Centre fosters important discussion on artificial intelligence and the future of humanity

Friday, 25 October 2019

Understanding the impact artificial intelligence is having on humanity now and into the future.

All around us today we see computer technology developing at an accelerating pace – from Siri and chatbots, to military drones and automated cars, to robot healthcare and cybersecurity surveillance. It is clear that we are now on the brink of a revolution in artificial intelligence that will dramatically transform our world.

What does this mean for our future society and culture? Indeed, for the future of humanity?

These and other questions were considered at a public forum on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) hosted by the Centre for 21st Century Humanities recently. View a recap video of the event below. View a video of the full forum discussion or a podcast recording.

Director of the Centre for 21st Century Humanities, Professor Victoria Haskins said that as AI touches us all in our everyday lives, it’s essential we consider its impact on humanity.

“We wanted to get some smart people in the room to have a conversation about these issues so we invited a range of experts to share their thoughts on how artificial intelligence is impacting our daily lives and what that might mean for the future,” Professor Haskins said.

“People who study humanities study all aspects of the human experience, so we can give to the study of AI a really deep understanding of it’s impact and effects on human society and also can be thinking about how we manage AI and where it might take us into the future.”

“We’ve also got the capacity to contribute to the development of AI in ways that actually work for human beings. That’s the fundamental thing about humanities, it’s really for and about human beings,” she said.

Approximately 120 people attended the forum which was chaired by Rosemarie Milsom, award-winning journalist and founding director of the Newcastle Writers Festival.

Prof Alex Zelinsky AO Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Newcastle spoke at the forum. Australia’s former Chief Defence Scientist and co-founder of the computer vision technology company Seeing Machines, Professor Zelinsky said humanities have a lot to offer artificial intelligence.

“Humanities offers the ability to thinking critically, which is something machines can’t do. If we can bring the two together and harness the power of the human with technical prowess of computers and we can take things to another level,” Professor Zelinsky said.

Historian Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington from ANU also featured as a speaker at the event and said that humanities are critical to the design process of machines that will make the world a better place.

“I want to encourage everybody to think about AI as being everyone’s business, as being about the production of information we can all participate in to make machines better, fair and just and good in future,” Professor Hughes-Warrington said.

Philosopher Professor Nicholas Agar from the Victoria University of Wellington spoke at the event about how AI sharpens the effect of social issues like wealth inequality.

“We don’t want to sleep walk into a future with AI in it, we’re going to have it but let’s be prepared. It’s always a question when you have new technology you should be asking: ‘What do I value about what it means to be human, what do I want to conserve?’” Professor Agar said.

Urban sociologist at UON, Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra said AI is already having an impact on the kinds of work people do, where they do it and what they get paid for it.

“For me it was impossible to ignore AI as a sociological problem. It’s affecting the agency people demonstrate in the face of what is potentially a massive rupture in their lives,” he said.

Professor Haskins was impressed with the level of interest in the topic from the community, with people from science, education, business and the cultural sectors attending the forum.

“We really need to be thinking now about the decisions we make about AI and the kind of future we want. We want to be thinking about making AI work in a way that is to our advantage and not to allow it to happen to us,” she concluded.

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