Aspen UK Socrates Salon: ‘Confronting the Machine’
25 January 2020, Somerset House, London.
Aspen UK held a unique one-day seminar last weekend, to encourage participants to delve into the political, economic and social implications of AI’s growing power, and to assess whether they thought people can still be in control of their professional and private lives.
The seminar was co-hosted by Somerset House, and organised in collaboration with the Aspen Institute Socrates Programme in the US. Socrates seminars provide a forum for a diverse range of leaders to explore contemporary issues through expert-moderated conversation.
AI is radically changing life on earth. Everything we do, from raising families, to running businesses, to governing huge societies, is being reshaped by these technologies. Led by Aspen-trained moderator William Powers, former Research Scientist at MIT Lab and best-selling author of Hamlet’s Blackberry, the seminar participants considered the hopes and fears engendered by modern technologies since their emergence in the 20th century. They examined the rise over the last few decades of what some are calling ‘surveillance capitalism’ as the dominant tech business model, and its impact on our attention, creativity, personal relationships, and freedom.
One question in particular was raised several times through the seminar: ‘are we on the path to a better world, or have we gone down a dark alley?’
‘There were many great moments, ideas and soundbites (although they were more than just soundbites!). More professionally, it was encouraging to see how a diverse group saw a positive role for governments and regulators in shaping our relationship to AI, in particular if we see trends in artificial intelligence as a reflection of our human challenges in the analogue world.’
Madeleine Forster, Richard and Susan Hayden Academy Fellow, Chatham House