Google and others use AI right now was made and some of the early stumbles were mentioned; Harkness had visited Oakland, San Francisco, where they had pioneered facial recognition but overlooked the importance of a privacy policy, for example.

The audience wanted to know a great deal. One person from Microsoft was concerned at the lack of ethical input for AI, with which Hancock disagreed, stating that there was a lot of high level debate that needed to get more granular; the need to re-skill the workforce was of course seen as essential and one audience member asked – rightly – what was being done to inform and educate ordinary people whose jobs and lifestyles would be changing, rather than just telling the already-converted (like those who’d turned up to the event) what was going on.

Oh, and Matt Hancock, the minister for “digital” in the UK, has found out that one of his ancestors was among the original Luddites, deported from Nottinghamshire to Australia for damaging machinery. That alone was worth the entrance fee!

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