Liz Rice’s TakeAway from FutureFest 2018: Tobacco Dock – Friday 6th July
Passionate about all things tech, our Director Liz Rice shares her highlights from Futurefest 2018. FutureFest – organised by the tech and ideas charity Nesta – gathers forward-thinking minds from all around the globe to consider what the world might look like in a few years’ time.
Through debates, talks and installations, FutureFest is an immersive weekend aiming to equip people with the tools they need to create better futures for themselves and those around them.
In 2017, Vladmir Putin famously proclaimed ‘whoever controls AI will eventually control the world’.
So I popped along to FutureFest 2018 last week, to see which world power was winning the race?
So what were the main takeaways during my day of immersion?
Robots could in the future be our friends.
Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, was keen to introduce a role for robots in caring for the lonely, vulnerable or those with special needs. If radio or TV can be a friend why not a robot? His companion robot dog MiRo with built in sensors was on hand to provide a loving response to anyone willing to stroke it’s back or tickle it’s ears.
When addressing the concern of an aging population, Prescott was quick to point out that rather than replacing the work of humans in the care system, AI could enhance the overall care experience by taking on the more mundane or repetitive tasks, allowing more time for human interaction and bedside care.
VR can enhance patient experience
VR also popped up in the discussion about how technology can enhance the experience of patients. Growing evidence supports the benefit of VR and 360° video being used to offer an immersive experience during treatment. Research and clinical trials show that VR can be used in patient areas such as palliative care, distraction therapy and pain management. VR is also being used in training healthcare professionals allowing them to ‘take their place’ on a hospital trolley and witness the patient experience.
A whole new commercial world
Moving away from AI I found myself listening to a compelling new vision of commerce presented by Kate Raworth – author of Doughnut Economics.
Instead of growth at all costs, her proposed economic model offers an opportunity for us all to thrive while saving the planet. Simple changes to approaches could challenge what is too easily becoming a society norm and a loss of individual control.
Forget finance-driven corporate networks like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. Kate’s answer?
Take the lead from cities such as Amsterdam and encourage the development and take up of community-driven networks. Users can be co-creators; data will be sovereign and not used for commercial gain; governance can remain free and open source.
Not an easy philosophy to explain in a session that lasted just over 20 minutes.
So what of AI? Who is winning the race?
During a session entitled the ‘Geopolitics of Artificial Intelligence’ led by Evgeny Morozov - a writer and researcher from Belarus who studies the political and social implications of technology - it became apparent that the US and China are still world leaders in this field. They have continued to nurture their tech industries: the US with a more decentralised, uncoordinated approach; China leveraging all the might of its central Government to pursue an industrial strategy that puts AI at the centre of its economic model.
However, it seems the UK may have lost its crown jewels. In recent years, SoftBank (a Japanese multinational) acquired the leading UK chip-maker ARM and poured money into Improbable, a prominent virtual reality start-up; DeepMind, a world class pioneer in AI, was sold to Alphabet (Google).
Morozov suggests that the UK has now lost the technology march and that now we will more likely be a future consumer of AI particularly if we break links with Europe….but at least we’ll have MiRo…Woof!