THE BLOG

Rise of the Humans

23/03/2016 16:01 GMT | Updated 24/03/2017 09:12 GMT

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been much in the news with the defeat of Go champion Lee Sedol. In the past, some including Stephen Hawking and numerous Hollywood films have warned about the inexorable march of a potentially hostile Artificial Intelligence. Others fear the disruption to traditional jobs of these new technologies. And if you don't work in the tech industry, it's easy to get the impression that AI systems are just ticking things off the list one by one until we humans are all redundant. But human vs. machine competitions that capture our imaginations represent only a small slice of the amazing AI research that's occurring worldwide.

As I look at what we are doing as a company with huge expertise and investment in AI research, we are far more focused on what can happen if we work together not against each other. A true relationship between human and machine, helping us achieve more than we can each do alone. From the Agricultural Age, to the Industrial Age, to the Information Age, we have developed machines that add to human capabilities, helping us to do more things more easily and move society forward. But progress often brings challenges of understanding how we fit into the new world and that's why we think it's time to focus on building AI systems that humans can truly understand. Not just intelligent but also intelligible. Because when we understand how and why intelligent machines are making decisions then we can start to build trust, the one basic requirement in any human relationship.

With trust as a starting point in an evolving partnership, we also need effective communication, a two-way dialogue, and that means we need to give every generation the ability to understand and work with machines. We call it computational thinking. Today marks an important moment for the UK on that journey with the launch of the BBC micro:bit. It's a great partnership between the BBC, Microsoft and 30 other organisations to give every year seven child in the country a programmable device. Unlike other initiatives like Raspberry Pi, the BBC micro:bit is battery-powered and you can carry, wear, or build it into a range of projects that's only limited by your imagination. Anything from simple motion activated games, to fruit that plays music or as the brains of a rocket powered car. It's a catalyst for a new wave of digital enthusiasts who want to make things, not just play with them on a screen. And whilst some might see it as fanciful to think that a tiny, low-cost board, sensors and chips can sow the seeds for a new relationship between biology and technology, we have already seen in the past how an entire industry can grow from small acorns.

In the 1980s, the BBC Micro inspired the first generation of young people who had access to computers with the potential these new machines possessed. That generation went on to create technological innovations and companies which have had a profound impact on all our lives. More than a million BBC Micros were sold and the majority of all schools in the UK had at least one. And now, as we embark on what some call "the fourth industrial revolution", we have a new challenge. A challenge to ensure that our children don't just make their way in a world dominated by algorithms. But instead become the creators, the makers, the inventors of tomorrow that will make a new world where people, and our machine partners, achieve things we never thought possible. I believe the BBC micro:bit is one of the tools that will help young people meet that challenge, embrace it and inspire them to harness the transformative potential of AI.