The truth about Artificial Intelligence to be revealed in CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Ri

The truth about AI, the most important and rapidly evolving field of science in the world today, will be revealed in the 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURE.

Professor Mike Wooldridge looks into the camera with a blue lit background behind him
Image credit: Paul Wilkinson

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has increasingly grabbed the headlines in recent years – generating excitement and concern in equal measure – and not since the World-Wide Web emerged 30-years ago has a new technology promised to change our world so fundamentally and so swiftly. 

But what should we believe? In three CHRISTMAS LECTURES to be shown on BBC Four and iPlayer in late December, Mike Wooldridge, Professor of AI at Oxford University and Director for AI at The Alan Turing Institute in London, will tackle the big questions facing AI research and unravel the myths about how this ground-breaking technology really works.

He will show how computer programmes inspired by the human brain can be taught – and even teach themselves – and tell the surprising story of how tools like the latest chatbots work. He will illustrate the mind-boggling scale of modern AI systems, while showing us the role that AI already plays in our lives, without us even being aware of it. And he may even surprise the audience with some ‘deep fake’ guests who are not quite what they seem.

With today’s AI tools such as ChatGPT and AlphaGo being just a hint of what is to come, Mike will also talk us through the ethical and societal questions 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 even be a risk to humanity. And finally, he’ll address the really big question of AI: can it ever truly be like us, or are humans unique?

The future of AI is going to be quite a journey, and the CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution will give us a guided tour.

Mike said: “I am profoundly honoured to have been asked to give the 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURES. Artificial Intelligence has a huge potential to make all our lives better, but it does not come without risk and, like all areas of science, advances in the field could create losers as well as winners. So AI is a topic that it’s vital we explore, examine and question together.

“The CHRISTMAS LECTURES are an outstanding opportunity to do this with a large audience, particularly young people who are going to have AI in their lives for far longer than anyone else. I want us to enjoy turning the spotlight on AI, through my own research and experience, expert special guests and the accessible demonstrations that are a CHRISTMAS LECTURES trademark.”

Welcoming Mike as the 2023 Christmas Lecturer, Director of the Royal Institution, Katherine Mathieson, said:

“At the Ri we believe that science transforms lives and underpins the modern world, and nowhere is that clearer at the moment than in the rapid development of AI technology. So I’m delighted that our CHRISTMAS LECTURES this year are bringing a leader in the field of AI research together with millions of people, to explore the science together.

“I’m looking forward to Mike sharing the secrets of AI, with anyone who is curious about the future, in thrilling and invigorating ways. We’ll also be opening up the science of AI for discussion and debate; and we may find there are as many questions as there are answers.”

Tom Coveney, BBC Commissioning Head of Science, said:

“It feels like barely a day goes by without another shocking newspaper headline or scintillating drama storyline about AI; so much so that separating the latest science fact from science fiction can be bewildering for those of us without a PhD in computer science.

“I’m thrilled that Mike’s bringing his unrivalled expertise to this year’s Lectures, to help us all understand what could be the biggest technological transformation of our lives.”

Established by Michael Faraday in 1825, the CHRISTMAS LECTURES from the Royal Institution were broadcast on the BBC in 1936, making them the first science show on UK national television, and have been broadcast every year since 1966. With 3 million views a year on BBC Four and iPlayer, and 60,000 students participating in related Ri activities, they continue to be the world’s leading science lectures for young people.

The 2023 CHRISTMAS LECTURES are co-produced by the Ri and Windfall Films for BBC Four and iPlayer. They were commissioned by Kate Phillips, Director of Unscripted and Jack Bootle, Head of Commissioning, Specialist Factual. The Commissioning Editor for the BBC is Tom Coveney. The Series Producer is Zara Powell and the Executive Producer is David Dugan.