The truth about AI

In the 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURES Mike Wooldridge gave us a guided tour of AI.

Mike looks into the camera while holding a small robot, sitting on red seats in our Theatre
Image credit: Paul Wilkinson

In the 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Mike Wooldridge tackles the most important and rapidly evolving field of science today – Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Not since the World-Wide Web emerged 30 years ago has a new technology promised to change our world so fundamentally and so swiftly as AI does.  Today’s AI tools such as ChatGPT and AlphaGo are just a hint of what is to come. The future of AI is going to be quite a journey, and the 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURES, broadcast on BBC Four and iPlayer in late December, were a guided tour.

AI has increasingly grabbed the headlines in recent years – generating excitement and concern in equal measure – but what should we believe? In these lectures Mike revealed how AI works and how it will affect our lives – and will tackle head-on our hopes and fears for this most fascinating of fields.

Throughout the three Lectures, Mike explored the big questions facing AI research and unravelled the myths about how this ground-breaking technology really works. How can a machine be taught to play a game or translate from one language to another? He shows how computer programmes inspired by the human brain can be taught and even teach themselves. And he tells the surprising story of how tools like the latest chatbots work and illustrate the mind-boggling scale of modern AI systems – that can be used in everything from gaming to movie-making to designing drugs. 

When Alan Turing suggested the ‘Turing test’, to see if a computer’s responses to questions could be mistaken for a human’s, it seemed like a far-off, perhaps even impossible goal. We played a high stakes ‘Turing test’ in the Ri Theatre, along with other exciting experiments from the AI frontier, to find out just how far we are from Turing’s dream.

Although we think of AI as something in the future, Mike's lectures show us the role that AI already plays in our lives – without us even being aware of it. He will demonstrate the huge impact AI is having in fields ranging from medicine to football to astrophysics – and even our creative lives - in art, photography, and music.

Yet while AI will create many exciting opportunities, advances in the field have raised many fears – some justified, others not. There are concerns about identifying what’s fake and what’s real, as AI becomes increasingly clever. Mike will talk us through the dangers that AI raises, from machines adopting human prejudices, through to machines that operate as our boss at work, up to questions about whether AI might be a risk to humanity.

And finally, Mike addresses the really big question of AI: can it ever truly be like us, or are humans unique?

Across the series Michael was joined by some major figures from the AI world, including scientists from the world’s leading AI companies. He also introduces a range of robot friends, who will demonstrate what robots today can do – and what they can’t. He may have even surprised the audience with some Deep Fake guests who are not quite what they seem.