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Tuesday 15 January 2019

The ethics of AI

What is a ThinkIn?

Over a year ago now, I was on the Tube – the Circle Line, I think it was – reading the paper, James Harding writes.

There was a reader’s letter about Yemen. I was working at the BBC at the time and getting correspondents into the country to cover the war was (and is) difficult and dangerous. The letter was particularly worth reading, because each of its authors had worked there.

On the opposite page, there were the leaders – otherwise known as the newspaper’s editorials – setting out the paper’s point of view. I started thinking: imagine if you could get those opinions informed not just by journalists, but also by people with first-hand experience of the issue.

I laid out the paper in the carriage of the train and took a picture on my phone. I smiled. When I’d started editing The Times, I took William Rees-Mogg, a great former editor, for lunch. We fell into a conversation about our favourite page in the paper. His was letters, because it contained the enthusiasms, eccentricities and expertise of the readers. Mine was leaders, because it was the place where the paper argued it out, made up its mind. What if you could combine the two – the openness of letters and the opinion of leaders?

And so, for the past year, as we have been setting up Tortoise, we have been developing the ThinkIn. It is, in effect, an open newspaper leaders meeting. It’s designed to make sure we hear from as many people as possible. It’s intended to produce a clear, better-informed point of view. Most importantly, it’s the engine of our journalism – it’s the place where we meet people with stories to tell, hear ideas we haven’t thought of, get leads that prompt fresh investigations.

Each weeknight, we’ll hold ThinkIns in our newsroom – do come and visit, we’re in the Fora building on Eastcastle Street, London W1. Every other week, we take the ThinkIn on the road to make sure we hear from a wide and different range of people.

At the end of last year, we held a ThinkIn on the ethics of AI. It prompted a piece of reporting that we’re aiming to publish later this month. In the meantime, here’s a short film on the ThinkIn. We hope it gives a sense of what open journalism can look like in practice. Please come. In every way, we want to hear what you think.