John Shawe-Taylor, University College London on the importance of a Network of Excellence in Africa

May 7, 2019
John Shawe-Taylor, University College London at the workshop “Toward a Network of Excellence in Artificial Intelligence for Development (AI4D) in sub-Saharan Africa”, Nairobi, Kenya, April 2019

What are you working on at the moment?

I am John Shawe-Taylor, I am a professor of computer science at University College London, where I am also head of the computer science department. I am also a director of the Knowledge 4 All Foundation, which is a UK charity involved in development for AI for education and sustainable development goals. Finally, I have a role as a UNESCO chair of Artificial Intelligence.

How do you perceive development and Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial Intelligence is a tool and we must always think of it in that way, it is very important we don’t get confused by thinking of it as somehow taking over, it’s a tool, it’s a very sophisticated tool, it’s also making us rethink who we are as human beings, which is I think also very useful for humanity and very positive. But it also has many, many risks and there are ways in which it is being misused, which we need to be vary of, guard against and counter.

We need to use our intelligence and Artificial Intelligence to counter negative, potential negative effects. That said, there are huge upsides that can be gained through the use of AI in a whole range of areas that are relevant for Sustainable Development Goals. Just understanding problems properly, analyzing them, understanding how they can be best tackled. These are appropriate for resource, implications and use climate change for new technologies for producing fuels for example and so on, recycling, there are huge numbers.

Perhaps the one I would focus on most is education where I believe AI can enhance the educational revision and experience of countless people across the globe because it can enable access to high-quality education for the masses. Up until now, the resources have been available, they are there but it’s very difficult to navigate through the vast plethora of material and find the right material for your level, for your understanding, for your interest.

But with AI to assist it is very much attainable, I think it the next five years, that we can see systems that will enable people to learn at the level that they are at, at the pace that they are able to reach in the direction they want to go and will make them skilled for the jobs that are available for them and for their society to be enhanced. So, this is a huge potential uplift that has fed on affects to all the other sustainable goals.