Blog : Interviews

The rise of artificial intelligence: all in the mind?

The rise of artificial intelligence: all in the mind?

Margaret tells me that she will be away this summer – making her annual trip to a remote Pacific island – out of touch from phones and email.

Now over 80 years old and a Research Professor of Cognitive Science at the Department of Informatics at The University of Sussex, Margaret Boden isn’t how you’d picture an expert on artificial intelligence.  The walls of her living room are covered in collections of computer generated art from the 1960s, alongside Balinese puppets and a collection of glass from early history.

Studying medical sciences and later philosophy and psychology, she worked to develop the world’s first academic programme in cognitive science in the 1960s. Though she talks lucidly about technology,  her interest and authority on AI comes from understanding the impact and relationship of AI to people.

In science fiction, robots reflect our deepest desires, needs and fears – they are our slaves, entertainment and our personal assistants – caring for the elderly, serving as companions for the lonely but at the same time threatening to outsmart, outperform and overthrow us.

According to Margaret, far away from the realms of science-fiction, AI is already transforming what it means to be human. Behind every internet search, bank transaction or online movie recommendation, AI is influencing the very fabric of the societies we live in.

Acknowledging AI’s conflicting and complex influence on people, she sees major developments on the horizon: from disrupting work and the jobs we do, to tackling currently incurable diseases and enabling “the generation of previously impossible ideas.”
Watch Margaret’s interview to hear her hopes for the future.

 

Watch Margaret’s interview

 

Have your say and follow the conversation using the hashtags #its2097 and #expertinterview

 

Adapting to flood risk in a changing climate

Adapting to flood risk in a changing climate


University Professor Dr. Chris Skinner forecasts the floods of tomorrow. His work at the University of Hull looks at the conditions which cause flash floods, and since 2014, he’s run SeriousGeoGames – a project which uses virtual reality and gamification to let people understand flooding and the complex decisions which go into protecting against them.

Chris argues coastal cities in particular must respond to increasingly extreme weather conditions – and he is a firm believer that we must do more to live side by side with the sea. He is however skeptical that Hull will one day be underwater, pointing to the IPCC’s predictions that sea-levels will rise just 1m in the next 80 years.

SeriousGeoGames
SeriousGeoGames: Flash floods

Across the globe, extreme weather and flooding is increasing and this summer’s tenth anniversary of the devastating floods across much of the UK, act as a stark reminder. In Hull alone, three people were killed and over 10,000 homes and businesses were evacuated. Most of the city’s schools closed down and residents were forced out of their homes for months and, in some cases, years.

Our approach to flooding, and the steps we take to protect against it in the future, is now critical. The UK government’s review of flood resilience highlights the need to build new towns and cities with inbuilt flood defences such a sea walls. Yet towns such as Pickering in North Yorkshire contradict this approach – successfully withstanding major regional flooding in 2016 using natural protections such as ‘leaky dams’ made of logs and branches.

In Aarhus, Denmark, climate change is also on the agenda. On a recent trip to the city, Signe Marie-Iversen from the Center for Environment and Energy, shows us a satellite map of Aarhus on which she has cryptically written in biro: ‘100-years incident in 2050’.

Aarhus docklands
Aarhus docklands at night

Large areas on the map are marked in pale blue: the river valley west of the city centre, the well-to-do suburbs of Vejlby-Risskov to the north – indicating predictions for flooding in the case of extreme rainfall. The city’s new waterfront developments, including the landmark Iceberg building, are marked in pink: at risk of flooding due to storm surges.

Signe seems sanguine about the potential impact on the city of a ‘one in a hundred year’ event, and well versed in the complexity of balancing the practical needs of the city with the increased risk of flooding as the climate changes.

This month, a £14m project was announced in Hull that works with the environment to protect against flooding. The project, which uses drainage lagoons and aqua storage systems to store excess water, offers the best hope yet that the devastating floods of 2007 are not repeated.

Whether nature offers the best protection against flooding, or man made defences, such as higher levees and sea walls – it’s clear that more urgency is needed when it comes to adapting to the new reality of our global climate.

