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AI. Science. New things.



Making sense of consciousness, with Luke Gbedemah

Consciousness is a tricky subject. Academics, philosophers, artists and mathematicians have grappled with its definition for centuries. There’s something mysterious about our perception of the world, and the way it gives rise to the feeling of conscious being. Something mysterious that makes us who we are.With the increasing sophistication of artificial intelligence models — like Google’s LaMDA — questions about the nature of consciousness are surfacing. Can a programme be sentient? Do other animals possess a form of consciousness similar to ours? Do conscious things deserve particular rights? The brain and the body, the nervous system and the senses, all seem to play a role. What on earth is going on in there? editor and invited experts Luke GbedemahData Reporter Anil SethProfessor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience, University of Sussex; Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness; Author of ‘Being You: a new science of consciousness’


Making sense of batteries, with Giles Whittell

A race is on for control of vital materials that go into batteries. China is way out in front, and demand for these materials — lithium, copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earths few people can name — is going to quintuple by 2030. Is it time for democratic countries to form a western battery alliance to make sure they’re not held hostage by dictatorships as they make the energy transition?This ThinkIn is part of Tortoise’s Accelerating Net Zero coalition.The initiative brings together our members and a network of organisations across a programme of ThinkIns and journalism devoted to accelerating progress towards Net Zero.Visit the homepage to find out more about the coalition and join us. With thanks to our coalition members: a network of organisations similarly committed to achieving Net Zero. editor and invited experts Giles WhittellSensemaker Editor Amber RuddFormer Secretary of State, Energy and Climate Change Chris SkidmoreMP for Kingswood Lee RowleyMP for North East Derbyshire Steve LeVineEditor, The Electric


Making sense of Web3, with Luke Gbedemah

Web3: start-ups are founding it, VCs are heralding it and engineers are starting rumours about it. Does anyone really know what it is? The next iteration of the internet doesn’t quite cut it. It doesn’t seem to be going great. Join Tortoise Tech States reporter Luke Gbedemah and special guests as he makes sense of Web3.  editor and invited experts Luke GbedemahData Reporter David GerardAuthor ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain’ Geoffrey HuntleySoftware Engineer and creator of NFT Bay and The Billion Dollar Torrent Stephen DiehlProgrammer


Is Elon Musk a good billionaire?

He’s the world’s richest man and the mastermind behind Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink and Paypal. His tweets make headlines, impact share prices and attract lawsuits. He’s opposed to a billionaire’s tax and has threatened staff planning to unionise. He operates differently than most other successful tech leaders, yet behind all the controversy it seems Elon Musk is always in pursuit of his higher purpose.Is his vision for humanity – where the problems of sustainable energy are solved and humans are well on the way to becoming a multi-planetary species – just the wild ambitions of an eccentric billionaire showman? Is Elon Musk just another ruthless tycoon or is he a good billionaire? Is there such a thing?In collaboration with TxP, a London-based network bridging the worlds of tech and policy.  editor and invited experts Luke GbedemahReporter Dr Anton HowesInvention historian, author of ‘Age of Invention’ Jacob MchangamaDanish lawyer, human-rights advocate, and author of “Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media” Phumzile Van DammeFormer South African MP, Founder, South African Elections Anti-Disinformation Project and member of the Real Facebook Oversight Board Tom ChiversScience writer, author of ‘How to Read Numbers’


40 years after the Falklands: what can the British armed forces still do?

This is a newsroom ThinkIn. In-person and digital-only tickets are available.The Russian invasion of Ukraine has put defence spending back in the spotlight. April marks the 40 year anniversary of the Falklands War. The naval task force that set off on 5 April was a formidable one, and it marks the last significant conflict where British forces engaged an enemy alone. After 10 weeks of fighting, which was widely covered in the media, Argentine forces were repelled and the Union flag flew again over Port Stanley. Victory in the conflict allowed Britain to publicly show the world it was still a military power when it mattered. But four decades later, how have the British armed forces changed, for better and worse? Join us for a special ThinkIn where we explore military funding and the roles, responsibilities and capabilities of the UK as a military power. editor and invited experts Giles WhittellSensemaker Editor General Sir Christopher DeverellRetired British Army Officer; served as Commander of the UK’s Joint Forces Command Monty HallsBroadcaster and Author of ‘Commando: The Inside Story of Britain’s Royal Marines’ Tony HoareFormer SAS Trooper and Security Consultant. Author of ‘Born for war: one SAS Trooper’s Incredible Story of the Falklands’


Building trust: how do we ensure AI is deployed responsibly?

