Reflections after the FT Weekend Festival

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On Saturday, 7th September – a beautiful autumn day – the FT Weekend Festival took place at Kenmore House, Hampstead.

As might be expected, the sessions in which political pundits from the UK and elsewhere discussed BREXIT attracted so many that there was standing room only. Here are some nuggets I found interesting on other topics.

Deep fakes: on using AI to detect fakes.  We saw and heard a totally fake interview with Trump – of a quality that was so good, it was not detectable as a fake.  This will be standard in two or three years. A highlight of the good use of fakes was a video of David Beckham speaking nine languages fluently to talk about the dangers of malaria.

The columnist and economist Tim Harford led a discussion on the validation of software. Many systems – both conventional and AI based – are now controlled by software that is so complex that nobody can work out what is going on. They discussed whether a regulatory body like the FDA would help, and/or whether professional certification of data scientists was needed. They thought that a Hippocratic oath equivalent – with ethics taught on day one of IT degree programmes – was the way forward. The disconnect between the power of global players and governments (e.g. the EU) was recognised. There were some Good news stories in the use of AI.  One was the use of AI to control data warehouse cooling, which drops the energy usage significantly and another was satellite images being used to monitor and interpret climate change effects in remote areas.

FT Money Editor Gillian Tett led a panel discussion on the trend towards ESG (environmental, social, governance) criteria in investments and their adoption by pension funds, investment houses, etc. There has been a paradigm shift due to among other things, pressure from the UN. The FT has gathered all its writings on this under one heading – Moral Money – and there is now a weekly newsletter which you can sign up for on their website.

The most surprising to me was the session on exploration of the deep oceans. Oceans cover 71% of the world’s surface, so our lack of knowledge of their landscape, behaviour and influence on the land is a shortcoming. The average depth of the oceans is 4000 metres. There were two speakers. Rob McCallum – an explorer who leads expeditions to bag records – such as a trip to put a man into each of the deepest points of each of the 5 oceans. And Oliver Steeds, the Director of Nekton, based at Oxford University, who talked about research into ecosystems below 30 metres – the sort of depth that trawlers and divers typically reach. They have found a completely different ecosystem below 130 metres, similar across many oceans of the world, and with (if I remember rightly) 100 new species discovered in three months in Bermuda. To highlight the importance of life under the sea, they arranged for the Prime Minister of the Seychelles to broadcast live from several 100 metres down. Definitely something to watch.

As they say, we returned home tired but excited by what we had heard ——

Gill Ringland, September 2019


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