This is part of our ‘Meet Our Delegates’ series where we introduce you to social scientists and technologists who are attending the conference.
Meet Tom Bewley
Tom, you’re starting your PhD in artificial intelligence in September at Bristol University. Can you tell us a bit more about that and your studies so far?
Hi! I came to Bristol in 2014, originally to study the multidisciplinary (and highly recommended) Engineering Design undergraduate programme. My interests have shape-shifted several times since then: from product design, to renewable energy, to robotics, and most recently to machine learning, which is the focus of my ongoing masters degree. At each stage, I’ve found myself drawn towards fields that I saw as highly consequential for the lives of ordinary people, both now and into the future. I’m pretty sure I’ve settled in the right area!
My PhD is going to be part of the rapidly-growing sub-field of explainable artificial intelligence (XAI). Broadly speaking, the aim of XAI is to build autonomous intelligent agents that are capable not only of processing large bodies of data (which they already do) and following complex decision-making algorithms (which they already can), but also of doing so in a way that allows an explanation to be constructed about their reasoning process. As AI systems begin to make decisions about our finances, diagnose our illnesses and drive our cars, this ability will become essential for building public trust, guarding against algorithmic bias, and demonstrating technical safety. The fashionable deep learning systems of today are way off the mark in this respect, and my instinct is that a pretty major shift of approach is going to be needed.
Explainable AI (XAI)…will become essential for building public trust, guarding against algorithmic bias, and demonstrating technical safety. The fashionable deep learning systems of today are way off the mark in this respect, and my instinct is that a pretty major shift of approach is going to be needed.
Why are you excited to attend the conference and what do you hope to get from attending?
I am very much looking forward to hearing the different ways in which experts from across technical and social-scientific fields, in both industry and academia, conceptualise the various social issues around AI. In particular, I’d love to hear how everybody chooses to define “socially-responsible AI” in the first place!
From a personal perspective, this conference will come at the perfect time for me — just a few weeks into my PhD — and there is a very real possibility that the things I learn, and the people I meet, will guide my research for the next four years. I can’t wait to make contact with other like-minded people and discuss together how my work on explainability might serve the wider goals of the socially-responsible AI community.
In your opinion, why do you think other technologists should attend the conference?
Technologists in general, and the AI powerhouses of Silicon Valley in particular, have somewhat of a reputation for insular thinking, and for projecting their values onto the wider population. It is a matter of immense importance that this changes, and this can only happen if technical people are willing to engage in a frank discussion with other experts about the wider social implications of their output. On the flip-side, there is a great deal of public misconception about the current design and capabilities of AI systems, which leads people to both under- and over-value certain problems. I believe it is partly the responsibility of technologists to ensure that their work is understood by everybody whom it effects. This conference promises to be the perfect venue for such bi-directional discussion.
Technologists…have somewhat of a reputation for insular thinking, and for projecting their values onto the wider population…this can only change if technical people are willing to engage in a frank discussion with other experts about the wider social implications of their output.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us or say?
I’m really pleased that this conference is taking place in the beautiful and vibrant city of Bristol, and not just because it’s rather convenient for me! A former European Green Capital and joint home of the world’s top business incubator, this city is buzzing with creative and technological talent, and I can think of no better place to host one of the most exciting and urgent discussions of our time. I encourage everyone attending to explore what Bristol has to offer!
Thanks Tom, great to get to know you and we look forward to meeting you in October!