Q: What are the goals of your Royal Society working group?
A: They’re creating a report looking at the potential for machine learning in the next 5 to 10 years, and also the barriers to achieving that potential. They're engaging with a number of stakeholders across the U.K. who'd be interested in this technology whether its industry, policymakers, academia, or the public. And they're trying to look at it from a number of perspectives: ethical, legal, scientific, and societal.
What I love about the project is that actually a big chunk of this working group’s role is to engage with the public. We surveyed people across the U.K. and asked them what they think of machine learning. We've also had focus groups where we spend more time with small groups of people to dig in and understand what they want from this technology.
Q: And what are the responses from members of the public you’ve worked with?
A: It's very much context dependent. People won't feel the same way if you're talking about autonomous cars versus something that can help doctors do better diagnostics. When they do see areas that benefit them, there's genuine excitement about the technology. People are worried about making sure algorithms can work with humans. They want to make sure the algorithms are safe and trustworthy. And there is the discussion about robots replacing human jobs.
Q: And how do we move forward in this field without replacing humans?
A: Well it’s about tasks, not jobs, in terms of the way that we're building the future. We now have algorithms that can detect markers of cancer in images. But the goal is to create tools for the doctors rather than replacing them.
Q: What's your favorite example of AI in science fiction?
A: The movie Robot and Frank. It's the story of an elderly person who gets a caregiving robot for the home. He convinces the robot that to be happy he needs the robot as a sidekick to become a robber. It’s just a really nice story of the limitations of the technology, in that the person quickly understands how he can manipulate it, but also of a partnership. And even though the motivation is dubious, in the end these two end up as a genuine team.
Q: So when will I have my sidekick robot?
A: I think you'll have different technologies for different tasks, just like you have lots of apps on your phone. I'm guessing in the future we're going to get more and more of these helpers that are really focusing on a specific area. Having a fully functional system that can do everything is just so far away.
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