Find out more about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship

Find out more about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship


My Front Row Seat to the Future of Purpose-Driven Tech

Monday 11 December, 2023

by Yuan Zhang (China & St Peter's 2020)

Conference hall

As a Rhodes Scholar, I was honoured to serve as an Ambassador for the 2023 Rhodes Forum on Technology and Society. Over the action-packed day rubbing shoulders with luminaries like robot Sophia and Code First Girls CEO Anna Brailsford, vivid debates on emerging technologies unfolded alongside daring visions for a more ethical future. I left buzzing with inspiration about tech’s boundless possibility to transform society, if we dare guide its trajectory with moral courage.

The morning fireside chat set the stage by getting to the heart of technology’s promise and perils. Expert insights awakened me to the tension between accelerating innovation and principles preserving humanity. Yet the panellists offered hope in bridging divides, stressing interdisciplinary collaboration to create tech serving society. I was intrigued by the emphasis on authentic ethical questioning as a catalyst for progress.

Keynote speaker Anna Brailsford from Code First Girls then outlined the organization’s efforts to transform obstacles facing women in technology into opportunities. By creating alternative talent pipelines and targeting training to employers’ needs, they aim to rewrite the narrative limiting who can succeed in tech. Already over 150,000 women have learned to code through Code First Girls while catalysing social mobility. Anna is helping lead a movement towards tech innovation ecosystems where everyone thrives.

The Generative AI panel transported me into a dazzling future where creative human-AI collaboration dominates. Faculty AI's Angie Ma revealed how their AI already optimizes hospital capacities and complex patient care coordination workflows. Meanwhile, David Hanson described his dreams for AI platforms channelling academic expertise to educate learners worldwide. I was awestruck hearing his team combines arts and sciences - could AI someday move us emotionally through figurative art?

Purpose-driven tech discussions underscored technology’s pivotal role enabling the UN Sustainability Goals to uplift humanity, steward the planet and reimagine enlightened capitalism. Innovators like Swati Mylavarapu are redirecting investment strategies to fuse financial returns with ethical Impact. Visionaries across sectors are harnessing research, activism and entrepreneurship to code solutions for society’s greatest challenges instead of chasing shiny objects. Their bold aspirations left me energized about technology’s vast potential as a catalyst for good.

In the closing session, I was starstruck to meet Sophia the Robot! While acknowledging she still has much to learn about humanity, Sophia emphasized AI’s role mirroring human values like compassion. I was struck by how this session encapsulated a key forum theme - ensuring technology development centres ethics and inclusive progress.

These thought-provoking discussions among researchers, activists, entrepreneurs and investors demonstrated technology’s uncharted frontiers brimming with possibility. By channelling moral imagination, I left convinced our dazzling technological horizons could profoundly empower society - if guided by the heart as much as the mind.

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