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Event recap: Humans, Data, AI & Ethics – The Great Debate

On Wednesday December 6th, two teams of UTS academics and industry partners gathered at UTS for the hotly anticipated “Humans, Data, AI & Ethics – Great Debate”.  The rhetorical battle raised the provocative proposition that:

“Humans have blown it: it’s time to turn the planet over to the machines” 

The debate was preceded by our daytime Conversation  which featured engaging panel discussions and Lightning Talks from UTS academics and partners in government and industry.

The debate took place in front of a large audience of colleagues and members of the public on the UTS Broadway campus.  The Affirmative team (The Machines) argued that a productive relationship between humans and machines will help us to build a fairer, more efficient and more ecologically sustainable global society.  Numerous examples of humanity’s gross dysfunction in governance and management were raised, from human-induced climate change to widening inequality and the recent election of unpredictable populist leaders.  The team argued that finely (and ethically) tuned machines will help humans to solve these immense social and environmental challenges and maintain standards of equality, fairness and sustainability.

The Negative team (The Humans) cautioned against the rapid adoption of these hypothetical “ethical machines”, raising concerns about existing human prejudices and biases being built into AI. The team envisaged a dystopian world in which machines deny the possibility of human creativity, error or “happy accidents”, which have lead to so many important moments of discovery throughout history.  According to the Negative, there are also numerous social services which as yet cannot be performed by AI.  Healthcare provision for example, strongly depends on complex emotional intelligence, human tact and an ability to empathise and build rapport.

Ultimately, the Negative were adjudicated as the winner of the debate, to the relief of humanists and ethicists in attendance.  The theatrical and good-humoured event was a rousing success, giving leading thinkers in the data science field an opportunity to flesh out challenging ideas surrounding data, AI, society and ethics in a responsive public forum.

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