You might think that anthropology and AI is an odd pairing. But in a 2017 article in WIRED, journalist James Temperton wrote, “For DeepMind to realise its ambition of cracking general intelligence, it needs an interdisciplinary approach to AI”.
As DeepMind co-founder Mustafa Suleyman explained in the same article, “We need to have in-house the very best anthropologists, sociologists…specialists on bias and discrimination in machine learning systems, working with both our researchers and applied software development teams so that they can give them feedback and guidance and introduce them to new modes of critical thinking”.
So in the spirit of cross-disciplinary collaboration, around 300 technologists working in AI (machine learning, data science, robotics, AI) and anthropologists and sociologists from around the world will come together at the Watershed on Bristol’s historic harbourside to discuss human-centred AI.
One of the keynotes, Dr Julien Cornebise, is from Element AI. Element AI was co-founded by Yoshua Bengio, who was recently awarded the 2018 Turing Award, known as the Nobel Prize of Computing. Bengio shared the award with Geoffrey Hinton, and Yann LeCun. The trio are known as the Fathers of the Deep Learning revolution and received the award for “conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that have made deep neural networks a critical component of computing”.
Dr Julien Cornebise, who was also an early employee at DeepMind, also believes strongly in the power of multi-disciplinary teams. As he explained in an interview ahead of the conference, “Element AI was founded with the desire to be as inclusive as possible, to really attract people with very diverse backgrounds”. On his team are “anthropologists, sociologists, as well people from psychology, information science and design backgrounds. Together, they create the team of design research, which is extremely multi-disciplinary, and is what allows Element AI to think of AI being centred around a human and being able to work on finding, analysing the needs and the goals of what we can try to solve”.
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Another tech keynote is Professor Joanna Bryson, University of Bath, a computer scientist who specialises in AI and ethics, and who also feels that social scientists should be on AI projects. She explains, “The impact of AI on our society is so spectacular that our institutions are struggling to keep pace, including the social sciences that might help us understand the promises and risks of our new situation”.
Joining the technology keynotes are three anthropologists who all work in industry and have worked for companies such as Intel, Volvo and Microsoft respectively: Simon Roberts (London); Sarah Pink (Australia); and Anna Kirah (Norway).
In the afternoon, a panel discussion will be chaired by the Director of the Jean Golding Institute, Kate Robson Brown, who is a Turing Fellow. The panel has a stellar line-up and includes two AI technologists, a professor of law from Brussels, a data scientist who works at Barclays, and another anthropologist who has worked for Intel.
“I’m really excited about the conference and the discussions that we’ll have across the disciplines”, says Dawn Walter, Founder of the Anthropology + Technology Conference. “I’ve been writing opinion pieces on TechSpark about bias and discrimination in technology products and about the importance of having social scientists on tech teams. I’m not one to sit around just talking about it, I’m more “let’s do something about it”, which is why I created this conference”.
“I’ve been thrilled with the quality of delegates signing up for the conference and their enthusiasm for this conference. We’ve had feedback such as, ‘I look after AI research within my organisation…I feel that the intersection of technology and social science may help build understanding’, and ‘A needed conversation!’ and ‘I’ve been looking for something like this conference for some time’.”
So this conference is definitely hitting a sweet spot.
“The majority of attendees are coming from all over the UK, Europe, and the United States, which I am thrilled about. We’ve also got amazing minds from Bristol joining us from the fields of AI, machine learning, and robotics”.
“From the get-go, I wanted an equal balance of technologists and social scientists to ensure value for all our delegates. I’m also really keen for people to make real connections both before the conference and on the day. So we have created a LinkedIn group where people can chat. There will also a facilitated networking session in the morning, together with plenty of opportunities to talk and meet people during the day.”
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For more about the event and to buy your tickets, check out the Anthropology + Technology Conference 2019 website. To stay up to date, sign up to the newsletter and follow @anthtechconf on Twitter.