AI and social sciences


A few months ago, Ed, a colleague of mine from Durham University, asked if I would chair a panel session on artificial intelligence and social sciences at Proto in Gateshead. These are not subjects that I had any real experience in though this has never stopped me before from having opinions nor contributing to a debate. It sounded like fun, something newish for me and so I agreed.

I had expected that the panel session would be part of a wider event but as the day got closer I realised that it was the only part of the programme and so a bit more work was called for. (I need to remember to ask these things before jumping in, although perhaps if I did I wouldn’t have said yes.)

The panel was made up of four people: Dr Noura Al Moubayed – Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Durham University; Peter Daykin – Chief Executive Officer, wordnerds; Philip Garnett – Lecturer in Operations Management, York Management School; Ahmed Salhin  – Principal Data Scientist, Sage

I started off by saying that the world is a very different place from when I was young and technology has played the biggest role in this change. I came to technology quite late and have been in senior roles for over 25 years in the private and public sector. I don’t have a technological background and it is not the kit that excites me but rather what it can do for people. Technology is built by people, to be used by people and for the benefit of people. It was in this context that I wanted to ask the panel about Artificial Intelligence.

Anyway, here are the questions that I got to ask:

  1. How much of humanity is written into technology, is there really such a thing as AI and what does it mean to you and your work?
  2. Humanity has been using tools ever since we picked up the first flint, is AI just an extension of this or is it something new?
  3. We hear that AI is going to solve all the world’s problems. How can it ever live up to the hype?
  4. Social Sciences cover a very broad area (Economics, Sociology, Social Science, History, Anthropology, Psychology, Geography) can we consider AI in such a wide context and could it be a unifying technology for these sciences?
  5. Politics has become very polarised. People have become suspicious of big government and big corporations. They fear technologies such as facial recognition will be used in a totalitarian way. How do we get the right balance between innovation and civilisation?

Being out front it was very difficult to record the answers. They were very good though!

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