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We live in an age in which the power of computers and the data available to them increases exponentially. This has led to systems that demonstrate superhuman abilities. This, in turn, raises questions about the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI). What is the reality and what do we understand about making smart software and engineering intelligent systems? AI systems require prodigious amounts of data, and data drives many aspects of our modern world.
How far can we trust the data itself and what are the challenges of the new data ecosystem that is emerging? There are concerns about what these developments mean for us all as human beings. How will we fit into a landscape of engineered intelligent systems? This lecture will draw on four decades of personal research in AI and will reflect on the fundamental importance of engineering throughout.
Sir Nigel Shadbolt FRS FREng is Professor of Computing Science at the University of Oxford and Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. He is Chairman of the Open Data Institute which he co-founded with Sir Tim Berners-Lee. In 1978 he joined the Department of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Edinburgh as a PhD student. He has researched and published on topics ranging from cognitive psychology to computational neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence to the Semantic Web.
He is the co-author of The Spy in the Coffee Machine and in 2018 he published The Digital Ape: how to live (in peace) with smart machines, described as a ‘landmark book’. He has been heavily involved in the commercial exploitation of his research. He has advised government and helped lead and develop the UK’s Open Data policy. In 2013 he was knighted for ‘services to science and engineering’.
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Perhaps the best way to appreciate the technological potential of controlled molecular-level motion is to recognise that nanomotors and molecular-level machines lie at the heart of every significant biological process. Over billions of years of evolution Nature has not repeatedly chosen this solution for achieving complex task performance without good reason.
In stark contrast to biology, none of mankind’s fantastic myriad of present day technologies exploit controlled molecular-level motion in any way at all: every catalyst, every material, every polymer, every pharmaceutical, every chemical reagent, all function exclusively through their static or equilibrium dynamic properties. When we learn how to build artificial structures that can control and exploit molecular level motion, and interface their effects directly with other molecular-level substructures and the outside world, it will potentially impact on every aspect of functional molecule and materials design. An improved understanding of physics and biology will surely follow.
The speaker for the inaugural lecture in the series was Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of St John's College. His research group is one of a number that became established following the growing interest in molecular electronics that Sir Gareth Roberts did so much to promote. His research achievements and his contributions to science more generally have been recognized by, inter alia, election to Fellowship of the Royal Society and a knighthood. The research has also had considerable industrial impact, not least through the founding of a number of spin-out companies.