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Imperial Late: Artificial Intelligence

"Photo by mikemacmarketing (licensed under CC BY 2.0)"

On the evening of March 14th, I attended my first Imperial Late. I went with no idea what to expect, having very little prior knowledge about artificial intelligence and Imperial College as an institution, for that matter. It seemed to me that the aim of the event was to point out the increasing number of ways that AI has positively impacted our everyday lives while also acknowledging the potential dangers of a social reality dominated by simulated human intelligence.


Upon entry, what immediately struck me was the sheer number of people navigating the space with a very apparent interest in what these individuals had to offer. The turnout was impressive, a testament to the prestige of the institution. I encountered several members of the alumni community, former students still actively engaging with events, suggesting a keen sense of community.

There were a number of activities I was encouraged to engage with. Within two minutes of being there, I had contributed to a display. We were invited to express our fears about the emerging and increasingly prevalent relationship between AI and healthcare.  Another stall, by contrast, encouraged us to celebrate the development of AI and to offer our hopes for the future, considering the ways that AI has proven time-efficient and highly productive. It was interesting and enlightening to consider the extensive influence of AI and the vast number of ways in which it manifests in the contemporary moment. An AI-powered silent disco, AI-enhanced electrocardiography, and AI-proof face paint designed to impede the system, to name a few.  

I also attended a talk, which I found to be informative and rather captivating. The interviewees were well-educated and articulate, as well as animated. They reflected extensively on the racial and gender biases that characterise AI systems, proposing the necessary undertaking of research to minimise such risks. Awareness, inclusion, and regulation practices were recommended to counter the way that AI disproportionately affects minority individuals.

AI algorithms reinforce inequalities constituting our systemic structures, programmed to dismiss data features that are unfamiliar. A database that relies on repetition to function optimally is problematic for marginalised communities that lack representation. AI replicates only what it knows. AI systems are flawed because they are merely extensions of the society that we know. What really hit home for me was the notion that AI beings are not sentient beings, and as such, they lack the capacity for emotional recognition. AI cannot accommodate exceptional circumstances. We cannot communicate this to them. They aren’t humans, after all. This is problematic for anyone or anything that falls short of the criteria that AI has been programmed to recognise.    

Overall, the event was seamlessly conducted. The individuals fronting the stalls were inviting, well-informed, and clearly impassioned on the subject. Everything was well signposted, and there was an overhead speaker offering the same information for those who perhaps missed the signs amongst the eager crowds. Accessibility was impressive; it was an event that was open to everyone, with adults of all ages engaging with the content, which is indeed very promising.

This evening’s events confirmed my only prior conviction about AI. It is really rather dystopian. While it is so masterful and so technologically advanced as to be beyond my comprehension, it is unequivocally daunting. Although AI is a tribute to the master minds of our society, I believe it is imperative that we continue to learn about it in this way so that it doesn’t begin to infiltrate our lives in subtle and insidious ways.

To find out when the next Imperial Lates event will happen, keep an eye on their Imperial Lates page.


Edited by Faye Elder, London and Beyond Editor