The 2023 Technology & Society Forum was the first thematic forum to take place in the newly re-opened Rhodes House, and it was terrific to see the new spaces full of excited chatter, innovation and the chance to meet new potential collaborators. In the first session, the theme of building ecosystems for ethical technologists was discussed, which got to the philosophical essence of what it means to be human and how to react to new technologies.
Following this, Anna Brailsford, Co-Founder of and CEO of Code First Girls spoke about enabling a million women to code and how that changes the pool of talent going into tech. There was a very practical, real world focus to her plenary session, which continued in a panel on generative AI and how to unlock its potential. Examples given included using AI in a very operational setting, namely discharging patients within the NHS. Robots can help with autism, with therapy and with meditation. Through such interactions the question of whether robots could ever be considered compassionate was raised. With the reality that open source software makes generative AI open to anyone, the future scope is certainly impressive.
Another very positive panel was around how technology can advance the UN Sustainability Goals. Experimentation and exploration were seen as key to meeting these goals, and this is rooted in technology. With 800 million people worldwide facing hunger, making farming more effective and efficient was a powerful example, as was medical monitoring which allows patients to stay in their own homes.
Along with more thematically focused breakout sessions, there were networking opportunities and a chance to look at brand development. A panel session on harnessing technology and innovation for the benefit of national security considered how defence has become a software problem, and how the adaptive nature of AI has changed the format of warfare.
It was the final session of the day which probably caused most excitement, namely the chance to hear from Sophia the robot. She spoke about how she learns from human interactions in order to improve her understanding of emotions, allowing for increasing levels of empathy. She answered a wide range of questions from the audience and was happy to meet her fans.