Dawn Walter, the conference Founder, and Richard Potter, CTO, Microsoft Consulting Services UK, welcome everyone to the 2020 Anthropology + Technology Conference.
From Dawn’s welcome speech: “Thank you to our valued sponsors and partners, Microsoft, Spotify, the Economic and Social Research Council, and Stripe Partners. Their support and belief in this conference means everything. Thank you to all our speakers, stream leads, and panellists. And thank you to everyone who has come along today, who has bought a ticket. Your support of this very unique conference means it can continue into 2021.
I want to say a few words about what this conference is all about. At its core it is about ensuring that we harness emerging technology to make people’s lives better, not worse. The U.K.’s A-level algorithm highlighted how important it is that we all engage in the debates around emerging technology. Because it showed us that the tech we love, the tech we use everyday, is discriminatory and racist.
What makes the conference different – not just another AI ethics conference – is the emphasis on the very important contribution that social scientists make to the design and development of emerging tech. Particularly anthropologists and sociologists. We need the experts who understand people and society to help us address the social and economic impact of emerging tech. You’ll hear from sociologists and anthropologists today, how they centre human lived experience, make sense of the messiness, draw attention to the context, the structural determinants and social factors that underpin people’s behaviours, factors so often overlooked and ignored by business leaders. It was fantastic to see three social scientists on this year’s list of MacArthur Fellows — recipients of what’s commonly known as the Genius Grant – including sociologist, Tressie McMillan Cottom, who is shaping discourse at the confluence of race, gender, education, and digital technology.
What also makes this conference interesting is that it brings together people from very different disciplines and perspectives. One of the feedbacks from last year was that meeting other people from different disciplines challenges your assumptions, makes for really interesting discussions, that you learn more when you come together with people from fields very different to your own. It forces us to realise that language is so important, that using jargon can alienate, put up barriers when we need to be bringing barriers down, and working together. And even though we come from different backgrounds, what unites us, what we all have in common – something I’ve realised in all the conversations we’ve had with our speakers over the past few weeks on the podcast – is that we all share the belief that emerging tech is incredible but we must harness its power in the right way. The beating heart of this conference is social justice. Ensuring that the tech we love, the tech we use every day, does not perpetuate social and economic inequality. And this requires action, not lip service, as Nani Jansen Reventlow will touch on in her keynote. We must educate ourselves, particularly if we are white. We must never stop learning. We must advocate. We must act.
I’d now like to introduce Richard Potter. Richard is the Chief Technology Officer of Microsoft Consulting Services. He is also the AI Ethics Lead for Microsoft UK. When Richard and I met to discuss his partnership with the conference, I realised how genuinely he believed in ensuring that we design, build and deploy AI responsibly. So it’s with great pleasure that I ask Richard to officially open the 2020 conference.”