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Tug Life IV Day 1: Humans, Life and Machines

by Olivia Williams | 12.06.2018

Tug Life is back! 4 days, 50+ speakers over 12 events. We’ve assembled a heady mix of digital thought leaders and innovators to share their ideas, opinions and thoughts on the future of media, creativity and tech, and its effect on humans. All of the events at Tug Life are completely free, and there are still some tickets available. Book yours here.

Pete Trainor – Us Ai

Kicking off Tug Life IV, we took a deep dive into Artificial Intelligence with Pete Trainor from Us Ai.

Us.Ai uses its business model to promote “conscious capitalism” – they strive to give tech innovation back to third-sector organisations, and to bring humanity back to the industry sectors.

Pete was quick to emphasise to the audience that “there’s no such thing as Ai.” At least not in the way that many people imagine. For Pete and Us.Ai, artificial intelligence is not a single entity but a range of algorithms, robotics and tech innovations.

Pete sees the media’s sensationalisation of the conversations around Ai as detrimental to the understanding of the technology. While the media is focusing on Elon Musk, they’re ignoring the smaller triumphs of artificial intelligence that should be celebrated.

Us Ai create products that help people to support, understand, identify and give people more freedom. People like James. James had a condition known as Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) – a rare inherited skin disorder that causes the skin to become very fragile.

With the help of Us Ai, James used a machine called BO to help him with some of the tasks he couldn’t manage himself. But more than that, BO was able to document James’ memories and thoughts, his experiences living with the condition, and his philosophy on life.

Pete played some clips of speech that BO had learned from James, and although James passed away in April, some part of who he is now lives on in BO.  Pete used James’ story as an example of how Ai lets us:

Follow Pete on twitter @petetrainor

Tom Cheesewright – Book of the Future

Tom followed Pete with his talk: The transfer of responsibility between people and machines. Tom is an applied futurist, meaning he works on what the future might look like. Not just what it might look like, but what his clients can do about it.

He opened the session by asking the audience what their fist experience of a computer was. For the more senior audience members, it was using Punch cards. Then the slightly younger crowd remembered using numbered commands, next it was the use of a mouse, and one lucky person’s first experience of a computer was using a smart phone.

The point Tom was making; that as technology evolves it’s taking on more of the work in the decision making process. From explicit, detailed instructions to a screen offering a range of answers, to today’s voice commands, technology is progressively eliminating our range of choices and decisions.

The bandwidth between us and our machines is declining over time

While we might see this as a good thing – it’s convenient, easy and frees up more of our time – it also begs the question, who are we outsourcing our decision making to? Who owns the decision engine? Where will the information come from that feeds it? An how will we maintain control over it?

Tom doesn’t have the answers today, but these are questions that will need to be answered as technology advances ever further.

Follow Tom on twitter – @bookofthefuture

James Murray – Microsoft

Since James’ partner gave birth to their daughter eight months ago, his outlook on the future of technology has shifted. The future is no longer hypothetical, but concrete. He now finds himself asking the question, “how is my little girl going to interact with technology in the future?”

James began his presentation by reminiscing on previous Tug Life events. He’s spoken every year so far, and it’s fascinating to see how far technology has come since he first took to the stage four years ago.

The printing press is widely regarded as the first knowledge equaliser. It gave more people access to information than ever before. Microsoft wants to do the same, but this time for artificial intelligence.

James talked us through what Microsoft call the “cognitive services”

Developments in artificial intelligence for language have advanced to the point now that the translation algorithm is within a 6% error rate when compared with a human translator.

Microsoft is using these cognitive services to break down the barriers of communication. Disabled, visually impaired, deaf, autistic and other people who might struggle to communicate can now use Microsoft’s technology to communicate with others.

Follow James on twitter – @james3murray

David Wood – Chair of London Futurists

David set out to answer the question: Is technology good for us? In fact, he answered it immediately, with a resounding “Yes”. Followed immediately by a resounding “No”.

Technology is really good for us, and really bad for us. So what should we do about it?

David showed us who has saved the most human lives in history. From Fleming inventing penicillin (91 million lives saved) to Fritz and Bosch, who saved 2.72 billion lives through their invention of nitrogen fertiliser, advances in science and education save lives.

But David believes that the most human lives can be saved in future through technological developments, such as green energy, low-cost water desalination and reverse aging.

For David, there are three possible outcomes of technological advancement.

  1. Business as usual (10% likelihood)
  2. Social collapse (30% likelihood)
  3. Sustainable abundance for all (60%)

While the risk of social collapse is a scary one, thankfully David is more optimistic that a “technoprogressive revolution” will ensure that humanity has access to clean energy, healthy food, affordable healthcare, intelligence, and time for creativity.

I don’t believe there’s anything special in biology that can’t be replicated in silicon or software!

David wants us to collectively “raise the calibre of the conversation about the future.” This means being aware of the risks of major social collapse, and not becoming complacent with the way things are going. He wants us to prepare for the future.

Follow David on twitter – @dw2

Sierian Hanner – Royal Mail

Bringing us back into the grounded reality of the real world, Sierian spoke about the less glamorous side of our lives as humans – namely the chaotic piles of paper lying around in our home.

She works for MarketReach, the media division of Royal Mail, who research what happens when your phone is in the other room. Because mail, leaflets, flyers, letters and even junk mail still play a big part in our decision making process.

Sierian sees mail as, “the pieces of paper that represent the conversations that you’re having with companies.” The research that Market Reach conducts shows that approximately 88 out of every 1000 pieces of mail drive online activity. Mail remains an effective brand of multi channel campaigns, and delivers tangible results.

Follow market reach on twitter – @marketreachUK

Our next event – People, Work and Technology, begins at 1.00 at Protein Studios. Come down to hear from another great line up of speakers.