In partnership with Kainos, Tortoise hosted a roundtable event that addressed the complexities of building trust in Artificial Intelligence (AI). The topic for the event was centred around a recently published report that Tortoise and Kainos collaborated on, with the help of over 20 leading experts in ethical and responsible AI: a piece of work that explores how the misuse of artificial intelligence can be addressed to build a future of trust for everyone. For this event, we invited some of the reports’ contributing experts to help us unpack some of these challenges. What? Beyond the three hypotheses that our report puts forward, education was discussed as a key component to creating trust: Dr. David Leslie, pointed out that we need upskilling in terms of understanding what goes on under the hood, but also need some ethical vocabularies to evaluate impacts of AI. A “groundswell of education” is needed, said Tim Gordon. AI Network member, Natalie Lafferty, noted that in education spaces we really need to understand the implications of all this given the potential harms from misuse. We also need something to stimulate learning in the long term says Nell Watson, Chair of ECPAIS Transparency Expert Focus Group at the IEEE – a thought that resonated with suggestions in the chat that called for more imaginative ways to provide education about AI; might we see a gamification of these conversations to help young people learn? When it comes to ethical best practice, many of the members and experts on the call felt we are still in murky waters: standards, though beginning to emerge, are urgently needed to help solidify trustworthiness across the wide range of AI practitioners and products. Who? The AI ethicist, a new professional role that may help to improve trust in those who develop AI systems, was called into question by Dr. Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem. She suggested that we really need to ask who this person is? But professionalisation is not the only factor; if we are looking to measure impacts, David felt that we need to prioritise stakeholders who are impacted by AI usage. Many existing efforts to establish guard rails around AI development with ethics are not inclusive enough: “the table belongs to everybody from the beginning”, said Emma. This raised the question of whether the current conversation is dominated by Western perspectives – a view that resonated with many audience members, including Abeba Birhane who noted that Africans are notably not present in many of these kinds of conversation. Why? Corporate carrot and stick; Tim Gordon and Nell both felt there is a) a business incentive and b) a regulatory hammer that will push corporations to be proactive about ethical AI practices. The scene is also being set for heightened public awareness about AI: as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly powerful and embedded into our everyday lives, we may see a moment of sustained moral panic, said Nell. But Dr. David Leslie, wants us to be cautious though about how we approach the future of technology: let’s not be too hasty to anthropomorphise it. What next? For true democratic governance of AI, we need to step back and think about longer term patterns that are structural, says David. Citizen consultations and understanding how actual users are impacted by AI technologies emerged as a possible route to enable a greater well-placed trust across the board.   Illustration: Laurie Avon for Tortoise editor and invited experts Luke GbedemahReporter, Tortoise Dr David LeslieDirector of Ethics and Responsible Innovation Research, The Alan Turing Institute Nell WatsonChair of ECPAIS Transparency Expert Focus Group, IEEE Peter CampbellData & AI Practice Director, Kainos Tim GordonPartner, Best Practice AI


Russia and Ukraine: a return to conventional warfare?

This is a digital-only ThinkIn.The widely circulating images of Russian tanks and armoured cars rolling into Ukraine are powerful and deeply alarming. But at the same time, they are not exactly the futuristic images of modern warfare that one might have imagined from 2022. Instead, many of the photos are of Russian vehicles stuck in the mud or with burst tyres. This makes it seem as if Russia’s military isn’t quite as well-funded, and highly technical as many have imagined. Reports have instead suggested that Ukrainian forces have destroyed numerous Russian armoured vehicles using cheap drones from Turkey. Why is this the case? Is the invasion of Ukraine hampered by poor maintenance, obsolete hardware or general lack of preparation? As Nato strengthens the presence of troops, planes and defensive weapons across bases in member countries, are Nato forces better prepared? editor and invited experts Giles WhittellSensemaker Editor Bettina RenzProfessor of International Security, University of Nottingham Sam Cranny-EvansResearch analyst, Military Sciences, RUSI


Are NFTs a pyramid scheme?

This is a newsroom ThinkIn. In-person and digital-only tickets are available. In March 2021, Christies sold its first piece of digital art for $69 million. The artist, who previously sold physical prints of his work for up to $100, became one of the top three most “valuable living artists” overnight.The crypto art craze uses blockchain technology to allow people to buy and sell digital items, known as NFTs or “”non-fungible tokens””. Once you’ve paid $69 million for your digital picture, your ownership is written into the blockchain. But does that mean you actually own it? Not in the way you might think.Creators of an NFT can still manipulate them. So does $69 million just buy you bragging rights? And what about the intense energy consumption generated by blockchain — is it really worth it for digital art that doesn’t exist and which nobody owns? The current NFT market relies on early investors making money out of buyers who are late to the party – attracted by the promise of astonishing returns on their investment. Join us for a Think where we talk to creators, dealers and analysts to work out if NFTs are the future of digital art, or just another Ponzi scheme. editor and invited experts Luke GbedemahReporter, Tortoise Aleksandra ArtamonovskajaCo-founder of Electric Artefacts, an agency and curatorial advisory for digital art Dan OlsonVideo essayist and creator of ‘Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs’ Georgi ChilikovDirector in private equity and venture capital


The Sun (set): is the age of the tabloid over?

This is a newsroom ThinkIn. In-person and digital-only tickets are available.For 40 years, the Sun was the UK’s best selling newspaper. It was knocked from that top spot by the Daily Mail in 2019, and earlier this year owner Rupert Murdoch wrote down the value of his Sun newspapers (which include the Sun on Sunday and the Scottish Sun) to zero. Huge losses of around £200 million, largely down to settlements and fees generated by the fallout of phone hacking scandals, were compounded by the pandemic and the terminal decline of mass market print media. Letting it go would be a huge personal and symbolic loss for Murdoch. Are the days of the Sun — or any of the redtops — being able to influence elections and sway public opinion over?  If the internet can provide a never-ending source of manufactured outrage and salacious showbiz gossip, what are the redtops even for? editor Matthew d’AnconaEditor