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Science, Maths & Technology

Assessing the Future of Artificial Intelligence

Updated Tuesday 1st August 2017

With the use of more AI techniques in the modern world, how should governments and lawmakers respond? How can we keep best informed about which advances may impact our economy and society?

Robot hand controlled by Artificial intelligence playing traditional board game Go. Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: © Maxuser2 | Dreamstime Artificial intelligence playing GO With the use of ever more artificial intelligence (AI) techniques in the computer mediated world around us, from robot vacuum cleaners to autonomous cars, intelligent voice bots to humanoid receptionists, how, if at all, should governments and lawmakers respond - and what should they be responding to? And how can businesses, as well as members of the public, best keep themselves informed about the extent to which advances in AI may impact on the economy, as well as our society?

A recent consultation by the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence has called for evidence on the economic, ethical and social implications of advances in artificial intelligence [call for evidence PDF].

The consultation poses a range of questions in particular topic areas, such as the impact of AI on society and the public perception of it, as well as ethical considerations and the role of the government in responding to AI’s development and use.

For example, one question, targeted at experts in the field, asks “What is the current state of artificial intelligence and what factors have contributed to this?”. Another, that could be answered by a much wider audience, seeks to explore the extent to which “efforts [should be] be made to improve the public’s understanding of, and engagement with, artificial intelligence” and how they should be pursued.

In many respects, the activities of the Open University have a role to play in such debates. BBC broadcasts such as the OU co-produced Hyper Evolution: Rise of the Robots help inform the debate, describing recent advances to a wide audience, and the OU’s OpenLearn free learning resources provide a next step towards learning more.

Using questions such as the ones raised by the House of Lords Select Committee inquiry can help guide the independent learner in a variety of ways: firstly, by framing the issue in terms of a series of issues to be addressed; secondly, by considering the issue from a range of viewpoints (for example, “the public”, or “industry”). Posing a question also requires the respondent to think carefully about their response and communicate it effectively, which can help the respondent identify possible weaknesses in their own understanding of a topic if they struggle to articulate it well.

Inquiries also identify some key vocabulary or terms that can be used to inform further independent research. Responses submitted as part of the call for evidence are often published on inquiry websites, providing a primary source of opinion, rather than one mediated by any media reporting on the matter. The individuals and organisations that provide responses may also reveal themselves as potential “key stakeholders” or lobbying groups, along with an indication of the key areas of concern for them.

Questions don’t just appear as part of public inquiries, however: they also feature heavily as part of the assessment strategy in formal learning. (For anyone who has studied an OU course, the guidance provided on how to submit a response to the inquiry bears much similarity to the process of how to submit an assessment to an OU course.) Some questions are designed to assess specific matters of knowledge, such as identifying what equation to use to solve a particularly mathematical, engineering or scientific questions, and then demonstrating that you know how to apply it to find an answer.

But other questions are framed in much the same way as the Lords Select Committee questions: to tease out knowledge on a topic as well as critical reflection on it.

Whilst well-designed assessment strategies are there to test a learner’s grasp of a subject area, they can also be used as a powerful learning support tool, helping direct you to convert your own knowledge and understanding of a topic in order to express a well-constructed argument based on it. Assessment questions aren’t there to intimidate you - they are set to allow you demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of a topic, and communicate that understanding in a directed way.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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