 

Watch Chris’s interview

 

Image credits: Creative Commons, David Finch / Flickr and Søren Rajczyk, Flickr

Have your say and follow the conversation using the hashtags #its2097 and #expertinterview

 

What’s next for a sustainable economy?

What’s next for a sustainable economy?

Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement this month could be the most harmful decision to the future of our planet, ever.

His intention to resurrect the United State’s old industries of mining and coal has brought widespread condemnation from business leaders and oil giants alike. Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg said that the withdrawal was “bad for the environment, bad for the economy and it puts out children’s future at risk”.  This was echoed by Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, who condemned the President’s move in his first ever tweet.

Potentially turning the clock back decades on environmental policy, what does Trump’s decision mean for the future?

As part of the research for our upcoming sci-fi films imagining life in 2097, we spoke to university professor David Gibbs about the challenge of reconciling global industry and consumption with the need to live sustainably.

David argues that sustainable economies depend on transformations at every level: from government policy  to local networks and ‘green entrepreneurs’ such as the UK farmer who transformed his farm to grow crops for eco-friendly building materials. Ideas such as the ‘steady state’ economy and the ‘circular’ economy – championed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation – seek to accelerate this transformation.

 

steel_circular_economy

 

David points to these and to the development of renewable energy, like the gigantic Siemens factories in both Hull and Denmark – producing 75 metre long rotor blades for wind farms in the North Sea – as showing promise that sustainable thinking is now going mainstream.

He frames the challenge today as one of imagination and re-invention.
Can we transform industry to meet our appetites for consumption in a way that is sustainable?

 

Watch David’s interview

 

Have your say and follow the conversation using the hashtags #Its2097 and #ExpertInterview

Grassroots Utopias and how to build them

Grassroots Utopias and how to build them

“The streets are twenty feet broad; there lie gardens behind all their houses… Their doors have all two leaves, which, as they are easily opened, so they shut of their own accord; and, there being no property among them, every man may freely enter into any house whatsoever.”

Thomas More, Utopia, first published in 1516

Arguably the first science fiction ever written, Thomas More’s Utopia has inspired generations of thinkers and writers to imagine new worlds in the future.

Today is a chilly December morning and our host, Christian Juuls Wendell leads me and a group of young people from Hull and Aarhus through a warren of wood workshops: past a blacksmith and out to the area they use for converting shipping containers into anything from food stalls to homes. This is Institut for X in Aarhus, Denmark, a utopia of sorts that has sprung up on the outskirts of the city centre and that is heralded as an example of how to design and manage the cities of the future.

Once home to the city’s homeless and dispossessed, the former railway yard now houses designers, architects, carpenters and artists – who over the last nine years, have built an improvised village from sheds, shacks and old shipping containers. A form of ‘bottom-up’ development, the area provides small scale solutions which in turn act as the fertile soil for building a creative and inclusive city – which adapts to the needs of its citizens.


Its success may be due, in part, to what Christian calls ‘municipal bowling’ – where getting permission from a city government for grassroots development is just a question of finding the right person to persuade. Find the right person and they themselves will advocate for change and persuade the rest of the city administration to come on side.

Torre David, Caracas
Torre David, Caracas


From examples such as Torre David in Caracas – a 45 storey high-rise left abandoned after the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and adapted by a community of 750 families – to digital infrastructure and questions over how and smart technology is deployed in our cities, the arguments about who is best placed to lead development of our cities continues.

Watch Christian’s interview to hear his views from the ground in Aarhus.

 

Watch Christian’s interview

 

How can technology rebuild trust and create social value?

How can technology rebuild trust and create social value?

We’re sitting around the table and someone asks: ‘Do Facebook friends really count as friends?’

For everyone at the table – a group of over 60’s from around Hull – the consensus is that communities depend on something inherent in meeting people in person: on finding ways for people to participate, to contribute and to trust one another. Technology seems fraught with problems when it comes to building trust. While our increasing dependence on the internet  raises concerns about privacy and disrupts traditional forms of work.

For Dave Shepherdson, the internet has the potential to create new forms of sharing economies and the revolutionary technology which is set to enable this is Blockchain. Blockchain is the technology underlying the digital currency – Bitcoin – but it’s shown potential for everything from building de-centralised systems which allow people to control their own data to helping refugees verify their identity.

