TV Presenter and Comedian, Dara Ó Briain and UCL Professor and Author, Hannah Fry discuss the impact of AI on society at DTX + UCX Europe 2023

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Dara O Briain and Hannah Fry

As our world becomes increasingly digitised. humans will always bring their own unique, unreplicated experiences - according to keynote speakers at Europe’s biggest digital transformation show. 

On the DTX + UCX main stage at the London ExCeL this week, TV presenter and comedian, Dara O'Briain, alongside UCL Professor and author, Hannah Fry, discuss the impact of AI on society and businesses, analysing how factors such as emotion, intent and readiness must be considered as AI becomes more prominent in our society and the business world.

“The human world is random and chaotic - and the algorithmic world is clean and binary,” Hannah told the crowd. 

“[So] smashing these two worlds together makes for some interesting stuff.”

Hannah said the pace of tech often depends on how ready humans are for change. 

She stated: “There are amazing ideas that exist but the world isn’t quite prepared for them. The first electric car was actually made in the 1890s - but people weren’t ready for it!”

Hannah also pointed to the long-term presence of the software behind ChatGPT, which only became realised outside of the tech world after the introduction of a “simple user interface that suddenly made it available to everybody”.

Dara cited the example of video calling as something humans took time to embrace: “It was available for years but people found it intrusive, initially,” he reminded the audience. 

“It took a pandemic to make it popular.”

Dara agreed that most successful changes in tech are ideas which are “sufficiently familiar”, and that any “mutation or variations” which are too big often prove jarring at first. 

The pair concluded that experiences such as comedy remain intrinsically human and may never be replicated by AI, and that it is real people who are still in control of “intention” as we climb “an exponential curve”.  

The idea of the human’s role in a digital world was a recurring theme throughout day two of DTX + UCX 2023. 

A panel on “managing change to make tech work for everyone” (starring Tesco’s Christopher Harvey and Avison Young’s Sarah Jane-Osborne) discussed how businesses need to create a narrative when introducing new tech: building a sense of excitement so that people don’t immediately reject the idea. 

The panel also emphasised the value of “storytelling” in tech - a skill that human beings can utilise to articulate and promote innovations as these tools cannot do so themselves. 

Part of creating and instilling modernity - blending human approaches with AI - involves developing a diverse and inclusive workforce, and Wincie Wong - Head of Workplace Tech Capability at Digital X at Natwest who educated herself out of poverty - said that knowing who you are and believing in your value takes you a long way.

“I realised that all my differences are not my disadvantages - they were my superpowers,” she told the crowd. 

“My real passion is to create pathways for others to do the same, break through all these preconceived ideas and ultimately help a 300-year-old bank meet the needs of a changing world. 

“Part of that is creating a bigger tech workforce and a pipeline of engineers that will not all come from a tech degree. I like to find talent in unusual spaces, people from all backgrounds who are resilient and change-ready who can learn the tech and get a commercial result. 

“This is diversity and inclusivity working at the heart of business strategy.”  

Gori Yahaya, CEO of Upskill Digital, pointed to an additional challenge of the diverse workforce: The struggle to move to leadership roles. 

“We developed a programme to give people confidence to progress up through an organisation, applying for jobs, being authentic, navigating office politics and being career resilient.”

Amul Batra from Northcoders added that diversity and inclusion was often driven by the customer demographic: “We regularly provide women returner programmes for companies with a predominantly female customer base: It works.”

Also present at the show was charity Every Child Online (ECO) - an organisation which closes the digital divide by refurbishing laptops, tablets, PCs and mobiles and giving them to UK schools. ECO’s presence at DTX + UCX 2023 saw the charity connect with multiple brands including a Premier League football club. 

DTX + UCX Europe 2023 Content Director Dominie Roberts concluded: “I'm so proud of some of the conversations that took place as part of this year's show and hope they've gone some way to inspiring IT teams and leaders on how to maximise humans in our  increasingly digital world.

“We are at a pivotal point in tech right now and I hope that our superb lineup of speakers and panellists addressing these issues head-on with insight and expertise will prove extremely valuable to our engaged audience at DTX + UCX yet again. 

“We look forward to welcoming everyone back next year.”