University of Dundee

Artificial Intelligence: Risks, Rewards and Science

09 Mar 2020


Does artificial intelligence herald the beginning of a disease-free new age dominated by leisure or the onset of a jobless, authoritarian dystopia?

Both arguments have been made equally forcefully in recent years and Professor Geoff Barton will be exploring the risks and rewards of AI at the next Café Science event at Medina Bar and Grill on Monday 16 March.

Computers are able to solve scientific problems that humans can’t and AI is now used in research around the world. However, the misuse of personal data, such as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, has also led to widespread suspicion of AI.

Professor Barton’s own research sees him use machine learning to build on our understanding of how the cells in our body work and how this can be applied in medicine. The Café Science event will see Professor Barton showcase his work in biology and health whilst considering the social challenges arising from the use of AI.

He said, “We have been using AI and machine learning in our research for over 30 years and have been very successful getting information from biological data for the good but there is no doubt that the technology underpinning big data raises serious ethical questions. Big data is presented in some quarters as an end to all human suffering, and in others as evil in the context of Cambridge Analytica. The truth is much more complex than either of those viewpoints.”

Professor Barton is Head of Computational Biology in the School. He and his colleagues develop advanced computational methods that allow researchers to organise, compare, and exploit the vast amounts of data produced in modern scientific experiments.

The tools that Professor Barton and his colleagues at Dundee have created are already used around 500,000 times each month by scientists in over 150 countries, helping to further global scientific understanding and develop new therapies for devastating diseases.

“One of the big challenges in biology today is that we are generating huge amounts of information about systems and diseases, but we don’t always know to what end,” continued Professor Barton. “Instead of these data sets existing in silos, we integrate them in new ways so that researchers can make the most of the data in relation to their particular area of interest.”

“The tools developed here at Dundee are some of the best available anywhere in the world at integrating all available data and using machine learning for this purpose. The techniques we have developed can be applied to any disease or biological question in plants, animals or people. As a consequence, our technology is very widely used across the world.”

‘Artificial Intelligence: Risks, Rewards and Science’ takes place at Medina Bar and Grill, Nethergate, from 7pm on Monday 16 March. The event is free and open to all but early arrival is advised to avoid disappointment.