I’m introduced to Dave Shepherdson by chance one rainy Friday afternoon in a busy cafe on Newland Avenue in Hull. Dave is one of the masterminds behind a new digital currency based on this technology called HullCoin. For a good five minutes, he enthuses about how HullCoin will transform our relationships with each other: encouraging participation and giving value to the social contributions we make to communities.

To find out what he had to say, watch his interview here.

 

Watch Dave’s interview

 

What if we turn the world into data?

What if we turn the world into data?

Our taxi-driver, Mr Chang, pointed out the car window: “That city will be finished in about five years time”

Amid vast stretches of reclaimed land rows of cranes punctuate a sea of giant new apartment buildings. This is Songdo – a new ‘smart’ city being built from the ground up in South Korea. Now that more than half the world’s population now live in urban areas, our cities are responsible for generating 80% of CO2 emissions worldwide.

When we met Dr. Mirko Presser at the Alexandra Institute in Aarhus – an expert on the internet of things – he coyly flashed his smart watch and explained that he ‘liked’ technology but didn’t love it. For Mirko, learning to harness data is a key to living sustainably in cities in the coming century. In the complex web of infrastucture that supports our daily lives in modern day cities, the promise of smart systems which gather real world data, and that connect users and services in new ways is to allow us to use limited resources more efficiently.

But, what are the challenges that await if we ‘turn the world into data’?

 

Watch Mirko’s interview

 

Mirko is one of the authors of one of the most widely read publications on smart cities and the internet of things – a comic. Mirko’s eyes twinkled when he talked about his dreams as a child of travelling to other planets, however, he remained cautious about the promise of smart technologies.

Whereas the the architects behind Songdo are working from a blank slate, smart systems in most cities will need to work with the idiosyncrasies of existing cites and their communities. Uber is just one example among many of how connected services are disrupting existing economies, raising questions of who actually benefits from smart cities, while the system outage at Amazon’s datacenter last week – which caused users with smart home lighting systems to be left in the dark – flags some of the potential risks for our growing dependency on smart systems.

How do communities change the future?

How do communities change the future?

At the back of a courtyard, along a narrow street busy with cyclists in Aarhus is a room with high ceilings and a long wooden dinner table.

When I first arrived the room was busy with people. A group of about twenty getting ready to sit down for lunch together. This is Sager Der Samler, self-described as a ‘house for everyday activism’. I had come to interview one of the founders – Kristin Birkeland, about the some of the projects she’s been involved in, and how she sees the importance of belonging and community in shaping the future.

In workshops, people from Aarhus and Hull counted rebuilding community and a sense of inclusiveness as central to their hopes for the city. Both cities have struggled with rehousing communities in the last 60 years. In Hull, I met Stacey Windley on our workshop about the city in 2097. In her video she explains why politics should be taught in schools to increase access for working class people.

According to Kristin in Aarhus, community begins with individuals who find ways to take positive action to change not just their own situation, but also that of those around them. Projects such as Anaobaba TV – in which refugee parents created an online TV channel to teach their children about life in Denmark, highlight the potential for digital tools and storytelling in these actions.

 

Watch Kristin’s interview

What does the future hold?

What does the future hold?

Where to start with predicting 80 years in to the future? Who to ask?

We took a leap and decided to start back in 14th century Italy.

According to Kathleen Robinson of East Yorkshire Tarot, this is where the cards used in present day tarot readings were first established. Originally used for games and entertainment, tarot cards became popular as a form of divination in the 18th century. Last October, on a trip to Hull to visit the famed Hull Fair, we arranged to speak to Kathleen who kindly agreed to give us a free reading to learn about 2097.

So what does the future hold?

We’ll be releasing interviews with people from Aarhus and Hull – from school children to experts on sea-level rise, smart cities and community activism. Each talks about their view of the particular challenges for cities in the future and their hopes for the world at large.

But to start, here’s Kathleen.

We asked what our lives would be like in both Aarhus and in Hull in 2097. And what three challenges the human race will ultimately have to face over the coming 80 years. It was a nerve wracking experience but the implacable Kathleen showed calmness throughout.

Here’s what Kathleen had to say…

 

Watch interview