Posted Thursday 26 October 2023
The future of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms – and how far humanity should collaborate with and trust these evolving technologies – was explored by leading broadcaster and mathematician Professor Hannah Fry during a visit to Penrhyn Road campus.
Students, staff and the local community came together recently to hear from this year's Kingston University Big Read author, as she took the audience on a journey into the world of algorithms through her non-fiction book, Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine.
Now into its ninth year, the award-winning shared reading initiative has helped to foster a strong sense of community at the University as well as provide a mutual talking point for new starters who all receive a copy of the same book before starting their studies.
In a wide-ranging talk, the author and academic, who recently fronted BBC series The Secret Genius of Modern Life, delved into the tumultuous world of these emerging technologies. She reflected on how they have been reshaping today's society with real-life examples of their implementation, ranging from enhancing satellite navigation to their use in criminal cases and aeroplane landing simulations.
The extent to which these technologies can be trusted and integrated into modern day society and the nuances of human perspectives that limit AI's effectiveness were among the key questions she posed. "The big things that interest me are trust – humans have a habit of over-trusting machines – and how unique the human perspective of the world is," she said. "I think that's even more important now than it was when I first wrote the book a few years ago. The bigger AI gets and the more it dominates everything, the more important those two aspects become."
Following her talk, students and staff members were invited to pose questions and share their thoughts on the book, with themes discussed including how humans could work more effectively with AI, the delegation of decision making versus critical thinking, and how to ensure those using AI to make ethical decisions could be trusted to be honest and fair.
Being named this year's Big Read author provided a fantastic opportunity to engage with students whose generation would play a leading role in shaping the future of AI and algorithm use, Professor Fry said. "I think the world has fundamentally changed and we are at the dawn of a new era of advanced technology that we haven't really seen before," she said. "People who are studying now are the ones who are going to be shepherding that new world and young people are also the most agile and willing to experiment with new technology."
The selection of the first non-fiction STEM book for the shared-reading initiative was a timely choice, as it addressed key questions around data and the future of AI within society, Big Read director Professor Alison Baverstock said. "We were delighted to select Hannah's book for the Kingston University Big Read. Her talk was fascinating and provoked some really interesting and thoughtful questions from students. It was a blend of academic excellence alongside a humane touch and her ability to translate it into meaningful examples, which went down incredibly well".
The Big Read has previously featured winning titles that include About a Boy by Nick Hornby, The Humans by Matt Haig, My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Airhead by Emily Maitlis, The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu and The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper.
You can find out more about the Big Read initiative here.