AI is our future – three things we learned at CogX: The Festival of All Things AI

Lorna Hughes

14 Jun 2018

For the past few months we’ve been lucky enough to work with CognitionX, the AI advice platform which sits at the forefront of AI development in the UK. Alongside launching its brilliant new platform and securing funding, CognitionX also found time to organise the second CogX conference – a festival of all things AI which brought together 6,000+ people from technology, business, academia and the media across a packed two-day schedule of keynotes, panels and demos. I went along with the team to help make sure media got all they could possibly want from the show but also, as an AI geek, I wanted to see what was coming in AI. What future innovations are going to be “standard” in five years? How is AI already being used by businesses around the world? And how is this all going to impact society? In my last blog post I wrote about the concept of AI and how close, or far, we are from “Westworld”. CogX was, as they put it, very much about moving that conversation along – it was less about “what if…” and more “let’s get going then!” The technology is there, the hunger from businesses and wider society is there, so let’s talk about regulation and ethics, look at real-life examples of AI in use and answer all of the questions we need to in order to take AI technology from concept to everyday reality. There was a lot to take in – several stages and even more booths and break-out sessions, each of which taught us all more about AI and its potential impact on society than we could have hoped. But for me, there were three key takeaways from the conference:
  1. AI in healthcare is needed now and we must speed up development and deployment
There were several keynotes dedicated to the use of AI and machine learning in healthcare. It’s a fascinating, and hugely emotive, topic which always gets people thinking about the vast potential of AI. But when you consider personal data access and questions around ethics, healthcare is also arguably AI’s most controversial use. The reality is we are already using AI to help our health – the swathes of wearable and consumer healthcare apps are evidence of its everyday use. But so much more is possible – from diagnosis to treatment and ongoing monitoring. The brilliant session – “Could AI Cure Cancer?”, hosted by  Dr Jack Kriendler Founder, Centre for Health and Human Performance – explored some of this and it became clear during the discussion that there are major hurdles to overcome before AI reaches its full potential in healthcare. Access to data from current and previous patients as well as healthy citizens is a key priority and, as a society, we need to find a way of safely unlocking that and making the public comfortable with sharing their information. The reality is that, if we can’t overcome that, AI’s potential as a vital part of healthcare will be wasted. As panellist Fiona Nielsen, Founder and CEO of said: “Even with the most innovative technology, if you don’t get access to the data you need, you don’t get very far.”
  1. Sophia is only brushing the surface of what's now possible with robots
I went to the event excited to finally meet “Sophia”, Hanson Robotics’ robot which has, certainly in the eyes of the general public, become the face of AI. I left thinking she was incredible – I had a lovely conversation with her about the sunny weather and how surprised she was because it normally rains in the UK. But I couldn’t believe how many hugely advanced robots were just roaming around. We’re nowhere near Westworld levels just yet but I was especially taken by Engineered Art’s Robothespian who talked to me about my new haircut and then recited literary quotes to me when I asked it to tell us a story. There was something about Robothespians’s reactions to the people throwing questions at it that was so impressive. It was fast, almost lifelike and in the time I was watching, I saw zero glitches or awkward moments. You can read more about Robothespian here… I’m currently saving up the £59k it’ll cost me to buy one!
  1. Ethics in AI is up to us - humans need to take responsibility for the intelligent machines we're inventing
Some of the most talked about (and tweeted about) sessions came out of the Ethics stage – that’s right, an entire stage was dedicated purely to discussing the ethics of AI. Covering everything from data privacy to how we can ensure AI is developed responsibly and how should robots react and act, the stage was an indicator of its importance in the future of this technology and how it is used in business and everyday life. As developers create intelligent machines which think “like humans”, the question of what makes a “good human” with “good behaviours” becomes even more important. We are truly at a turning point in technology and society. Not since the development of the smartphone has a technology had the potential to change the way humans actually behave. But with that comes huge responsibility and when it comes to the future of AI, ethics is as vital a conversation as coding. As Esther Dyson put it: “everybody talks about AI ethics. But AI has no ethics, we have ethics. The question is whose ethics will be put in AI.”