July 7, 2016


Robots will not take over the world : Artificial intelligence expert Professor Nick Jennings says the next generation of smart machines is all about saving lives (Laura Freeman, 9 July 2016, The Spectator)

Professor Nick Jennings, vice-provost of research at Imperial College London, has devoted his working life to artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous-computing and cybersecurity. He is the government's former chief scientific advisor on national security, Regius professor of computer science at Southampton University, and has many letters after his name: CB, FREng, FIEEE, FBCS, FIET. The CB -- Companion of the Order of Bath -- is the most recent, given in the Queen's New Year-Honours for services to national security science. But the letters he is most interested in are AI.

You can turn to Isaac Asimov or computing manuals for long-winded explanations, but Jennings, below, puts it-simply: 'It's about making machines do smart things.' He is sceptical about end-of-days predictions. 'There's been a lot in the press recently about AI-taking over humanity and wiping us all out. That's the kind of thing we see in the films. My take on AI is not that. I see AI very much as complementary to human expertise and endeavour -- working with smarter machines which are able to shoulder the load and engage with us in a more useful way; in systems where lots of different humans and lots of different smart machines come together to do their stuff, then disband again. I call those human-agent collectives.'

For the last five years, he has been working on the Orchid-Project, a research programme that teams computer science-academics with engineering, logistics and-robotics firms. The project has dealt mainly with natural disasters, including the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal last year. It also considered the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and the failings of technology to locate the wreckage.

The systems Jennings and his team work on fuse information from a vast number of origins: crowd-sourced from social media, data about the environment, maps, electricity grids, water sources, transport routes. Such quantities of data -- particularly the many-thousands of social-media messages sent in the aftermath of a disaster are impossible for a human team to analyse quickly. A smart algorithm can do it very quickly.

Posted by at July 7, 2016 3:58 PM